Psychiatric Myths and a Struggle for Survival with Antidepressants and Diagnosis: My Personal Story

Posted on 27th March, 2020

 

 

I am sharing my story of how I fell for a myth for 20 years despite my training and practice of 15 years as a counsellor and psychotherapist. A myth perpetuated by big pharmaceutical companies and believed by most doctors and the established medical profession. A myth that is perpetrated all around the world to this very day, a myth that is now being disclosed by many brave Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Counsellors, and Doctors.   A myth that in December 2019 nearly destroyed my life, a myth that brought me close to taking that life. A myth that took me down a road to my personal hell. A myth that took a miracle to save me.

 

Now for the Big Print

"I am bound by my professional code of ethics to do ‘No Harm’ to my clients and therefore not overseeing harm done to my clients. I'm also bound by my code of ethics not to bring my profession i.e. the Medical profession, Psychotherapy, and Psychiatry, etc., into disrepute. In my constant pursuit to be ethical and stay within the boundaries of my profession, I do not advise or tell anyone that they should or they should not be on antidepressants, this is for the prescriber. My objective is to bring into the public domain the currently published wisdom on psychotropic drugs such as antidepressants.

 

Wisdom taken from experts in the profession. It is for the reader to determine on balance the available evidence to reach their own balanced view.   In this part one of my blog I set out my experiences and personal views based on my own understanding. In part two I will publish authoritative references as supporting evidence for those views together with authoritative references and publications challenging the very nature of psychiatric diagnosis and psychotropic drugs".

 

 

Warning! Do not withdraw from psychiatric drugs without the monitoring of a doctor - it may be very dangerous!!

 

 

The Background

"What qualifies me in the writing of this blog, is not my qualifications and my clinical experience both of which are sound, but the experiences of being a user of psychological medication and being a survivor of childhood and adult trauma. As a professional, I am limited regarding self-disclosure. Self-disclosure in a client session takes the emphasis away from the client's story and entangles them in your own.  So my story excludes the detail and reference to my emotions unless it is necessary, I have endeavored to set out my story on a factual basis to the best of my recollection".

 

My development years as a child and a young adult were not good ones, there was a considerable amount of trauma around in my family environment. My personality developed very well considering. I was a positive albeit, a shy child that was well-liked at school but my ability to learn and take on information was very limited. The child that I was then didn't exactly have a good learning environment each day brought its own fear. I developed poorly with a sense of low self-worth and fear of exposure.  How could I learn when, from as long as I can remember, I lived in fear, experiencing disgusting and violent drunken behavior of my mentally ill father! However, I was gifted with a tenacity to succeed to push through. Despite leaving school without a single qualification I achieved much success against all the odds of my disposition. Starting work at 16, I worked my way through the ranks in the electronic security industry to eventually become the Managing Director of one of the largest operations of its type in Europe.

 

I never once volunteered to take the next step on the ladder; it was always someone else seeing the talent I never believed I had. I worked hard, very hard with every commercial and political threat seeming massive and I would meet its challenges with vigor but all the time waiting, waiting with the fear of being found out to be fake, and the more I rose the more I felt exposed.

 

"I never recognised the symptoms of my childhood trauma until the occurrence of a full-blown nervous breakdown when my brain and body completely shut- down, the effects were devasting. I was immobilised; the muscles in my legs ceased up, I lost the power of coherent speech, my urinary system went into chaos and I was terrified as I crawled home and broke down in a pool of sobbing tears. Hence the first visit to a psychiatrist. In one 90 minute sitting he delved into my life history.  The only time the medical professionals asked and heard 'my story'; that was the total of my therapy. 

 

"The psychiatrist told me, that he was not surprised I became so ill, “it was a time bomb waiting to go off”, he explained. He carefully drew a picture of brain neurons and their synopsis on the back of a paper napkin on his desk explaining that I had a  'chemical imbalance' and then advising me that the cause of my breakdown was probably both genetic and environmental. This came as a great relief at the time; it gave me a framework to understand my illness, which he said was like any other illness".

 

"I know now that there is no substantiated scientific evidence to support the theory of a 'chemical brain imbalance' or for that matter,  that mental 'illness' can be genetic. So in 1995, I started my journey on the long and windy road of a relationship with my so-called 'illness' and my struggle with antidepressants".

 

I recovered remarkably fast in hindsight although it felt a frighteningly long time. I never had the belief that I would ever recover, yet I was back at work just after three very black months.  Thank God for the antidepressants! they, I believed had saved my life. Over the next 12 months, I reduced the dosage to a minimum and continued at that level. Two years later I had another attack of severe depression, less devastating but still crippling so, back to the psychiatrist who informed me that the risk of continued recurrence was so high, that I probably should continue the antidepressants for life. He was only interested in my symptoms, not 'my story'. This fed into my increasing shame, reinforcing that I had never been normal if I was why would my father treat me as he did.  I became increasingly aware of the symptoms I was experiencing, the experiencing of trauma; depression, anxiety, and depersonalisation but even then I never related it to my history, after all, 'it was an illness' It had, nothing to do with my story?

 

As the cruel hand of fate would have it, in 2002 I was attacked, shoved into a darkened room by two burly men and threatened with my life. I suffered my third recurrence but with the added diagnosis of 'PTSD'. Back to the psychiatrist, more pages of medical note-taking, some group therapy, more anti-depressants and Benzo meds added to the mix. Some of those drugs were helpful for a time, some targeted my anxiety, some helped me to sleep, some through placebo gave me more confidence but, I no longer had the capacity to continue; I gave up my long career after being off work for six months determining that a complete change of life was my only hope if I were to survive and I am a survivor. 

 

After recovery (of a sort) I trained as an executive life-coach which I discovered I had a talent for. Working with many clients I found I was homing in quite quickly on their emotional issues.  I clearly had a heightened empathy for emotional distress which led me to train as a counsellor.   I moved home with my wife and we started a new life in the West Country. I maintained my daily dosage of antidepressants for the next 15 years without a relapse.

Not once was the 'brain imbalance' challenged. My prescription was re-issued every month without any question of the causality of the condition. No one was interested in 'my story', after all, I had a 'chemical imbalance' in my brain, I was a 'disease' like any other.

 

I was in training as a counsellor for 4 years and during the process, I became to understand more and more about trauma relating it to my own developmental history and the experiences that were too much for a child. Slowly I began to find healing as I joined up all the dots to find and embrace the full narrative of my experiences. Once qualified I worked the next 7 years in a voluntary capacity homing my new skills as a counsellor working with those with severe trauma. I then started-up in private practice and within a short time business was booming. The charity, my wife and I had founded when we moved to the West Country; ‘People against Poverty’, was now successfully working in six countries. Those start-up years of the charity were exhausting and rarely did we sleep well as the demand increased but not the funding. It’s an absolute joy now to see the difference we and our supporters have made to so many lives. The boy with the learning difficulties, the boy who had failed all his exams had finally, done good; I believed my mental health issues were behind me, 'as long as I kept taking the pills'.

 

All was well until the winter of 2019. I had decided to come off the antidepressants after reading of some nasty long term side effects. I reduced the dosage very slowly informing my doctor and after 2 months I believed I was successfully off them for the first time in over 20 years. Then I started to become hyper, and I liked it.  I was sharper and more focussed, believing I was regaining my ‘old youthful driven self. I stepped up my work and my energy and creativity were flowing in abundance until my wife noticed the increasing mood swings. I took stock returning to the doctor explaining that perhaps it was a poor decision to come off my drugs. I was now fearful of a full-blown relapse, so the doctor agreed for me to go back on the antidepressants, leaving me feeling very foolish not to have taken into consideration ‘my brain chemical imbalance’.

 

"What happened next would lead to another collapse worse than the previous ones all put together."

 

The doctor had arbitrarily decided he would change my antidepressant to ones that were more in line with current NHS guidelines. After two weeks and within 3 weeks of Xmas my mood began to drop rapidly. I developed those old urological symptoms and became anxious after several painful unsuccessful trips to the loo in the nights ahead. Within a further 4 weeks, I was in a full-blown deep and dark depression. Thoughts of ending my life were developing as the catastrophizing began, as only those who have experienced depression truly know. Fortunately, my clinical experience kept me grounded. Now, this is very important! why did I not go immediately back to the doctor? because as a counsellor I knew that the pharmaceutical companies; the side-effect leaflet notes and Doctors inform you that these are common side effects for some people, including the thoughts of suicide but, after a couple of weeks, they say, the symptoms will pass. No, they did not, they increased! I did not panic I trusted the information that I had after all I am a very experienced counsellor. My illness got worse developing into a chronic anxiety. My nervous system went into a state of collapse; I was hyper-ventilating for up to 15 hours a day, I had sleep deprivation from insomnia not sleeping for up to 3 days, not even for 15 minutes; I just wanted to jump through a window to end the torture. At one time I went into convulsion for over an hour with my whole body shaking violently. For months my body temperature dropped, I would have the heating up high and be swaddled in blankets freezing; I lost over 3 stone in weight. There were many more symptoms but I have described the severest. My doctor first response was to change the antidepressants back to my original ones. Two weeks later I was still getting worse; the next call was for my doctor to check in with a psychiatrist who advised I should increase the dosage of my antidepressants. I did and guess what, yes, I continued to get worse. The guessing game continued, they changed the drugs one again this time from SSRI's to SNRI's. Then another month and they increased that dosage. This pattern existed over a period of 3 to 4 months as I became increasingly distressed and disabled. I do not blame my doctor; he like most doctors are just victims of the myth perpetuated by the drug companies and endorsed by established psychiatry. I was extremely fortunate to have as my neighbor and good friend a doctor who embraced me personally, who gave me her personal time, who listen to my story often while I would hyperventilate; she would just calmly listen and engage with what I needed to say, needed to share. I will be ever grateful for the comfort she gave me.  I engaged my own private counsellor but the therapist was powerless to help; I either could not get to her or I would have an anxiety attack for the whole session; when I did get there; we did all the known interventions, breathing, mindful distraction, etc but the condition was out of control. On one occasion my therapist compassionately walked and talked with me for a whole hour session and that did help, but I would sit in the car afterward for up to an hour and a half before it was safe to go home. As soon as I was in a position to attend without anxiety attacks I re-engaged her and we now have a very successful therapeutic relationship.

The inescapable truth, this was all avoidable. What I was lacking was factual information that could have prevented years of suffering:-

 

"That the years on antidepressants never stopped my depressive episodes, neither did they reduce them. The years I believed this, it prevented me from working with the real emotional distress that caused them in the first place. Nor was I given the opportunity to discuss the medication change and its risks, which led to the collapse of my nervous system and the threat to my very life. Nor do the pharmaceutical industry or the doctors warn you that the timescale for withdrawal is not weeks its months maybe a year or even more; the possible side effects of antidepressants can endanger your life".

 

The NHS under pressure has just this year changed the guidelines for withdrawal changing the advice on withdrawal. The myth of antidepressants being a drug that heals depression is perpetrated by a circular narrative:-

 

"That, If you experience the symptoms of depression and suicide ideation when you withdraw, that proves that the medication you were on was effectively keeping depression away. Experiencing and being told that, you immediately go back on them. They tell it will take weeks to get into your system again. You persevere, maybe for months and finally your depression lifts. When it lifts you believe that it was the antidepressants that did the trick and then you find yourself emotionally addicted to them for life. People swear by them for that reasoning.  Antidepressants were supposed to be a short term medication for many they have been on them for over 20 years".

 

"This has been my experience this has been my story"!

 

In my next blog continuing this thread, I will be presenting my case, that the widely used current 'mental health' diagnosis is not fit for purpose. I will offer the new paradigm for sufferers and survivors who can have a meaningful therapeutic journey to health through a different framework than the traditional flawed diagnosis. I  will present the evidence that informs my current attitude on the dangers of antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs. Also, I will present the evidence that questions the very foundation of psychiatric diagnosis. The evidence that reveals -:

 

"That, I never had a brain chemical imbalance, my condition was not an illness, it was not genetic. it was not an illness like any other, it was my mind and body's response to severe emotional distress, it was a result of my story.' Pills could never have changed my story; my story had to be heard. Heard slowly, processed compassionately and with the help of professional therapists, not psychiatrists or medication.

 

The evidence is now in the public domain presented by professionals and non-professionals alike. I will share the advice of some of the mental health leading authorities and the publication of an All-Party Public Parliamentary Group on the subject. Yet despite this evidence psychiatrists, with some exceptions, still hold the holy grail in mental health diagnosis hanging on to their myths, supported by the big pharmaceuticals; and the prescriptions continue being handed out by doctors at an alarmingly increased rate.

I am blessed and able to report I have experienced a complete recovery. My experiences of my personal traumas, the inadequacy of the mental health system and the lack of training of some medical professionals have greatly equipped me in my capacity as a psychotherapist and counselor; a counselor like many 1000’s of professionals who had swallowed the myths of Big Pharma. Now there are many professionals including clinical psychologists and psychiatrists who are pushing the tide and influencing change. Some of those professionals have inspired me to tell my story and do my bit to influence change.

 

Before you go; don’t forget to consider the 'Big Print' at the beginning of this blog.

 

 

If you interested in what I have to say you can follow me on my professional page on Facebook

 

 

 

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Comments (4)

Thank you Bill for what you have written.
It gives much food for thought.
Greatly appreciated.
Bill, I’ve read your blog a few times now. You tell your story so compellingly. My heart goes out to you to realise how long and painful your story is, yet how resilient you seem to have become - I don’t want to say because of it as that makes it sound like you wouldn’t be the same compassionate, funny, skilful person you are now if you hadn’t gone through so much pain. I am sorry for you that some of the painful experiences you’ve had stem from the antidepressants you’ve taken. As a clinician in the NHS, I have been increasingly frustrated by the lack of time and resources available for helping those experiencing mental health difficulties. Antidepressants can be helpful but the huge increase in the numbers of them being prescribed is a reflection of that lack. I agree with your viewpoint that too many clinicians perhaps prescribe without giving full and correct information about withdrawal effects. Liaising with professionals such as yourself is valued by a large proportion of my colleagues and although it is often very difficult to establish, once (local) ties are made and professional expertise/thinking is shared, I find it brings fast therapeutic improvements - for both the “patient” and the “therapist” (doctors included!). Personally, I have been enriched and my thinking has been further developed by talking with you about all this. So thank you.
Beautifully written, with honesty and vulnerability. I’m so proud of you for your own and other people’s healing, for pushing back the darkness and for continuing your own steps forward. Thank you for sharing your story and I would love that you would share it with the Focus team. Perhaps we could talk privately soon? Much lovešŸ§”
Thank you for sharing your story, it takes great bravery to be so vulnerable.