Quick Synopsis of my Battle to Get off of Psychiatric Medicine.
My name’s Matt, and I’m a 36-year-old magazine editor and climber living in
Colorado. This is my story briefly, the story of how psychiatry almost took my
I’ve had issues with the darkness (depression/anxiety) since about age 10,
sometimes so profound I was unable to leave the house, for fear of the panic
attacks and agoraphobia. Climbing rocks has always been an out for me, and
ironically, takes away the anxiety, even high off the ground. When I was 21, I
began to have panic attacks (poor eating and sleep habits; college stress). That
was 15 years ago. For the next three years after that, I bounced on and off
Paxil (SSRI antidepressant, at a low dose – 10 mg or at most 15mg) and used
Ativan (a benzodiazepine tranquillizer) as needed for panic. In my senior year
of college, I abused street Valium and endured a cold-turkey withdrawal that
left me in a psychotic state for days and set me up for a decade of psychic
anguish. Throughout my struggle with these terrible “medicines,” I have also
maintained the best life I could – I earned a Master’s Degree in Creative
Writing, taught writing at a university, climbed at high level, and have worked
for six years as a magazine writer and editor.
Long-story short: In 1998, after having found some clarity and peace on my own
terms, I relapsed into my post-Valium-withdrawal anxiety state thanks to a
reaction (unbeknownst to me at the time) to Cipro, an antibiotic that works on
the same neurotransmitter system as benzos. I was soon back on Paxil, and caved
in, despite some deeper knowledge of the shortsightedness of the choice, to
daily benzo use, too, as the Paxil was making me anxious and agitated.
“Prophylactic,” my doctor said, to guard against panic attacks and generalized
anxiety – the benzos, that is.
From 1998 to 2003, I was on 2 mg of Ativan a day, with one attempt to quit
(1999) foiled by horrific anxiety. At no point did my doctor suggest my
ever-escalating anxiety might be caused by the addictive, wax-and-wane nature of
the pills. He said it was “my natural anxiety problem” and that it “needed to be
medicated for life.” I believed him.
From 2003 on, all was hell. My 2mg of Ativan became 4mg; that became 2mg of
Klonopin, which became 3mg. That stopped working, so it was 4mg daily of Xanax
XR (the equivalent of 80mg of Valium – enough to put most people to sleep), then
back to 4mg of Klonopin. Benzos were the main medicine I was given, though at
the time I also had some issues with Vicodin abuse and alcohol. I was also on a
low dose of Paxil, which I swapped out for Lexapro along the way.
Suspecting the pills, but not entirely cognizant of how dangerous they were, I
found myself in an acute downward spiral of angst, rage, anxiety, depression,
despair, and parasuicidal behavior (with constant ideation). The diagnosis never
changed: depression and anxiety disorder, medicine indicated for the duration of
my lifetime. In 2005, I realized I wanted to get off the meds, to see where the
real me lay. This was almost three years ago now. At the turn of 2008, I’m two
years off of benzos, and one-plus year off antidepressants, and I’m still quite
ill. I work, have a fiancée, and climb again, but I also shake inside (a nervous
system aflame, while the changes wrought by the drugs reverse), wheeze, have
muscle rigidity, have difficulty speaking and making eye contact, and on a bad
night get only two hours of sleep. Still, I’m much better now than I was over
the last two years.
What happened then, in the abyss? I quit my job, moved, stopped drinking, took
all the steps toward better living that I thought would obviate the root cause
of my pain, but none helped. Why? Because at the time, I was stripping myself
off the psychiatric meds, in particular benzos, and the withdrawal was crushing
me. I self-weaned off the Klonopin, from 4mg to close to 1mg, over the course of
five months. The anxiety worsened to an unreal crescendo; I became housebound,
desperate. I ceded to the clutches of the doctors (surely they knew how to
help); I was hospitalized three times. The first time, I was held for 24 hours,
narc’ed up on the neuroleptic Seroquel, and told that quitting my Klonopin was a
bad idea, as I had “a lifelong anxiety problem.” At the second hospital, after
having an undiagnosed serotenergic reaction to Paxil (I was hypersensitive to
any meds in this weakened state of benzo withdrawal), I had the Klonopin dose
tripled; I was also mislabeled “bipolar” and put on Depakote, a mood stabilizer.
During that dismal autumn (2005), I was on and off mood stabilizers like
Trileptal, Zyprexa, and Risperdal; I was also prescribed sleeping pills.
At the third hospital, I was diagnosed with major depression, taken rapidly off
the benzos, and then “snowed under” (the doctors’ term) with lithium,
Nortriptyline, and Neurontin – more drugs, when all along, my only problem was,
I needed off all the drugs.
I was discharged after a month. I spent the next eight months peeling myself off
these final three drugs. It’s been black: paranoia, delusions, depression,
hallucinations, spitting up blood, bowels wrapped in knots, nights sweats,
terror, panic attacks, exhaustion, insomnia. At one point, I was so ill I had to
crawl up the stairs to my bedroom; at one point I was so anxious, I could only
buy food at 7-11, in case I had to sprint out the door; at one point, I was so
suicidal my parents had to come collect me and keep me in their house for two
But then, the longer I’ve been off the meds, the better I’ve felt. I’ve seen
that I can return to a good, meaningful existence, even still feeling physical
symptoms, as the worst of the mental withdrawal has evaporated with the healing
action of time. With the clarity of hindsight, I can see how those drugs changed
me – and for the worse – and just how dire the throes of withdrawal were. I
climb again now, maybe four days a week; I just got engaged and am buying a
condo with Kristin, my fiancée. And I run a magazine. I’m saner than ever, and
looking forward to the rest of my (drug-free) life.
I believe that psychiatry almost killed me, and right now – as you read this –
literally is killing other people: good people with the usual life problems
(depression and anxiety) who find themselves faced with monstrous, seemingly
insoluble chemical problems upon becoming hooked on the psychiatrists’ poisons
(and who likely receive no help from those same psychiatrists to wean off of the
pills). Had I followed the doctors’ advice, I’d be on at least three medicines
now, probably looking at electro-convulsive therapy and an ever-expanding array
of toxic pills, pregnant with empty promises and a laundry list of troubling
side effects that make a simple depressed day in bed look like a trip to
Disneyland. My withdrawal will take place over years, until I return to full
health. The doctors say these things pass in days, or weeks at the most; they
then blame the symptoms on the “return of your original problem.”
People need the real facts – based on survivors’ experiences – about these
drugs. Psychiatry kills.
5 December 2008,
Three Year Update
I haven't posted on the group in a while, but it just now hit me, halfway
through the day, that today is my three-year anniversary from a brutal, brutal
cold-turkey and poly-drugging nightmare. What I'd like to convey is, three years
on (not so much time in a life span), I'm OK enough that I'm not thinking about
the suffering 24/7. I'm OK enough that I'm just getting through another day in
So to those of you locking horns with this beast, don't let the fear, the
pain, and thoughts of how long you **might** be in hell pin you in place. As
people always say on here, it gets better with time. It truly does.
Yes, I still have symptoms three years out, but they're now mostly in the
background, except on bad days. It doesn't limit me that much anymore. I
remember when I was counting days and weeks, and months, trying to make to 18
months, then 24, the "healing milestones."
Soon I stopped counting -- I realized time in this state could not be hurried
along or even really measured. It can only be endured, which is what benzo
survivors all learn to do. Which is what you should all be proud of yourselves