STOP THE MADNESS NOW

STOP THE MADNESS NOW
 
Mental Health Medication Awareness
   
 

DIAGNOSIS UNDIAGNOSED:

A Personal Insight Into the Mental Health Experience

By Julie R. Yankowsky

 

            First I want to start by saying that through sharing my story I definitely don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me in reading this for I have emerged from this experience much stronger and much wiser than before.  I am not writing this for the personal shock value, but am hoping that after reading you will be shocked into awareness and action.  I am writing my story to help others who may relate to this experience and raise public awareness from the viewpoint of someone who has lived through the experience.  I have found that through reading and hearing similar experiences of others mainly online and relating to these stories myself, I was able to feel the weight from the trauma, guilt, and shame created by the stigma related to mental illness finally lift and recede.  I was able to realize that I was not alone in my experience and that I was a victim like so many others of an abuser, the pharmaceutical companies and the false premise they have created around mental health prescription medications.  In realizing this, I now have the strength and sanity to press on and make a commitment to tell my story to whoever will listen in a deep-rooted effort to win the battle for all of us who have been victimized.

I will admit that I have had bouts of “depression” or more accurately, “emotional stressors”, since I was a teenager.  However, I had several life factors that contributed such as the death of my father, a personal incident within our family, and two major car accidents (one of which I was run over by a car while playing outdoors in a community band and the other a 25-car pile up on one side of the interstate and another 30-car pile up on the other side) in addition to the normal ups and downs of being a teen.  I was able to maintain a productive life and motivated state of mind even during the more difficult times throughout my life and have always been very involved with church, school, and community activities.  I would definitely put these earlier episodes of depression in the “mild” category after what I have been through since 2001.

            My son was born in 1999 and I may have experienced some post-partum depression, or upon deeper reflection I believe I was actually experiencing feelings of being overwhelmed by being a new mom, my husband’s work schedule of 12-hour night shifts, working full time myself and much of the care of my son falling on me.  My husband has always been a wonderful father and helps whenever possible, however this was an extremely stressful period due to our life situation at the time. 

            By the spring of 2001, even though I loved my job, I had added stress from a new position at the museum where I had worked since 1998 and adding to the cumulative stress of the previous years, my life seemed more than overwhelming.  At an appointment with my primary care physician for an unrelated reason, I broke down crying and was given a prescription for the antidepressant Celexa. I was told that I should find a therapist as well, but the follow-up was very limited after that initial visit. 

            Our health insurance at the time allowed for six no-charge sessions with a local therapist employed by the insurance company.  I met with her once a week or so through the summer.  Although my mood and behavior were becoming more and more bizarre, no one seemed to question it other than my family.  I had more energy than ever, but was also developing severe mood swings.  I was spending excessively without regard for the amount, which was out of character since I had worked and saved since childhood.  I was staying up until all hours of the night working on project after project.  My mind was going faster than I could keep up with, yet I was still feeling more and more depressed. 

I felt like my life was spinning out of control more than ever, but at the same time feeling invincible.  My family was definitely noticing the differences in my behavior and mood and was worried.  I tried to express this to my therapist, but didn’t feel like I was being believed or listened to.  At the last visit with my therapist in the fall of 2001, I became hysterical and had to beg to be taken by ambulance to the hospital.

There I spoke with crisis counselors and eventually was admitted to the voluntary psychiatric ward within the hospital.  I remember laying in my bed crying and the voices in my head being so loud, demanding, and overwhelming that I began to cut my wrists with my own fingernails.  By the time a nurse checked in on me, I had cut myself enough that I still have the remaining scars to this day as a memory every time I see them.  She took me to the nurse’s station to bandage my wrists, but it was what was going on inside that was much more serious and not being addressed.

As I sat in the hallway waiting for her to return, the voices told me to leave and just walk out.  They were so controlling that I couldn’t stop myself.  It was as if I was someone else or just watching from behind a glass window.  The part of me behind the glass was screaming “No”, but that part was silenced and had lost control.  It was like I was possessed by these voices and I was no longer the self I knew.  The voices ended up winning that and many other battles from that point forward.  I ended up walking out the doors of the psych ward and from the hospital lobby six floors below.

It was a cold and dark Vermont fall night and I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and no shoes.  I was completely oblivious to the cold and damp air and ground or the stones under my socks.  I was probably a half of a mile from the hospital when a white van pulled beside me and two men jumped out.  They were security from the hospital, but in my mind I was scared of them and just knew I had to get away.  They gave up without much of a battle and returned to the hospital as I continued to walk on while talking with the voices and looking for a way to end my life as the voices told me what to do.  I stood on a bridge trying to fight against jumping and also found some old, dirty, broken glass and attempted to cut my wrists even further.  I kept walking and was nearly three miles from the hospital when my mother found me. Even though the hospital had given up so easily, my family was still frantically searching for me.

I was taken back to the hospital and readmitted to the locked psych ward.  I was eventually discharged with several prescriptions, including Neurontin, and readmitted again only weeks later.  During these stays, I was given a Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR) to diagnose my condition and decide what medications I should take on my own; I cut my wrists further with a plastic knife from the eating area leaving additional permanent scars; I was told that I had no hope of getting better by my treating doctor and that I should find coping strategies like snapping a rubber band on my wrist or breaking cheap glass from yard sales in a garbage bag; I stopped eating for two weeks, yet was still given new and powerful medications on an empty stomach day after day; and attempts I made to draw the images I saw in my head related to the voices were dismissed and made light of with joking by the doctor treating my case.  The only “help” I was given freely and without reservation was medication.

Through all this a wonderful woman from the hospital chaplain program visited with me on a regular basis.  Through talking with her about my life-long faith and belief in the Lord, I knew that the real me was still inside somewhere.  I was in a battle for my mind and soul with myself, or so I thought.  It turns out, as will be shown later, that I was under the extreme influence of these medications that were given under the guise of being helpful and/or approved for treatment of mental health conditions.  The real battle was against these medications invading my entire system and with such an influence that I had no chance of winning.

Further proof of this medication induced insanity emerged when I look back at how I talked my way into being discharged, even after acting irrationally throughout my admittance and demanding to leave the hospital while still hearing voices telling me to end my life; sitting on the floor by the door refusing to move for five hours straight while waiting to be released; consulting with on-duty doctors and the crisis counselor while still behaving irrationally and out of control; and upon signing the discharge papers, throwing myself against the doors over and over until they were unlocked.  At this point they said I had major depressive disorder and a personality disorder if I remember correctly, yet released me back into the real world with new and updated prescriptions in hand.

Upon arriving home, I dismissed my family including my son who was two years old at the time and I truly love with all of my heart.  I pulled my bicycle out of our shed and rode it to the pharmacy where I refilled all the prescriptions I was able to, even if I wasn’t supposed to be taking them any longer.  The refills were still on file.  I also bought the biggest bottle of wine they had and intended on riding somewhere to end this madness once and for all.  I felt that I had no hope left and didn’t stand a chance against these voices and behaviors that had taken over and spun my life into complete and total chaos.  My mother once again found me and took me back to my home.  I had the medications in my coat so she had no idea how many I had.  When we got home I started drinking the wine and because I was being so volatile I think my family was scared to stop me.  After drinking most of the wine, I went into the bathroom and proceeded to take the medications I had just gotten and the others I still had at my house whether they were currently my prescribed medications or not.  I don’t remember a lot after that except sitting on the couch holding my son and slowly falling asleep.  My husband found the vials and they knew at that point what I had probably done.

On the way to the emergency room I was sick and when I arrived I was given charcoal to neutralize the overdose and put on several monitors.  I spent the next three days on the cardiac floor and then was transported by ambulance to a psychiatric hospital at the other end of the state.  Although the overall program and “bedside manner” was much improved over my initial experiences at my local hospital, medications still remained a normal and very big part of treatment similar to most mental health institutions.  My prescriptions were added to and changed around and I appeared to be getting “well” enough to return home.  Feeling “well” didn’t last very long though and I was readmitted to the same place in April 2002 after becoming extremely manic and psychotic once again.

Examples of this behavior included being stopped twice in one day for erratic driving while traveling to visit my family for Easter just the day before checking back in.  Weeks before I wasn’t sleeping or eating again, my mind was racing once more and I couldn’t slow down even if I wanted to.  I also spent a lot of extra time at work and every free moment was spent writing poetry even though I had never written poetry for anything other than academic English classes.  Looking back at this writing is very insightful, however, to what was going on within my mind at the time.  It is the writing of a tortured and deeply disturbed person – a person that I can remember and thinking about brings a stream of tears to my face, but someone that is far from who I had been or who I am now.

Once again my medications were manipulated to another “miracle” combination.  I did all the required classes and therapy and worked as hard as I could.  I was released with a new diagnosis of bipolar disorder, but feeling better and sure that I was now on the right track.

It took a little longer this time and instead of most of my symptoms being manic, I began to cycle quickly between the feelings of up and then extremely low and I was readmitted in the spring of 2003 to the same facility once again.  This time they changed my medications to newer “study proven” better ones, but they started to say that I may be “medication resistant” and the best way to treat this kind of depression is with Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT), sometimes referred to as “shock therapy”.  I still trusted the professionals at this point and agreed to three treatments per week.  It appeared to help a little so this became my new main treatment along with the meds and I continued it as an outpatient when I returned home. 

Prior to this hospitalization, I had stopped seeing the therapist I had worked with since my 2001 hospitalizations.  I felt there was little to no improvement from our sessions and further felt that she wasn’t helping me by repeating over and over to change my thinking patterns.  Didn’t she know how much I wanted that, but how much of a failure I felt like when I couldn’t do it no matter what or how hard I tried?  The voices were so much stronger than I was at the time and they had worn me down even further.  So, before I was released I was required to find another therapist.  After calling the many therapists from a list of those approved by my insurance, only one called me back at the hospital.  Thankfully she did because she ended up looking past my “mental health history” as others had not, and I believe that she discovered I was more than a patient – I was a human being too.  She started looking at the fact that I had lived through some very emotional situations that would have left any “normal” person feeling distraught and she stopped viewing my situation as a “chemical imbalance”.  In the winter of 2004, she actually recommended to my new psychiatrist due to insurance issues that I discontinue the anti-psychotic mood stabilizer, Abilify.

After this last hospitalization, the psychiatrist I had worked with since my 2001 hospitalizations and my new therapist recommended that I was now unable to even return to my career, a position that I had worked hard for, loved to do very much, and still miss to this day.  I was on disability from the museum where I had worked and ended up having to apply and be approved for social security disability as well, a situation that I still find devastating but am working on changing.  After stopping this one medication with the approval of my therapist and psychiatrist, I was amazed that I had more energy, but I was still doing outpatient ECT and taking one other medication and didn’t feel at my peak performance yet.  I did find that I wasn’t requiring sleep as much during the day and actually felt a little better which made me start questioning the medications even further.  Although I have always had a weight issue, I noticed that as an added bonus the weight that had been piling on since starting these medications, began to plateau and stopped adding up at such a rapid rate and unexplained speed as well.

 

Even though it appeared to my doctors, therapist, family, and even myself that I was getting better, I once again attempted an overdose with Lexapro on Memorial Day weekend of 2004.  Looking back I have to wonder whether the Abilify (an atypical anti-psychotic medication supposedly with mood-stabilizing benefits) and Lexapro somehow “balanced” each other to nullify the previous suicidal behavior caused by some of the other medications.  Of course the combination also made it so I was barely able to get off the couch to put my son on the bus for preschool and I didn’t have the energy to make dinner after a day of doing nothing but sleeping much less carry out a suicide attempt.  Once the Abilify was removed from my daily intake I remember being so happy to have energy again and not be sleeping so much of the day away.  I also remember reporting to my therapist and psychiatrist that I felt I was “rapid-cycling” again where ones’ mood shifts from extremely high to extremely low in a matter of minutes, seconds, or hours, a symptom of the medication that had led to psychosis in the past for me.  It turns out that it was all just enough energy to make an attempt on my life once again.

I now know that Lexapro is related to Celexa, the SSRI that started me down this road of madness.  This connection was never made or was simply overlooked by the doctor’s prescribing it even though they were admitting at this point that I was “sensitive” to SSRI’s due to my so-called bipolar disorder.  I was told that Lexapro was in a different class of drugs, but am finding information now of others with the same side effects as I experienced.  I find it very ironic that this medication through causing the thoughts leading to an overdose actually ended this never-ending journey for a “cure” and the path towards ending my life and in turn actually saved my life in a way.  I woke up after this incident to realize that these medications were NOT helping and I stopped taking them against the recommendation of everyone.

The fact that after stopping medication I began to actually feel like a normal person once again and am now on the way to regaining my life proves the very fact that these medications are NOT medically necessary.  I have a lot of energy today, but not the thoughts and feelings related to suicide that I couldn’t escape no matter how hard I tried while on medications.  This just proves how these medications alter one’s mind and remove the freedom of choice we all normally have to control our thoughts and behaviors.  I know that those who support medication usage for those with depression, anxiety, and stress would find alternative ways to explain the before and after phenomenon of my experience, but there is no way that I will ever believe what they have to say knowing how I feel today and measuring that against how I felt on medication.  There is no way for them to understand or comprehend what happens knowingly or unknowingly in the mind of someone taking prescription mental health medications.  I know others who have been on medication for many, many years and still don’t feel better.  How would the experts explain that?  Medication may seemingly help some, but do the so-called benefits really outweigh the overwhelming risks and loss to life and spirit?  In my opinion, simply put no.

As it turns out, we decided to move out of state in the spring of 2004 and since I was convinced that I wouldn’t have insurance to continue the ECT treatments, therapy, or meds, and in the wake of my most recent overdose I stopped the ECT and meds before moving against the recommendation of my psychiatrist.  I attempted to find a therapist after moving without much luck.  The last person I saw was convinced that I needed to go back on medication and didn’t understand that I was experiencing excessive stress with having moved, feeling a bit homesick and alone, and my husband searching for work.  Once again, medication was viewed as a no-fail solution and my only option, but I knew what effect the medications had had on my life and how differently I felt without them.  Unfortunately the medical view of those diagnosed with bipolar is that they have to make sure to stay on their medication for the rest of their lives.  This may be true for some, but it must first be questioned if the person has bipolar disorder or mental illness at all in the first place especially if the diagnosis and bizarre behavior comes ‘out of the blue’ and continues to worsen with medication instead of getting better or seems to get better for a while and then suddenly or gradually begins to backslide without explanation.

Sure, I had issues still to deal with, but anyone would have felt stressed in a similar situation.  It doesn’t mean one needs to be medicated!  I am more in control of my thoughts and behaviors without the medications than I ever was with them.  The theory that I had a dissociative disorder was seriously discussed towards the end of my treatment.  Dissociative disorder – I should say so!  I had so many personalities, voices, delusions, and hallucinations while on medications throughout this experience that I even thought I was splitting into different entities!  It was hard not to believe otherwise with what was going on in my head and the influence of the medical professionals being so overbearing.  Since I no longer have these “symptoms” or more appropriately adverse and traumatic side effects, the only explanation was the medication. 

Even medical doctors I have met with since moving and told my history to have asked if I am sure I don’t still need medication.  What I am not sure of is how these professionals can act like they know who I am with being a new patient or think that they can make such life-altering recommendations without even knowing the patient yet.  This can’t be done in a fifteen to twenty minute or less appointment.  In my opinion, general medical practitioners should NOT even be able to prescribe these medications. Getting a prescription should require a complete and thorough evaluation before administration by a psychiatrist and only using extreme caution and extensive monitoring.

There is not a quick fix or drive-thru solution to this problem even though that is how our society has come to approach everything in life.  It is a time consuming and often emotionally painful process and the fact that medications are complicating and even worsening the condition must be addressed. The fact is that medications are too easily approved and prescribed. This mistreatment is causing an epidemic of substantial and unprecedented proportions while effecting millions of people everyday and having the potential through advertising and with the “magic pill” mentality to endlessly and continually harm even more people until better monitoring is implemented and the current system is radically changed – for this is the real madness that must be stopped once and for all.

 

 

Disclaimer:  The above was written from my memory and what others have told me happened since I now experience memory gaps and problems concerning some events, etc. during this time in my life.  This is the most accurate account I have and is mainly an attempt to explain what I was going through personally before, during, and after this traumatic experience which is certainly not something that will be found in my medical records.






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