July 24, 2018 I celebrated my 3rd anniversary of living psychiatric medication-free. This happened even after living nearly two decades with mental illness symptoms meeting the diagnostic criteria for schizoaffective disorder bipolar type with catatonia and PTSD. Many well-trained psychiatrists treated my symptoms with psychiatric medicine, stated I needed medication for the rest of my life. They explained it was the only effective way to control mania, depression, anxiety, psychosis, catatonia, delusions, obsessions, compulsions, suicidality, etc. Medications dulled some of the symptoms to a low roar, while igniting other troubling symptoms and gradually building a thick metaphorical plexiglass window between me and the surrounding world. My life passed, disconnected from normal human emotions, thick with cognitive fog. Slowly I waded deeper into a creepy quicksand of symptoms associated with the most severe diagnoses in mental illness: psychosis, catatonia, and mixed mania.
Mainstream Psychiatric Medication
For 17 years I lived completely compliant with mainstream psychiatry’s evidence-based treatments, ripping me through 37 different combinations of five classes of psychiatric medications and enduring more than 100 bilateral Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments. Doctors said my illness was treatment resistant. Their solution? Use ECT until pharmaceutical companies could develop just the right medication. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results. I weighed my options, deciding I’d already endured enough and drew the line.
If my doctors (with medicine’s best education and experience) couldn’t resolve my symptoms, clearly I needed to try something they hadn’t explored.* This realization launched a journey so complicated and treacherous there were lengthy periods of time when I didn’t think survival possible.
Evidently as your brain becomes accustomed to forced labor it damages neurotransmitter receptors causing regulatory/receptivity issues. Learning to support the body’s enzymatic process through this ordeal refined my practical understanding of the central nervous system functioning ways few doctors could explain. Even with careful medical support, withdrawal & protracted withdrawals are something I would never wish on my fiercest enemies. In addition to experiencing a paradoxical effect (where psychiatric medications actually cause the symptoms they are designed to treat during titration and withdrawal), I also endured acute Akathisia, REM Sleep Disorder, and Sensory Processing Disorder. The first two years off medications felt both emotionally fulfilling and physically draining. It was hardest on my central nervous system. A year ago, I facilitated the healing of receptors damaged by polypharmacy’s cumulative effect using an infusion of four targeted amino acids coupled with NAD+, ending acute protracted withdrawal symptoms.
Addressing Underlying Causes of Psychiatric Symptoms
Learning about the underlying biological causes of psychiatric symptoms and how to address them using food choices and balancing the gut biome led me to a synergistic healing process. As my liver began to heal, metabolic syndrome disappeared. At my heaviest, I was 250 pounds, lived with ravenous food cravings and erratic “hangries.” Now I weigh 150 pounds, slowly moving towards my baseline weight before introduction of psychiatric medications. Compulsive food cravings are a thing of the past.
Breaking From Mainstream Psychiatry
July 24th embodies multiple layers of meaning for me. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrate Pioneer Day to remember those who demonstrated the faith required to carry them through the most arduous of sacrifices. While my journey cannot compare with theirs in most aspects, I am a pioneer of sorts for making the hard choice to break away from conventional western psychiatry treatments after 17 years of meticulously following them without success. My pioneer recovery journey began after turning to my peers and exploring what worked for them. Those with longitudinal success had several things in common:
- Strong psychosocial support
- A fully developed and accessible wellness toolbox from extensive attendance in psychoeducational classes
- Balanced gut microbiome capable of absorbing essential micronutrients
- Eating to fuel the brain and body—not the mouth
- Properly addressing and balancing hormones (thyroid, adrenal, insulin, sexual hormones)
- Healing neurotransmitter receptor damage caused by psychoactive substances (prescribed or illicit)
- Avoiding mold toxins
- Contributing to society by finding and acting on life’s meaning and purpose through developing vocational opportunities, spirituality and participating in community service
I chose to integrate their strategies into my own life, building my own treatment plan. It became a pioneering effort in living with mental illness while avoiding mainstream psychiatry.
Living the Pioneer Dream
The difficulty in being a pioneer in any field is facing the front lines where the cannonballs, bullets, IUDs, bombs and arrows land. Like my father always says, the hardest part of being on the cutting edge is the razor burn. That said, I am taking what I’ve learned and working to share it with others to improve understanding and informed consent when making treatment choices to prevent others from making common mistakes.
Human Biome Rehab
The multifaceted approach creating a synergistic lifetime of recovery is much like a living human biome. Each facet of recovery and rehabilitation is inter-dependent in the same ways an ecological community of organisms works together, adapting to a particular environmental condition. By fostering each dimension of recovery and rehabilitation the synergistic recovery journey unfolds revealing the attainment of human potential.
Join me weekly to discuss each component of rehabilitating the human biome.
*Please do not attempt to go off medication without appropriate medical support from a trained physician overseeing the process. Doing so without proper supervision is potentially dangerous and even deadly.