One of the people I hang out with recently came up to me announcing that he wanted to be like me, not psych meds dependent. We had been talking about our respective mental health issues the day before and he assumed that because I was able to ween myself off psych meds that he would be able to quit his meds cold turkey and be fine.
That’s not how it works.
I feel that it is important to make this abundantly clear. There is no shame in needing psych meds. It’s similar to mobility issues in a way, temporarily as a crutch or permanently as a cane, if it’s what a person needs to make it through the day then it is simply a tool for helping a body access a space. There is no shame in it.
I did not initially set out to be free of my meds. I set out to not hurt as much. I had all my psychological pain, of course. But I also had the side effects of the meds I was on and the feeling that I shouldn’t be high on psych meds all day every day. I’m (mostly) a straight edge and value having an unclouded mind. These things hurt. I just wanted to hurt less.
So I started doing my research. It was happenstance that I was going through my year and a day of dedicate as a witch at the same time. The cross pollination of psychology and Wicca revealed a path to me which involved slowly building up my ability to do for myself what the psych meds were doing for me.
I gained more skill at doing grounding exercises, then had my dosage of mood stabilizer reduced. I found ways to feel small sparks of happy throughout the day, then had my antidepressant dose reduced. I made sure to go slow and careful. More than once I had my dose reduced just to have to bump it back up again. I did my work, figured out my shit one day at a time. The first half dozen times I tried to go without meds it was too soon and all I managed to do was cause myself to lose many months worth of progress. Each time I had to deal with whatever damage I had caused myself before I could think about moving forward once more.
Eventually I managed to go a whole summer without meds then got back on an antidepressant for the winter. Then I did the same thing that following year.
All told, it took me five years of intense personal work to reclaim my sanity. On the other side of it I realize that I’m one of the lucky ones. I have depression and will carry that with me for the rest of my life. I have autism and that shapes the way I interact with other people and react to certain stimuli. But the lion’s share of my issues came from my trauma and PTSD. This made my depression much much worse. Made me become overwhelmed and overstimulated so often that I couldn’t be present in any given situation no matter how much I wanted to be there. Having dealt with most of my trauma-damage I can now manage the remainder of my mental health issues without psych meds. Other people are not so blessed. While dealing with underlying trauma should help anyone with mental health issues and possibly reduce the number and dosage of their meds, they will still be meds dependant for the rest of their lives.
I believe in mad pride. Whatever work I do, it will always center the mental health needs of those I am doing the work with. A part of my vision of the future is a world where people are supported and encouraged to take their inward journeys. Where meds are not thrown about as some sort of panacea. Where “doctors” no longer claim to be experts when they are just fellow humans who are in the middle of figuring out their own shit just like the rest of us. Where meds are not given out by “guess and check” based on arbitrary symptoms which may or may not have anything to do with neurochemistry.
We are harmed by doctors trying med after med after med after med until something sort of works. We need a system where actual scientific measurements (blood tests, EEG, fMRI, etc) equate to specific prescriptions. And we need talk therapy and support groups to be normalized in the same way that going to the dentist or primary care provider for preventative care and checkups “just because” is normalized.
I got lucky, I was able to deal with my trauma in the first place, and doubly lucky because I didn’t need psych meds once I did. We need a world that cares for people who are not as lucky as I.