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Madness to Miracles by Shiloh Cadieux

At 44 I was an RN with years of experience and certification in both psychology and chemical dependency, which makes me embarrassed to tell my story. I had an excellent reputation and work history, and my hospital was offering to send me back to school for my master’s degree and the opportunity to manage a new satellite clinic. I loved my job, was happily married, had two almost adult precious children I adored, and owned a beautiful home that was often full of my friends and my children’s friends. I always had large quantities of home cooking on the stove. I was also involved in a study and meditation group, and was active in volunteer work in my community. I did my own renovations on my home. I loved gardening, hiking, kayaking, swimming, and skiing, and found time often for these activities with my children. I neither drank nor smoked. My life was rich in all the ways most important to me, especially being a mother and a nurse.

At age 45 I hit a situational depression due to several unexpected major stressors in my life. My husband (a counselor), my women’s group and my doctor all suggested I take Prozac and I was happy to think something might help me through this unusual slump.

I began on Prozac and thought I felt some relief. After two months my doctor suggested I stop taking the Prozac and so I did. When I felt worse again, I resumed Prozac as my doctor suggested. Again I thought I saw some improvement and then stopped the prescription at my doctor’s recommendation. The third time I was put on Prozac was a complete disaster, and within six months I could no longer work as my memory, concentration and comprehension were failing horribly which caused anxiety and panic attacks for the first time in my life. I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and prescribed clonazepam. I took time off and then tried five times to return to work and each time was worse than the last. Doctors now told me I would need medication for the rest of my life.

I finally surrendered to not being able to work at present. I was devastated to lose the ability to work at a job I loved and embarrassed at my loss of skills. My self-esteem dropped significantly. Little did I know I would never hold a regular job again.

I was experiencing akathisia and irritated bouts of “mania” which crashed into a torrent of suicidal thoughts and I began trying to commit suicide to escape. I wasn’t to know for 20 years that akathisia was a med side effect and that this excruciating pain had a name. I only knew this was a pain like no other. (Pharmaceutical companies often refer to akathisia as an inner restlessness but it is far, far worse.) I didn’t truly want to die, only to escape this unbearable pain that wiped out all reason. I have always been a strong person and I deeply cared about my family but I also began to believe they were actually better off without me.

I was then diagnosed as bipolar type 2 and prescribed mood stabilizers for the new bipolar diagnosis.

With my first suicide attempt, my daughter pulled away significantly and I understood as in one short year, my children’s rock had become a woman who struggled to take a simple shower. My precious son eventually withdrew also and the estrangement from both became complete years later. It was more than devastating and I will always miss them.

My doctor began suggesting ECT, and I resisted as I hated the idea and had watched people recovering from ECT treatments. My doctor pressured me more and more, finally telling me with anger that my refusal was proof that I did not wish to get well. Nothing could have been further from the truth. After hearing his accusation for months I surrendered to prove him wrong and began ECT three times a week for six weeks. I remember lying in fear on the table being prepped for that first ECT. I remember nothing else from that time until nine weeks later when I had recovered just enough to put together a plan to kill myself by carbon monoxide poisoning. The attempt failed after four hours and I was dismayed that I couldn’t even kill myself properly.

So began my journey into psychiatric hospitals and ongoing adjustments of my medications. I can today identify 35 psychotropic medications I was prescribed over the years, including many antidepressants, antipsychotics, anti-seizure meds, mood stabilizers and benzodiazepines. At times I was on as many as five concurrently. Dosages and meds were changed frequently as nothing worked. (I now know these changes exacerbated the akathisia.) I was hospitalized more than 10 times and it was never voluntary. I believed I had simply gone mad and my only hope was to listen carefully to my doctors and do as they suggested.

After a failed attempt at counseling, my marriage ended as the husband I loved was exhausted from caring for psychiatric patients all day and then coming home to another. I was so tired of his disappointment in me, which reflected my own, that I was actually relieved to see him go.

I decided to leave my home state of Maine and go to Arizona as I wished to save my children from the pain and embarrassment of my suicide attempts. I was also hoping sunshine might magically help my deteriorating mental health.

I learned to cope with my poor condition and renovated houses as I could work for myself when I was able. I had a caring new psychiatrist and he worked hard to find medications that might help me. I was involved in support groups and tried adding a variety of more than 30 alternative treatments like acupuncture and reiki, but nothing helped my state of mind. Within this blur was an overdose and a nine-day coma. Doctors told me it was a miracle I had survived. Another attempt led to hypovolemic shock and near death. My suicidal thoughts were then a daily occurrence, and as soon as I survived one attempt, I made plans for the next time mania, akathisia and that unbearable pain hit.

I should mention that during this time I lived in Mexico for 7 years and although still suicidal I did better without the forced hospitalizations of the States.

Finally on a regular visit to my psychiatrist I asked that my meds be decreased in dose as I was completely “numb.” He instead prescribed a sixth medication. Standing in line at the pharmacy it just hit me that I couldn’t do this anymore. It couldn’t possibly be worse without meds. I went home and withdrew from two antidepressants, an anti-seizure med and thyroid and was terribly ill for over nine months. I had migraines, nausea and vomiting, dizziness and fainting, tinnitus, paresthesia, lost 30 pounds and had petit mal seizures. No one had ever told me a slow taper was necessary to withdraw from antidepressants. I had no idea what I was doing, I only had the hope of not feeling “numb.”

At the end of that nine months I was shocked to realize my anxiety, akathisia and suicidal thoughts were completely gone and had been gone almost since discontinuing the antidepressants. (I had never experienced suicidal thoughts before psychotropics and have not experienced them in years since stopping antidepressants. My life is precious to me.) I cannot begin to describe the utter shock I felt. I had lost 20 years of my life and everyone and everything I held dear, including myself, due to psychiatric medicine. Why did doctors not see how drastically I changed and how rapid and brutal my descent was? Why was I diagnosed with so many mental illnesses which were really medication side effects? Why did I not see? How can medications which cause some of us to be suicidal be given without warning and informed consent?

Withdrawing from the remaining benzodiazepine was a long and extremely painful process. I had more than 60 withdrawal symptoms including severe burning paresthesia, terror, insomnia, weakness, exhaustion, hair loss, muscle wasting and loss of balance.

I am now med free for 10 months and so grateful for feeling 90% healed and having my old self back again after 20 years of harm from psychotropics and 5 years of a painful withdrawal. I am grateful for loving life, experiencing joy and being able to rebuild my life again. This feels like being reborn.

May we all commit to finding healing in safe, natural and life sustaining ways.

Click here to read more accounts of stolen lives.

Shiloh finally emerged after 20 years on a cocktail of medications

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