Caffeine Doesn’t Work in Psych Drug Withdrawal

coffee

By Russell Baugher

Three weeks ago, I was taking shortcuts to increase my energy because I wanted more from life, and two weeks ago—I crashed. I was enjoying one cup of coffee each morning and sugar-infused edibles throughout the day, but I realized after seven days that I just can’t handle stimulants and, to a lesser extent, sugar while in psych drug withdrawal. It’s tough, too, because my caffeinated thoughts are unequivocally precise, and swift.

My mind on caffeine is wholly capable and captivating.

But my mind on caffeine is not my mind. It’s part of a stimulant-fueled hive mind and I’m an insignificant worker bee, able to focus exceptionally well on the task at hand while struggling to think of—and possibly ignoring—more meaningful tasks. I’m doing the work of others while in an altered state of mind, and being rewarded with self-ignorance. On caffeine, I am not my own person; I’m an emissary of the coffee plant and/or tea bush.

Without caffeine, I’m an internal minimalist. I like the purity of the feeling and the rawness of the design, but it’s going to take some time to adjust. I’m forced to be present within myself with little distraction. It’s like my thoughts are suddenly living without electricity and other modern amenities. I feel mentally rural, with plenty of acreage between thoughts, and forty minutes of road between here and town. I took those earlier-mentioned shortcuts three weeks ago because I wanted more from life and I wanted it faster; I wanted my thoughts closer to town. I get impatient and feel too alone, or maybe too tired and a smidge hopeless overall—and I want to speed things up.

I find it easy to focus on the short term and what I could be doing instead of thinking and moving slowly, but there are ominous reminders of where moving too fast gets me that are hard to overlook. Caffeine is a stimulant. There is plenty of bad that goes along with stimulating the body past its current self-regulated limit, and one of those bad things involves the heart: my caffeinated heart feels like a Super Ball launched down a tight hallway by the infinitely strong arm of God, amplifying the bounciness of heart in psych drug withdrawal. But this is where I need to be—right now—focusing on my own life and thoughts, as simple and slow as they may be. I need to live outside of town and away from the hive. My body is telling me what it can and cannot handle.

I just need to listen to my body.

First published on Birth of a Patient — Russell Baugher’s blog

More by Russell Baugher on Beyond Meds

 

 

The teen was not psychotic, but the antipsychotics were

By Russell Baugher

Patient

I woke up to two EMTs standing at the foot of my bed. My mother stood beside them. They told me kindly and respectfully that if I went willingly there would be no police involvement.

I quietly obliged.

They walked with me out of my bedroom, down the stairs, through the garage, and into the back of the ambulance. They told me to lie down on the stretcher. Next came the straps. The straps were a formality, they said. Standard procedure.

With no lights or sirens, the ambulance made its way to the nearby psychiatric hospital. It was a hospital I’d been attending as an outpatient, until I stopped going. That’s why they’d come to get me.

Before the hospitalization, I was a high school student who’d stopped going to high school. I’d been taking antidepressants since the age of eleven. Drowsiness is a common side effect of antidepressants. It usually goes away in the beginning, but not always. Because of my near constant struggle with drowsiness I just wanted to stay home and sleep all day.

I wanted to quit school.

Back at the psychiatric hospital, I was a teenager standing in a padded room. There was a male standing approximately three to four feet in front of me. We were the only people in the room. He told me to remove each article of clothing and place it on the small bed beside us.

Shirt. Pants. Socks. Underwear.

He asked me to turn around. He asked me to bend over and down. I followed his instruction as he inspected my clothing for any unpermitted items. The last part of the search involved standing unclothed (fully naked) as he finished his inspection. The empty pile of clothes on the bed were, at one point, loosely in the shape of a person. No doubt resembling me much more than I did.

After his inspection, the strip search was over. He permitted me to get dressed and took me to my room. In my room, there was a window, a small bed, and the standard wooden desk that seems to be in every psych hospital.

This was my second time in a week as an inpatient in a psychiatric facility. The reason for the first hospitalization was the same: non-compliance with school. In the previous hospital, I sat at the wooden desk in my roomate-less room and imagined being somewhere else. Somewhere where I wasn’t the only kid. Because at that hospital, I was the only kid. I was the only adolescent on an adolescent unit, which meant I was the only person there.

Interesting Case

According to staff, it was unusual for kids to be hospitalized there during the school year. I stayed with the adults on the adult unit during the day before returning each night to sleep on the empty adolescent unit. I don’t know that I felt alone at the time. I think you have to feel like you matter before you can feel alone.

As a 15-year-old inpatient, I was given the antipsychotic drug Mellaril — also called Thioridazine. This medication shut me down from the inside out. It wasn’t a black-and-white shutdown for that would’ve been too kind. This was an ambiguous shutting down. This was a loosening of the concepts of basic humanity. This was the temporary voiding of gender, and the introduction of a pause before every future primitive response.

Thioridazine has been studied for use as a male contraceptive because of its ability to prevent ejaculation. Something I found out (ahem) first hand. From dry mouth to dry ejaculation, the side effects were evolving. But I was wearing down — my teenage awkwardness replaced with apathy. The rough seas of raging hormones became stagnant. Perfectly still. A stillness set to the tune of “The Losing Horn” from the television game show The Price Is Right. Each episode of The Price Is Right concludes with the host signing off: “Please help control the pet population. Have your pet spayed or neutered.”

In my mind, I was now part of that population. I was controlled. I wasn’t sterile, but it made no difference. I did not respond with rage. I’d already seen the room that rage gets you. It’s where I stood naked, as a stranger went through my clothes. I had no choice about taking Thioridazine so they saw no need to caution me. For the next ten years, my drug cocktail would include antipsychotic medication. At thirty and medication-free, I’m still recovering from that period of shutting down as a teen and the more than a decade of antipsychotic use that followed. The stifling of my youth led to the suffocation of my adulthood. I needed a chance to develop. I just needed a chance to breath.

I needed a chance to be a teen.

from Birth of a Patient

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RussRussell Baugher was given one diagnosis and one medication at the age of eleven. By the age of twenty-five, he’d taken forty different psych meds for the half-dozen diagnoses he’d received and seesawed through several hundred pounds of weight gained while taking antipsychotic medication. He was managing the supposed disease of mental illness in relative isolation, believing that he would someday be the death of himself.

At twenty-five, he decided to take a chance on not being sick. He’s been free of psychotropic drugs for the last ten months – after five years of slow and careful reductions.

He didn’t learn to survive as a patient, but he did learn to endure. It’s something that aids him greatly in his time of continued healing, as he works to complete the transition from patient to human being.

 

The compliant kid

By Russell Baugher

I wish I’d been less compliant when I took psychiatric medication. The non-compliant folks have the best stories. They possess a richness of character. Their lives, on the surface, appear more fleshed out. They are, in some ways, more human.

I am, in my mind, something else, with an impoverished character. I took psych meds every day from age eleven to age thirty. The last five of those years were spent tapering off all meds. Now, I am healing, and learning how to be human. I no longer wake up with anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, benzos, stimulants, and sedatives queued up in a weekly pill organizer. Even the “jumbo” organizers weren’t large enough for all my medications. And I took those medications religiously. I didn’t know if they would help save my life, but I must’ve believed they’d deliver me from something…

Just not the routine of taking them.

When I was in the seventh grade, several of the other children gathered around my desk one day after class. They were not looking directly at me, not at first. They were only looking at each other. Awkwardly looking. As if each one held one of three keys, and all three keys had to be turned together to unlock something. To unlock the asking of a question…

One of the kids had an aunt who hadn’t been feeling very well. She went to the family doctor to get checked out, and as an eventual result – she’d been diagnosed with cancer. Her treatment routine involved frequent visits to the doctor.

“Do you have cancer?”

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I’d been leaving school early every week to go to the doctor. But my doctor was a psychiatrist. I wasn’t going for cancer treatment. I was going for psychotherapy, and to get my monthly prescription for an anti-depressant called Luvox that I was taking to treat OCD symptoms. I’d been going since the previous year.

I still feel at a loss for words, thinking back to that day. I was not a cancer patient, but I was managing a disease. I was a pre-teen on an anti-depressant. Thinking nothing of it. Maybe I was just glad I didn’t have to put it in applesauce first. Just half a glass of water and three quick swallows.

All gone.

Except for the disease… That stuck around.

No – not the disease, but rather the idea of it being a disease. That stuck around.

I was an 11-year-old in 1995. Years later, after being sent to a therapeutic boarding school, my mom made a partial chart of my medication history:

med list

When I see things like this, I can’t help but wonder what life would’ve been like if I’d been less compliant. If I’d said disease be damned, and just skipped out on the pill taking.

That chart doesn’t even include page two. I was still sixteen on page two.

I was still compliant.

first published on Birth of a Patient

RussRussell Baugher was given one diagnosis and one medication at the age of eleven. By the age of twenty-five, he’d taken forty different psych meds for the half-dozen diagnoses he’d received and seesawed through several hundred pounds of weight gained while taking antipsychotic medication. He was managing the supposed disease of mental illness in relative isolation, believing that he would someday be the death of himself.

At twenty-five, he decided to take a chance on not being sick. He’s been free of psychotropic drugs for the last ten months – after five years of slow and careful reductions.

He didn’t learn to survive as a patient, but he did learn to endure. It’s something that aids him greatly in his time of continued healing, as he works to complete the transition from patient to human being.