Tapering Psych Meds: The New Awakening

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An OCD Diagnosis and 8 Years of Meds

Honestly, my obsessions are still here but I just feel separated from them in some way so I can function better.

When we first met, this was how Tasha described her experience of health-related worries while on Zoloft for the past 8 years. Her ruminative focus would shift from time to time, but most of her adult life she had gotten stuck in mental loops around contracting STDs, around developing a deadly infection from a paper cut, or around receiving a surprise cancer diagnosis. Sometimes she would “do something” about these worries like go to a doctor, get a test, or wash her hands repeatedly, but the worries themselves took up considerable real estate in her mind.

Tasha came to me because she wanted to know if there was a way to feel radically better, and because she was ready for a medication-free chapter to her life. By the way, she also felt exhausted, constipated, cloudy, and emotionally flat on a day to day basis.

It’s About More Than Meds vs No Meds

Here’s the thing about a psychiatric medication taper

It’s not something to take lightly. It’s not something to do “just cuz.” And it may not even be physically possible to do – IF – you haven’t prepared yourself for the deep personal meaning inherent in this process. You see, we don’t have initiation rituals any more. Elder men don’t bring teenage boys out into the wilderness to survive on their own for three days; we barely recognize a sacred ceremony; and women have been led to fear their built-in self-initiatory process of childbirth.

We are also in an auspicious time in human history. People are waking up. They are waking up at an accelerating pace and in ever mounting numbers, like a flock of birds that quickly assembles once the early movers set aloft.

We are waking up to the bankruptcy of the stories that we have been told. They no longer feel true, even though we are entrained still to behave according to the rules of this constructed society.

The rumbling inside us whispers, “…there’s more to it. You can remember that there is a mystery, a beauty, and profound meaning to this life experience. It’s so much more than just consuming, fighting, and surviving.”

Self-initiation Through Medication Discontinuation

It’s been my observation that coming off of psychiatric medications such as  antidepressants is serving as an experience of self-initiation for thousands today. It is making available, an awakening. An awakening to new truths, to a more authentic self, and to an expansive feeling of gratitude.

Here’s what one of my post-taper patients ultimately came to (published with her consent):

The sentiments in this email were hard earned. She had to hit several rock bottoms before this experience was made available to her, but it all began with a belief that there was something better, something beyond where medication had taken her.

You Get the Taper You Need

In many ways, the tapering process is personally designed, in its ease and its challenges to shed layers of your own limited mind-traps. It shows you what it is that you really believe. It gives you the choice to redefine, to let go, and to be reborn.

When women come to me with the stated desire to discontinue their meds, here’s what I make clear: in order for this to be worth it, you have to be ready to change. Your relationship to your own mind has to evolve and your life philosophy has to take on a new flavor. And you have to choose and commit to a process, not an outcome.

I have worked, over the past decade, to develop a protocol that I feel has the potential to induce this mindset shift, but you have to be ready and you have to want it. It is based on the premise that physical healing clears the noise and allows you an experience of your own clarity and self-power that is necessary to prepare you for spiritual growth and evolution.

But you have to be willing to sacrifice the comfort of your old ways for the exhilarating uncertainty of the unknown.

The Shadow Side of a Beautiful Mind

To Tasha, I said this:

Your obsessions are reflecting back to you your deeply held beliefs. They are landing on fertile soil and sprouting abundant weeds. They are showing you:

  • That you don’t trust your body
  • That you feel completely out of control
  • That bad luck is random and imposed upon hapless victims
  • That a diagnosis is a fate
  • That if only you can prepare and act fastidiously enough, everything will feel good

You have a sharp mind, and that mind has served you well. It has kept you ahead of the game. It has helped you prepare. It has solved problems.

This beautiful mind has a shadow side, however, that we need to visit with. It scares you, it lures you into dark airless places, and it holds you hostage in disconnection from your true self. Your mind only responds, however, to your felt beliefs. It will continue to try to provoke you, but it will obey and it will submit if you radiate a truth stronger than its claims and statements.

In fact, if you can shift your beliefs, through an experience of bodily healing to reflect new truths like:

If these are your beliefs, then your obsessive anxieties and ruminations will, necessarily, wither. You’ll be able to look at your thoughts with curiosity, like an anthropologist studying an interesting cultural practice. You may find, in fact, that there are hurt places, deep sadness, and raw loneliness beneath your anxious worries. You will feel that you can go there, sit with them, and grieve. And from this process, you will birth something once thought impossible.

Try On New Stories

Only then can you drop entire stories and entire elements of your identity, and enter the wild unknown. This is the fertile place where wondrous things happen. In this place, you can choose your story. You can develop a playful relationship to your mind when it tries to defend your ego and wait for your intuition – the evidence of a balanced mind – shows you the truth.

In fact, just this morning, I walked out into the freezing December Northeast. Ever longing for a jacket-less life, my old script began playing:

Ugh. I hate it here. Why would anyone live here? This feels mercilessly terrible and we have months and months to go. You know what, this actually hurts me. I wonder if other people even have any idea how much this sucks for me.”

But because of the work I have done and do, every day, to commit to my own growth and evolution, today I could play with another story. I decided to sit with this narrative, instead:

Wow that feels brisk and fresh. In many ways, I’m so grateful to live a seasonal life. To be able to witness life, death, and rebirth, the magic of it, before my eyes every year is such a powerful way to connect to vital forces of cyclical energy. It’s like having a natural menstrual period instead of taking birth control!”

I smiled at my mind, and I moved on with my day.

Because random victimhood is not a part of my belief system, those kvetchy thoughts have a harder time taking hold these days.

Leave a Medicating Mindset Behind

When it comes to the symptoms of “mental illness,” many of the core beliefs that brought you to medication in the first place need to be exposed, deconstructed, and renewed.

In this process of shedding and synthesis, you may move into dark spaces. Spaces that bring you to your knees. Or you may not. It’s impossible to predict. But you will encounter what you need, and all you have to do is Surrender. Accept. And Trust.

As one of my patients in the birth canal was able to articulate:

psych meds

And she will make it. I know she will. One moment, in this space, she will touch the light. She will feel that moment of clarity where she gets that it all needed to be this way to show her how many fragments of herself must be welcomed in; how many hurt places needed compassionate self-love; and how many old thought habits and limiting beliefs were standing in the way of her most radiant self. I’ve witnessed this process hundreds of times, and I know this much is true: women are waking up. Because we need to. Because we want to. Because the very survival of this planet depends on it.

I’ll leave you with a favorite meditation. It’s aptly called Act, Don’t React, and it honors a new way of experiencing the world, not from fear and old habits, but from a place of agency and self-empowerment. You can free yourself from your mind, and then you are simply riding the wave of energetic forces unfolding in this wild life.

https://www.3ho.org/3ho-lifestyle/men/successful-man/meditation-act-don-t-react

It’s darkest before the dawn. Let some part of you remember that as you move through spaces with imperceptible walls and no solid ground, all you have to do is surrender, accept, and trust that something you could not have even fathomed is forthcoming.

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About Dr. Kelly Brogan

KELLY BROGAN, MD, is a holistic psychiatrist, author of the New York Times Bestselling book, A Mind of Your OwnOwn Your Self, the children’s book, A Time For Rain, and co-editor of the landmark textbook Integrative Therapies for Depression. She is the founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset, and the membership community, Vital Life Project. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from M.I.T. in Systems Neuroscience. She is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. Learn More