This blog is not FDA approved
The nurse handed me my nineteen-year-old son’s discharge papers. Klonopin, Abilify, Effexor, Adderall, Atarax/Vistaril. Are you kidding me? Five days earlier, after barely being able to wake him for four days, I’d brought Dan to this acute care mental health facility. I was given the impression they’d get him “back on track” by reducing his meds.
Well, that didn’t happen. He left this clinic on more medication than when he went in. I suppose I should have just been happy he was alive. After all, he’d been having suicidal thoughts since being abruptly taken off Vyvanse, a drug he should never have been taking in the first place. My son was suffering from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I later found out stimulants often exacerbate OCD.
Dan’s journey through severe OCD had taken him from seven therapists to ten medications to a nine week stay at a world renowned residential treatment program. While the Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy (the frontline treatment for OCD) he’d learned at this program helped him immensely, other issues cropped up along the way: depression, insomnia, generalized anxiety, tremors, tics, tachycardia, double-vision, sky-high triglycerides, weight gain of thirty-five pounds, and possible pericarditis. He was a mess.
I am a mom who used to think long and hard before giving her children any kind of medicine. How could I have allowed Dan to be so overmedicated? The short answer is I was desperate, and each new medication came with the promise, or at least the hope, of helping my son, who was rapidly slipping away from me. We just had to find that right combination of pills and everything would be okay. As you might guess, that elusive combination was never found. I did, on occasion, ask his psychiatrist if perhaps some of Dan’s meds were contributing to all these problems. After all, they were heavy-duty drugs with many known side effects. The doctor looked at me patronizingly and each time replied with some variation of, “Your son is a very sick young man, Mrs. Singer. He needs these meds.” Translation: “Stop being in denial about your son’s mental illness and let me do my job.”
Well, he didn’t do a good job, and I’d had enough. My son was a walking zombie. Once I had those discharge papers in hand, I embarked on a mission: to find a psychiatrist who would wean Dan off all, or at least most, of his meds and start from scratch. I found a handful of doctors who appeared to favor a more holistic approach, conducted phone interviews with them, and settled on one. After meeting with me and Dan, he readily agreed to start weaning him off of everything except Effexor, as he couldn’t understand why my son was taking all those drugs anyway.
What followed was incredible to watch. As his dosages decreased, it was as if layers and layers of crud were being chiseled away, and glimpses of Dan, the real Dan, began to emerge. Eventually his test results returned to normal. The extra weight dropped off. His anxiety and depression lifted, and his OCD, in his own words, was “practically non-existent.” One day I noticed something unusual about my son, and it took me a moment to figure out what it was: He was smiling. We hadn’t seen that expression in way too long.
Dan still had bad hand tremors, so the psychiatrist wanted to wean him off the Effexor, and replace it with something else. Withdrawal from Effexor was horrible, with Dan experiencing “brain zapping” side effects that felt like lightning bolts in his head. He needed to reduce the dosage extremely slowly, and we set up a mini-pharmacy on the kitchen table, where I’d take one or two more beads out of each capsule weekly. It took a long time, but finally, my son was medication free.
The psychiatrist began discussing replacement options, but Dan had a different idea. “Why start something new when I’m doing so well?” he asked. “How will we even know if it’s working?” The psychiatrist reluctantly agreed to a “watchful waiting” period. Peering over his glasses, he told Dan, “You know, you’ll have to be on something.”
That was almost four years ago. The psychiatrist got tired of waiting and retired. Dan has graduated college, is living on his own, and is working in his chosen field. His OCD is classified as mild, and he is still medication free. Every situation is different, and while I know there are OCD sufferers who benefit from medication, drugs only hurt my son. We all need to be aware of the possibility that medications can sometimes cause more harm than good, even if your doctor is telling you otherwise. It’s so important to pay attention to our instincts, because more often than not, they’re right.
Janet Singer talks about anything and everything to do with obsessive-compulsive disorder on her blog: ocdtalk.