Leslie’s life has been devastated by psychotropic drugs, and though they’ve damaged her brain, she brilliantly takes on a psychiatrist full of hubris who makes excuses for the ruin they bring to so many lives.
by Leslie Elise Ford Khalsa
I’ve been trying for several weeks to respond to Dr. Alice Keys’ May 9th article from Mad in America titled, “My ‘Head in a Bucket’ Metaphor”. Unfortunately, I’ve been on and off psychotropic drugs since the age of 19, resulting in iatrogenic disabilities severe enough that the U.S. government granted me S.S.D.I. To put it bluntly, my brain does not function reliably anymore. My mood, concentration, organizational skills, and stamina cannot be counted on from day to day, or even from hour to hour. For someone who graduated cum laude with a BA in English and with a 3.93 grade point average upon completing my MA in Special Education, I grieve the loss of so many things, my functioning brain being just one of such indignities.
Dr. Keys’ article begins with a question that is frequently asked of her as a psychiatrist, which is how could she not have known about the dangers of psychotropic medications. She considers this a question loaded with “less-than-flattering” assumptions: that “not knowing” implies that psychiatrists either have brains “different than other people” or “have dark hidden motives driving their lack of awareness.” She worries that making such assumptions could “block collaborative relationships” between patients and psychiatrists.
She then launches into her “bucket head” metaphor, in which she basically questions how any of us could not have known about the harm of psychotropic drugs, comparing them to other things that can cause harm (driving cars, eating fast food, using tobacco).
I would have laughed at Dr. Keys’ attempt to add a class of drugs that were prescribed to millions of people by doctors who reassured them that the spiffily-named products were harmless and non-habit-forming, but apparently the Abilify broke my funny bone. Perhaps that’s what happens when you are a mother of a six year old who picks up the wrapping paper after Santa’s arrival and then places a call to your doctor on Christmas Day because you can’t stop thinking about jumping out of a window. Things aren’t ever quite so funny again after you’ve lived through akathisia, I can assure you.
Dr. Keys, I assume you live in America. Surely you saw the commercials on television and on the pages of every magazine. You may have even held pens with brightly inscribed logos for Lexapro or Seroquel as you wrote out prescriptions.
My son, up late one night with a sore throat, suggested I talk to my doctor about Pristiq, because the little wind up doll appealed to him. The Prozac rock … how cute was that!
Doctors and the pharmaceutical companies knowingly lied to us about products that had been found to work barely as well as a placebo and intentionally hid studies that showed serious side effects such as akathisia, suicidal ideation, suicide/suicide attempts, psychosis, severe anxiety, and even homicide, risks that do not typically accompany the consumption of, say, a Happy Meal. To try to suggest that these belong on the same list or that the general public could have known … please.
The head-bucket metaphor goes on for a long time, and I had to read it several times, owing to the ongoing impairments that come from being prescribed eight psychotropic medications simultaneously over the course of several years. So here’s the short version: We all have invisible buckets on our heads. Over time and circumstances, holes are drilled into these buckets by any number of influences, people, and experiences. These holes either allow information to filter through our individual buckets or they block it. So we are all alike, all of us stumbling around with our individual invisible bucket heads. We are, in other words, human beings. Got it.
But then Dr. Keys offers this startling conclusion:
When you talk to a psychiatrist, remember that high-end drills have been there ahead of you. There may be no hole through his bucket for your shape and size of message. You’ll have to change the shape, size, direction, or velocity of your information. It still might not get through.
I must have missed the punch-line. Dr. Keys, I know you are not suggesting that someone who has been labeled “mentally ill” and is likely on a half-dozen brain-disabling drugs resort to charades, Pictionary, or hurling a shot-put in the direction of an invisible bucket in order to communicate effectively with a medical professional. Since the “high-end” drills have already been there, what tools should we “patients” bring instead: Electrodes? Ice picks? Hammers to bash a tiny little dent into the bucket so that sound filters through?
This is absolute nonsense. If psychiatrists cannot be expected to listen, then their only purpose appears to be randomly prescribing medications that have been proven ineffective at best and dangerous or fatal in some cases, based on their own brief “impressions” of a particular patient. We all know that psychiatrists rarely use the medical tests at their disposal to check for underlying conditions (hormonal imbalances, food allergies, adrenal dysfunction, sleep disorders, etc). Instead, they use the DSM, which is not a scientific document, but a “bible” of sorts that is sullied by the presence of doctors paid by the pharmaceutical companies on committee after committee to design the criteria for disorders of interest. Raise your hand if you think a patient should exhibit four or six characteristics to be diagnosed with x. Oh, let’s make it five. Science in action.
It is a travesty that the majority of our doctors have not read Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic, a book that saved my life. I could list about a half-dozen other important books that I’ve read in the past year (once the lithium was out of my system and I could read again). My doctors have read none of them. They are not interested. They will not watch documentaries such as “Generation RX” or “Numb” because “things like that are too depressing”. I would be surprised if they took the time to watch the “60 Minutes” piece on Irving Kirsch and the placebo effect.
Our doctors feign ignorance about the dangers of coming off psychotropic drugs. They tell us to stop antidepressants, antipsychotics, and benzodiazepines cold-turkey, and then we are forced to form internet groups to take care of one another through the hell of withdrawal. Doctors prescribe benzos for years, when it is widely known that the anti-anxiety effects are gone after about four weeks. Withdrawing from Xanax is said to be worse than coming off heroin. I’ve never withdrawn from heroin, but I did withdrawal rapidly from Xanax. It is a living nightmare.
Dr. Peter Breggin said that the rebound anxiety after the initial period of relief is 350 percent worse than the anxiety for which it was taken. But who will listen to Dr. Breggin? It is easier to write him off and label him a renegade, just like they did Dr. Loren Mosher. Anyone who dares to speak up is discredited immediately.
Dr. Keys, your metaphor has failed to convince me that collaboration is possible. Doctors are professionals; professionals listen. If psychiatrists cannot do this one fundamental thing—-listen—we have no use for them. And if what you have exposed about the impenetrable bucket heads is in fact true, you have just confirmed something I suspected but never really wanted to believe: There is serious evil afoot.
Leslie Elise Ford Khalsa runs the Facebook Community, Examining the Elephant. Pay a visit!
Tagged anatomy of an epidemic, head in bucket, mad in america, peter breggin, pharmaceutical drugs, pharmaceuticals, psychiatrists, psychiatry, psychiatry's failings, psychotropic drugs, robert whitaker, withdrawal from psychotropic drugs