She was a successful maker of documentaries, but a brush with psychiatry left her with her own tragic tale to tell

Highly regarded by her colleagues and the industry, with her work airing in both the UK and the US attracting critical acclaim and awards, including an Emmy nomination, her professional life was going from strength to strength. But, closer to home, all was not so well.

This is the true story of Samantha (name has been changed to protect identity).clapper-board-samantha

Her marriage had run its course and the family was being pulled apart. Her two children meant the world to her and her husband, and the emotional roller-coaster of the divorce process was taking its toll on all concerned.

To add to this, her latest professional project was, in her terms, ‘mediocre’ and she felt obliged to resign from the job she loved.

Ever more anxiously contemplating how it would affect the parties involved, Samantha became unable to sleep, only adding to her agitation.

She knew she needed help and made an appointment with a private psychiatrist.

It seemed the reasonable thing to do at the time. She had some familiarity with the world of ‘mental health’, having made films about it. But, no matter how bad things were, they were about to get a whole lot worse.

The psychiatrist did what psychiatrists do and prescribed a chemical ‘solution’ to her difficulties. Escitalopram introduces unnatural levels of the neuroconductor (helps pass signals around the body) serotonin into the nervous system. (Serotonin levels mainly monitor gastric processes, which is why taking these drugs can lead to eating disorders and weight gain.)

It also affects the same part of the brain as hallucinogenic drugs.

Samantha took the prescribed drug and flipped out. The world of her senses became unreal and she felt driven to self harm, attacking her forearm repeatedly with a kitchen knife.

As the drug continued to take her over, she became convinced that she had been using the knife on her children.

The ‘treatment’ induced extreme paranoia. She believed she would be arrested for her imagined crimes, and that everything she did was being broadcast on national television.

Realising how serious things were becoming by this time, the children had called Samantha’s ex-husband who had her taken to a private hospital, where she explained that God was telling her she would die by suicide in three days time.

Threatening to ‘section’ (legally restrain) her if she tried to leave, they admitted her and took her off the Escitalopram.

Within twenty-four hours her perceptions returned to normal, although, if anything, her anxiety had been worsened by the ‘treatment’ so far. And the nightmare didn’t end there.

Dismissing any connection between Samantha’s experiences and the effects of the drug, the hospital pronounced that she had a ‘rare condition’ they called ‘psychotic depression’ and went for another chemical ‘solution’.

The new ‘treatment’ further increased her anxiety and insomnia and added akathisia (from the Greek for ‘unable to sit still’) to her already existing burdens. Now she was in motion all the time, shaking, jumping, spasming and generally worse than she would have been if she had never gone near psychiatry in the first place.

In this state, she was sent home, as long as she agreed to return for weekly consultations.

The consultations produced more chemical interventions: Olanzapine is supposed to calm you down, Fluoxetine (Prozac) inhibits the serotonin introduced by the original Escitalopram, Lamotrigine is supposed to minimise convulsions in epilepsy, so might as well be used to counter the akathisia which was caused by the other drugs, Sertraline, which does more or less the same thing as Prozac, Lithium, which increases the synthesis of the serotonin the Prozac-type drugs are there to inhibit and Zopliclone (which it is not even legal to sell in the US) is a depressant of the entire central nervous system used in this case as a ‘sleeping pill’.

Unsurprisingly, given this contradictory cocktail of toxins, there was a war raging inside Samantha’s body. She was chronically ill. She lost all sensation and became ever more numb emotionally and physically. Unable to wash or dress herself, she needed round the clock care.

Somewhere in there was the original Samantha desperate to get out. Cut off from genuine sensation, she took to drink and smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. If she couldn’t climb back out the top, she would go out the bottom.

Her children were, by this time, living with their father. On visits, they were saddened and horrified by what had become of their mum at the hands of people that were supposed to help.

Their simple stated desire to have their old mummy back played a large part in bringing Samantha out of the hell she found herself in. Even as sedated and chemicalised as she was, she had the realisation that the ‘treatment’ was at the bottom of her woes.

With an enormous effort of will she took herself off to an NHS hospital and told staff she wanted to kill herself.

An NHS psychiatric unit was not quite what she’d been used to, either in fixtures and fittings or the gentility of her fellow inmates. But, possibly as a lucky side-effect of limited budgets, they had no intentions of continuing with the existing cocktail. Instead, they put her on yet another serotonin increaser, Venlafaxine to the exclusion of all else and weaned her off that by means of a hideously unsympathetic cold turkey, during which she had to be physically restrained from hurting herself, and had no idea what was occurring.

In her own words: ‘Then something miraculous happened. After two weeks of going cold turkey, I started to get better. After a year of emotional anaesthesia, my pleasure in things returned as quickly as it had disappeared. It was like coming out of a year-long coma.

Once she was discharged, she resolved never again to take anti-depressants or sleeping pills, and has stuck to her guns.

‘The reawakening of all my senses as the drugs left my system was one of the most profound things I have ever experienced. It was like a rebirth, a rediscovery of what it is to be human, to experience the full gamut of emotions that separates us from the animal kingdom – joy, love, laughter, sexual pleasure. All had been taken away from me for a whole year, and the return to sentience was sometimes overwhelming.’

 


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2 Comments

  1. All I can say is thank god there is a happy ending to the story as all too often that is not the case when psychiatry gets involved!

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