It was one of my personal treatment goals whilst in DBT residential to withdraw from and eventually fully stop my reliance on psychotropic meds. I wanted to be able to see my psychiatric progress in terms of the internal shifts I had made as a result of my personal efforts; as opposed to attributing my changing mental state to the actions of pill-popping with trial-and-error medication.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a massive advocate for psychiatric meds when they are necessary and effective – and have seen so many people in my life with a range of diagnoses benefit hugely from them. However for me personally, and over 15 medications later, I just never found any of them to be particularly beneficial. Either that, or the cons of the side effects (munchies & weight gain, sedation, sleep changes, heart palpitations, dizziness) outweighed the pros of the function of the medications themselves.
When I arrived in Boston after a stint in a psych unit in the UK, I was on 4 regular medications and 3 PRNs. A few weeks in and still experiencing awful (and ironic!) drug-induced physical anxiety, I made the decision with my psychiatrist to start withdrawing one at a time. My P-Doc was as baffled as I was by the sheer range and number of drugs I’d been prescribed over the years – as well as their seeming lack of effectiveness. For this reason, and with her extensive knowledge of the complexities of treating BPD with medication, she and I were in agreement that for me the meds simply were to be no longer.
We planned the next few months cautiously and meticulously, ensuring that the transition was as slow and monitored as possible. I came off one medication at a time so that we could attribute any changes to that specific med, and decide together what was working (or what wasn’t), drug by drug. There was always the option of changing our minds or even trying yet more new meds if the plan didn’t go accordingly. Nothing was set in stone and it was important for us to both remain flexible in our approach, which we did.
Although I was slightly terrified that my mood would crash or my urges escalate, I was honestly already extremely low and struggling behaviourally too. We acknowledged that the drugs didn’t appear to be helping me extensively, AND the worry still stood that without them I could enter a state of crisis.
However, this was not to be the case:
The night-sweats and heart palpitations stopped almost immediately, my erratic mood swings smoothed out substantially, and my impulsiveness actually decreased. It was largely noticed by the entire treatment team, other residents, and of course by myself as well. I think it was probably a combination of the emotional support I was receiving, as well as my increased use of DBT Skills and the internal progress I was making, which enabled my transition to becoming medication-free the most effective thing for me at the time.
Two months later and I was completely off everything. A further three months down the line, I remain medication-free and relatively stable for the first time in years. I am possibly one of the *lucky ones* in that I have been able to effectively come off and stay off all my meds, and not just remain out of crisis, but actually reap the benefits. I find it empowering to know that I can get through each day by using my internal vices instead of relying on anything external to ensure my survival. I also feel like I’ve taken back control of my life and my mind in so many ways, and I know this is because of the hard work I’ve invested in my DBT treatment and Mindfulness practices, and the psychological progress I am making as a result.