I am a drug addict. I am not part of the recreational drug scene. Those drugs–speed, crystal meth, cocaine, heroin and its countless variants–hold no allure for me. During the giddy ‘60s, I did take a puff or two of weed, and I don’t mean dandelions. Didn’t everybody? But, that’s as far as my foray into la-la land went. Yet, I insist that I am a drug addict. Does that sound a bit melodramatic? Why?
The simple answer is that it’s hard not to be addicted to drugs if you suffer from some form of mental illness. In my case, endogenous clinical depression rears its ugly head episodically, and I am forced to submit myself to the standard treatment of drugs, drugs, and more drugs. The problem with this is that while it is relatively easy for most people to take all these pharmaceuticals on board, it is not so easy to rid the body of them. As occurs with any drug, whether it is acquired on the street or through a doctor’s prescription, withdrawal symptoms can occur when the doses of them are tapered, even gradually over time, as part of the recovery treatment. Nerve circuits that have become accustomed to being fed the drugs cry out for more when they are withdrawn.
In my case, I was discharged from hospital on a daily regime of five different medications, one to be taken in the morning, another to be taken up to three times daily, the remaining three to be taken before bedtime. I was taking between seven and ten pills a day. Once I started to feel better, I set about trying to reduce my pill intake, so that my liver could be given some respite. After five months, I had weaned myself down to two pills a day; one in the morning, one at night. However, it was not an easy journey to get to this point due to recurring bouts of insomnia.
All that remained for me to do was to eliminate the one pill that was left from my cocktail and I would be on the same maintenance regime that I was on before I became ill–just one pill in the morning. However, when I tried cutting the remaining night time drug to half a pill, insomnia recurred along with anxiety. I started to feel unwell again. So, I’ve decided to place a temporary stop on my drug reduction program until I have the inner resources to tackle that one remaining pill again.
Since I was quite ill some five months ago when I was placed on this panoply of pills, I really can’t criticize the well-meaning and highly-trained medics who prescribed them. It’s the way that psychiatry deals with mental illnesses. Pop the pills, let them do the job. After all, the whole area of psychiatric medicine is so grossly underfunded by governments, so pitifully resourced, that the “quick fix” approach has become the first line of treatment by default. How can it be otherwise when governments spend billions of our tax dollars on bypasses and roundabouts that we don’t need, short changing areas such as mental health? Shameful, indeed.
It is time that governments remember who elected them in the first place and bring their priorities in line with those whom they are elected to serve. They need to re-direct monies within the public purse so that the one in five Canadians who will suffer from a mental illness during their lives can receive the most basic of services. Then, building upon such an improved system, a more comprehensive, less drug-reliant treatment plan can see the light of day–alternative or complementary treatments such as acupuncture, breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, naturopathy, group activities. To deal with my drug withdrawal problem, I am experimenting with the first two on this list. But, there is no government coverage for such therapies, so low income people are unable to access them.
There is wisdom in the biblical concept that our bodies should be treated as temples. They are not sinks into which all manner of chemicals should be dumped. The liver should not be called upon to detoxify an unreasonable load of manufactured drugs that do not exist in the natural world. With a broader approach to treating mental illnesses, made possible by enhanced funding to this much neglected health area, it is my hope that fellow sufferers do not become drug addicts like myself.