Escape from Suffering

I have been asked “how did you manage to just come off all the meds?”

It was a combination of the desire to escape suffering, and the haunting call of the Lord.  My life had become an endless round of sickness caused by drugs.  I would be ambulanced to the Emergency Room, have IVs and catheters inserted, be abused and insulted by staffers because I carried the stigma of psychiatric disorder, be re-admitted to inpatient psychiatry, and then discharged and it would start all over again.  Finally, on inpatient psychiatry, I made the decision to take physicians prescribing pharmaceuticals out of my life; henceforth, my health care decisions would be made directly between God and me.

I stopped taking all meds (except Ativan, which I thought I still needed for sleep) and went home, expecting to die.  In addition to antidepressants, which I had been taking every day for twenty-six years, I was taking multiple drugs to combat the illnesses caused by the psych meds, most particularly medicines to treat the kidney disease.  Renouncing all meds, I expected to die, but I figured that if God wanted me to live then he would find a way to make it happen.  If he wanted me dead then I was prepared to meet him on his terms.  The ability to live is dependent on the willingness to die.

When the medications were stopped, I began to get better.  It was the drugs that were killing me.

After a few months, I decided to stop the Ativan, too.  That’s when I discovered that Ativan is a narcotic and doctors had gotten me addicted to it.  (I only took what was prescribed.)  I went through cold-turkey drug withdrawal, which physicians failed to diagnose.  After about five days of pure hell, it was my psychologist who figured it out.  He designed a withdrawal schedule to get me off the Ativan.  The problem was that by then, everything I took was making me suicidally depressed—even diuretics.  Leaving me on drugs would have caused me to kill myself; taking me off was causing horrendous withdrawal problems, so he designed a regime that got me off the Ativan in about ten days.

In looking back from a distance of ten years, I see the Lord at work.  I had been, at best, a lukewarm Christian.  I attended church regularly, but it was a church of social action, not prayer and bible study.  I was faithful although I couldn’t say exactly what I was faithful to.  However, there had always been the haunting call of God in my life.  For twenty-six years I could not hear the call clearly because of the drugs I took.  Psych meds interfere with God’s ability to reach you.

There is a minor field of study called neurotheology.  It asks the question, “How does God get into your brain?”  Ever wonder?  There are some good books on the subject, but don’t go to your local library to find them.  What you will find at the library are mawkish biographies.  Instead, go to to find the good scientific stuff.  There are neurologists out there putting eastern mystics into MRIs to study what the brain is doing when the subject reports feeling close to God.  I lack the capacity to understand the more technical stuff, but what I do have is the ability to understand people.

On inpatient psychiatry, I met Bob.  He was about sixty and had been an evangelical Christian most of his life.  Then his daughter was raped and murdered.  The result of that distress led him to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  He was medicated and hospitalized.  And he paced up and down the hall all day crying out, “I’ve lost my God!”  Over and over again, “I’ve lost my God.”  We tried to comfort him, saying things like, “God is always with you, even if you can’t feel him.”  The man was inconsolable.  The question was, was he separated from God by the mental illness or by the drugs?  I think it was the drugs.

My ability to apprehend God’s presence changed according to which antidepressant I was taking.  I wrote a letter to my pastor declaring my despair and my separation from God.  By the time he got to the hospital a week later, I was fine:  my antidepressant had been changed.

At home, after I stopped taking Ativan, I was wakeful most of the night.  In the dark emptiness, I began to read the bible.  I had made repeated efforts to read it while I was being drugged, but I never could “get it.”  Without drugs, I read avidly.  One of the things I learned was that the mini-lessons in church on Sunday morning don’t begin to tell the story.  Read the whole book.  You’ll be surprised what you find.  One of the things I found was self-respect.

I read the Holy Bible cover-to-cover three or four times.  Then I read “Living Buddha, Living Christ,” the Wiccan Bible, Bhagavad Gita, and Holy Koran, that is, I read the sacred writings of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

There is one Lord above all, variously named Brahman, Yahweh, God or Allah.  The Lord calls us to humility and service, truth and justice.  There is a straight path laid out for each of us.  If you are on your straight path, then it will be well with your soul.

When mankind gunks up the brain with drugs then he cannot connect with God and hell ensues.  It’s your choice:  the Lord or the drug box.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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