EQ Institute Home Page
At the bottom of the story is Steve's recommended reading list
ONE MAN'S STORY OF
SUCCESSFUL TREATMENT AND EMERGENCE
Note: Steve B. has been a good friend of mine for about four years now. He was raised in a Catholic family and as such was dealt a heavy dose of guilt, fear and insecurity (as any recovering Catholic knows). He is another living example that it is possible for someone to overcome their dependency on psychiatrists, psychologists, alcohol, prescription medication and the church.
He now is one of the happier people I know. He is in good health mentally and physically. He does what he wants to do and doesn't feel guilty. He realizes we are all "selfish" and that it is healthy to take care of yourself first. He has a much better relationship with his sons and he doesn't let his ex-wife depress him, as he did when I met him. He no longer feels responsible for her or as guilty for divorcing her.
I personally don't accept the idea that his depression was ever of "genetic origin." Rather, I believe it was a natural result of his family system and the unhealthy family and religious values he was immersed in. Here is his story, written around 1993, in his words.
Twenty-two years ago I was diagnosed with psychiatric depression of genetic origin.
I do not use my family name as I tell my story. The psychiatric depression and chemical treatment of members of my family is an important part of my own story. Of course my publication of their diagnoses and personal lives would be a violation of their right to privacy, which I want to respect. And so my name is just Steve.
I begin my story with my father, who was a hypo-manic. When I was about 28, my dad suddenly became psychotic. My mother had to lock herself in the bedroom because he had become dangerous. He had to be tricked into going to the hospital, where he was admitted immediately. He ran the corridors, hid under beds and, in general, behaved grossly inappropriately. Haldol was prescribed, and he remained on it for the rest of his life. That incident was the last time my father lost touch with reality.
My dad's sister suffered depression and mania. At the age of 60 she became catatonic. A series of electric shock treatments as well as lithium and anti-depressants were needed from then until her death at the age of 80.
My own sister is hypo-manic. She has had a series of over 60 shock treatments over a period of 25 years and continues to receive them today. Her son has severe depression and is in a group home. My other sister does not have depression, but three of her children suffer with it.
I, Steve, have two sons. One of them has ben diagnosed hyperactive. My other son is hypo- manic. He attempted suicide at the age of 10. He then was placed on medication.
Years before, my own depression struck hard. I was 30 at the time. I was working as a marketing manager. I couldn't concentrate. I felt overwhelmed. I wasn't able to muster the energy to complete routine activities. I could barely get out of bed in the morning and I was ready for bed again by 6 P.M. I felt debilitated and could no longer perform my job adequately.
My internist did a complete physical examination. All test results were fine. I dragged through the days for over four months, performed in a slipshod manner, made excuses, stopped my social life, was demoted to sales work (I could sell when I was "up",) and refrained from making plans. Whereas I was dead weight, my wife was forced to perform both my and her household chores and responsibilities.
I saw a thyroid specialist who said my sluggishness could be a result of a slow acting thyroid. Whereas tests did not reveal any problems, the doctor described my thyroid as smaller than it should be and prescribed a thyroid hormone.
Four days later neither my wife nor I could believe what had happened. My body actually wanted to function again. I got up and cut the grass for three hours before breakfast. My mind was operating on all cylinders. I felt better than I had in years. I had become a completely new man. (or so I thought)
I continued with thyroid extracts for the next 10 years. The depression did reoccur occasionally, but I always could function.
When I turned 40, everything changed. Debilitating depression struck again. Over the next 12 years I was to see seven different psychiatrists. (in the effort to locate help)
Psychiatrist #1 diagnosed me as hypo-manic depressive and prescribed lithium upon our first meeting. The lithium immediately brought me very down and I stopped taking it. Because my wife had been and remained his patient, he suggested I see a different psychiatrist.
Psychiatrist #2 took several sessions with me to discuss my past and present living conditions, as well as my attitude about life. He prescribed tricyclic anti-depressants. They did not provide relief. He had me try synthroid. That also did not work. He mixed tri-cyclics with lithium and several combinations of these, but still no relief.
I don't think he was good at talk therapy. I know I wasn't. He spoke with an accent that was hard to decipher. I felt we weren't getting anywhere.
During this time, there were more bad days than good. My moods changed from day to day and even with a given day. When I could, I saw customers and made sales, although that would drain me and I would accomplish nothing more. It was difficult to plan or accomplish anything - often I was unable to get out of bed or off the couch. Nothing affected me; noting mattered. I didn't care about anything or anybody. If I tried to read, I couldn't remember what I had read. I couldn't even follow a plot on a TV sitcom.
The psychiatrist prescribed desyrel without lithobid then pamelor, and then vivactil, synthroid, and lithium, and different dosages of each. I felt my body was a chemical lab. Each modification in my drugs hurt. When one lost its effectiveness, I hurt. I'd go off it and would have to wait thirteen days before I could start another. I would have to take that for up to a month to learn whether it would work. Months slipped by. My weight ballooned.
I felt incapacitated and was scheduled for electric shock therapy. A week later when a hospital bed was available, I felt better and didn't go for shock treatments. The psychiatrist suggested my improvement was due to the vivactil.
The vivactil caused severe sweating and impotency. I elected to go off everything. I got by for about a year. I had depression but I could function. Once off the medications, I had some recurring problems but they were not as severe. I managed alright until, at age 43, I could not get out of bed and function without immense effort again.
Psychiatrist #3 reviewed my medical records and agreed that my problems were biological. She prescribed an anti-depressant, a mao-inhibitor, called nardil. In less than a week everything was in focus, life made sense and I had energy. I felt happy and life was good. What a change nardil made. The doctor saw no need for talk therapy.
About a year later, I was slipping away. We changed to imipramine. When it didn't help, we returned to nardil and played with the dosage. About four months went by and with increased amounts, sometimes as high as 60 milligrams. I felt halfway decent again. I inquired if I might benefit from talk therapy but she felt my problem was biological. We continued short visits over the next two years and I stayed on nardil. When low periods occurred we switched to prozac, but also tried any new medications that were introduced. Again, depression was severe when I turned 47. I went to Psychiatrist #4 who reviewed my records and prescribed sythroid, deparkote,and norpramin. When they failed, he put me back on nardil and added a lithium booster eventually as high as 40 milligrams per day , which made me feel progressively worse. The side effects were tremendous. He noted concern about some of my family dynamics and urged psychotherapy, also. But by this point I didn't believe in an alternative to anti-depressants. I was certain chemicals were the proper solution because the psychiatrists thus far and my wife, a trained social worker, said so. Besides, all my relatives had been given chemicals, so it made sense I would need them, too.
I decided to travel 800 miles to New York to see a psychiatrist who was widely recognized in his field. He had authored well respected books on anti-depressants. His fee was $500 per session. In New York, manic depression is classified by law as a problem of physical origin. He, Psychiatrist #5, also thought my problem could be handled by chemicals and he recommended lithium, only at a below therapeutic level. We tried zoloft but I felt worse.
At one point, with medication, my depression pretty well lifted, but when I stood up too quickly, I felt faint and once passed out. Other symptoms and side effects were memory loss, heavy perspiring, continual erections, and an inability to reach climax. An annual physical showed I had an irregular heart beat and marginal liver damage. These had not been present during prior physical exams.
I returned to my previous doctor an we tried some talk therapy. But my wife and I still believed the problem was chemical. I researched the literature on bio-chemical psychiatrists and I found "one of the best".
Psychiatrist #6 was convinced he could help me. He increased the zoloft and synthroid, and added ritalin. He tried lithium and pamelor. He tried nardil. He tried tegretal and marplan. Slowly, I was ingesting a truckload of medication. Since the age of 30, I had taken over 29,000 pills.
Incapacitation lasted for a year when , suddenly, my spirits lifted. It seemed the marplan was responsible for my improvement. Three months later it was taken off the market.
For ten years I had gone to six different psychiatrists hoping to find the magical chemical formula that would put me back in balance. I had taken more and more anti-depressants with less and less success. The trouble I was in was worse. I had little hope of holding onto my job much longer. I was 51 years old and experiencing the worst year of my life. I was in worse shape than my dad had been at 51. The future did not look good. I was muddled, disabled, and destructing from anti-depressants.
My wife and I decided to move to San Diego because she had health problems that could be resolved at a hospital there, and the move would be good for me, too, since winters where we lived were dreary. I put in for a transfer.
I arrived in March of 1994 to find a new house. The whole world looked better to me because of the contrast in weather. I liked Southern California.
After a lot of research to determine the best psychiatrist in San Diego, I called Number 7 for an appointment. His fee was $400 per session. We tried parnate, a mao-inhibitor similar to the marplan which had worked well.
Then I met a psychologist in a social setting who immediately impressed me with her knowledge and manner. Shortly after our meeting, I schedule an appointment with her. For the sake of anonymity, I'll refer to her as Dr. Adams. Our first session was in May. In this session I told Dr. Adams I had a wonderful marriage to a Superwoman who had the heart of Mother Theresa. I told her how my loving wife did all the office and house work because I was sick. Yet, in that session, I broke down and cried because - I did not feel loved. The words coming out of my mouth didn't match my feelings.
Dr. Adams listened intently to, noted and validated my feelings. My emotions were something I had not thought much about, nor had I thought about who I was inside. I had blown my feelings off. I didn't know what my interests were. I didn't know where I wanted to go. In fact, I didn't know who I was.
I was in denial. Or perhaps it was denial mixed with a lack of knowledge and awareness. I had learned that always being nice, meek, and humble, was being "good", but being good meant stuffing down one's feelings and denying one's needs, thereby stuffing and denying one's self. I also learned such stuffing behavior causes and maintains depression! The truth is, while most of my life I behaved like a "good" boy, I also felt - on the inside - afraid, inferior, and depressed.
In therapy I began looking at my feelings, challenging the words coming out of my mouth, and examining me. Through cognitive and emotional work, I began to think differently, and to care about and stand by my feelings. I started to pay attention to my inner world. In the course of our work together I developed awareness of many emotional pains that I either had not grieved at all or had grieved insufficiently, yet which needed and deserved to be healed. As I was able to identify and label these emotions, I found I was beginning to resolve them. I started having insights about me and the significant pieces of my life. I began to come out of denial, into reality and emotions, and towards revelations and resolutions. I started to take responsibility for what I could - to recognize the power I do have, and to exercise it.
As you read the following facts and excerpts from my therapy sessions, notice the denial, fear, confusion, and feeling of inferiority laced through and behind...
My grandfather was a heavy drinker. Eventually he died of alcohol when, after drinking one day, he took a fatal fall from his horse.
His son, my dad, also was a heavy drinker, as far back as I can recall. Dad's brothers were big drinkers as well - and proud of it. Farming and drinking were the values of the day and his family "was right in there with the best of them." (Yet my father said he drank to "medicate" himself, and would later hide his liquor in a well.) Dad and his siblings left the farm and even the county as soon as possible. "There had to have been reasons for that," I first innocently told Dr. Adams. Also, all Dad's sisters, I suspect, married heavy drinkers.
My mother was cold and distant, never showing signs of affection towards any of us. She said there had been no affection in her home when she was growing up. She told us how mean her father had been to her and her siblings.
My dad introduced me to drinking when I was just eight years old. Drinking seemed to be the one thing Dad and I had in common. I would continue to drink till well into my forties.
My brother, just one year younger than I - my playmate, best friend and favorite brother - died very suddenly of a brain hemorrhage at the age of nine.
My parents' relationship was cold. There was no laughter. Mom kept herself busy while Dad avoided life. I remember Mom telling us she wished she hadn't married and instead had gone into the convent and become a nun like her sister.
My dad's final ten years were spent at home with my mom. He mostly sat in his chair, doing nothing. His walk was but a shuffle. His problems circled in his head. He ruminated on them day and night. All he could do was eat and keep himself clean. He didn't even watch TV. He kept the room dark. When people would visit, he would have crying spells. It wasn't long before people weren't visiting anymore.
Mom had to take care of him those last ten years. When Dad died, Mom showed no emotion. No sadness, no grief. Nothing. She told me later the happiest years of her life were after Dad died.
Although Dad was the drinker and had the depression, it was from my mother that I learned denial. She denied that either Dad or I even had depression. She continued to deny my sister's obvious problem until after she'd had a dozen shock treatments.
Of the four kids, my brother and I were drinkers, and my two sisters married drinkers. The words of one of my sisters well represent the family denial of generations: "If Dad had depression, he didn't know it and maybe that's okay because he really had a pretty good life."
At one point during my talk therapy with Dr. Adams she said, "Steve, from listening to you talk, I think many of your problems are emotional, not chemical." I remember arguing with her saying, "The doctors all say it's genetic. My father and his sister had the depression." She clarified, "Some of it may be genetic, but just hearing you talk about your life - only part of it seems genetic." Never before had I seriously considered such a thing: that my childhood environment could be the real root of my problems and depression.
She suggested that under careful supervision, I simultaneously, systematically, and progressively withdraw from chemicals and be treated primarily with talk therapy. I felt optimistic. We continued our work.
Recalling my life with my wife and sons, I told my therapist, "Many times I didn't have the strength to get to the van or sit up inside. My wife and two big sons had to practically carry me out, pour me in the seat, start the engine and put my hands on the steering wheel." She asked, "What does that tell you when they pour you in the van?" I answered, "That I am sick and they are helping me. There is a funny thing about it though: when I got about ten miles from home I always felt better and could drive."
My therapist accurately pointed out the contradiction between what I was saying and what was really occurring, in other words reality vs. perception. This became especially clear in reference to my supposed wonderful marriage.
One example of this was when my wife sent me to California, 2,000 miles from home, sick and alone for six months to find a house; she said we both needed a rest. I didn't want to go, but I did. This was just one more of countless times I subordinated my feelings and desires to another's. I asked my therapist, "Wouldn't you send your husband ahead of you to find a place to live?" She answered, "Not six months ahead of time. Why didn't she join you for two weeks, for example?" I defended, "Because of the boys. They need her." "How old are the boys?", she asked. I responded, "Twenty and sixteen". "Isn't one of them away at college?", she persisted. "Yes, and the other could stay with friends. Oh, and she told me to be sure to find a place with separate bedrooms." "What does that tell you?", she inquired. "That she wants separate bedrooms", I responded matter of factly. Then I added, "Is this one of those little red flags that you say I miss?" "No", she replied, "Those are red flags big enough to cover San Diego Bay." We both laughed.
I went on to question, "But why would a woman want to get rid of a good guy like me who makes good money and gives it to her to spend? She doesn't even have to account for where it goes."
Slowly, yet steadily, I began facing up to the serious problems facing our 22 year marriage.
My therapist helped me explore my learned pattern of being meek. In actuality, "meek", for me, meant feeling afraid and inferior inside. We had the following conversation on this subject:
The therapist began by summing, "You say your oldest son has been on ritalin since he was ten. Your youngest son tried suicide by jumping from a car when he was eleven, he sleeps three hours in the afternoon, and retreats to his room, saying he has homework." I answered, "Yes, they are healthy, good boys". She explained, "No doubt they are 'good boys', but that is not good. They are not healthy boys. They are like you, not knowing who they are or what they want; just doing what they are told, afraid to express themselves. Being good boys is killing them, just like it is you."
Being meek, humble and "good" goes back to my Dad's mother. Grandmother never gave anyone any problems about anything. Dad was very kind, gentle, and humble also. He got along with everyone. He never got mad at anyone and he held no grudges. I thought these traits were admirable. I wanted to emulate them, and I did. My son who was suicidal and I do not express our feelings; we try hard to please other people just like Dad and Grandma did.
After four months of talk therapy, I had reduced my medications 25%. Two months later I reduced them another 25%. Two months after that, I was off all medications for the first time in 21 years.
I haven't begun to resolve matters with my ex-wife, and I may or may not be able to. I am starting with what I can resolve: me. And my hands are full with that task. I have a lot of work to do, and no one else is going to do it for me. I am the one who cares most about me and I am my responsibility. I intend to take care of myself from now on - without medication.
I've discovered that I have been tremendously helped by the lessons of talk therapy. Of course, I know that talk therapy isn't always the whole solution for everyone. But I have lost 50 pounds of excess weight, and I have dropped my request for social security disability. Depression no longer prevents me from working or thinking. I feel excited about life, and I am accomplishing things I had dreamt about but had given up on. I feel worlds better.
As far as the future goes, I'll keep working on it.
Note From The Author
If you saw me on TV and requested this article, I apologize for the delay in sending it. If you would like a copy of the video from the show, titled "Depression and Weight Problems", please mail $9.95 to the address below.
1. Toxic Psychiatry, by Peter Breggin
2. Instead of Therapy, by Tom Rusk
3. It's Not What You're Eating, It's What's Eating You, by Dr. Janet Greeson.
Because of my own extraordinary improvement, I am now trying to help others with overcoming their depression and reliance on medication.
With sincere hope for recovery,