How I learned to safely taper off psychiatric drugs

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It was May 21st, 2019, when I woke up in a strange hotel-like room drenched in sweat, fully clothed with a winter jacket on and feeling absolutely terrible. Next to me on the nightstand were six plates of food wrapped in cellophane and above me stood a massive, muscular Nigerian man named Henry who explained to me that I was at a drug rehab in Thailand and that I had slept for 48 hours. He had kept bringing me meals for the past two days and had been very worried about my heart rate, he explained. When I was able to fully grasp the situation I was in, a feeling of overwhelming panic immediately set in. It was not a desperate need for narcotics I felt, but exclusively the fear of not having access to my Lyrica and Zyprexa, the immediate cessation of which I had come to fear more than death itself.

“Made-up diseases and labels”

I first went to a psychiatrist in 2008 as the transition from being a university student to an adult life had proved quite overwhelming for me and resulted in feelings of anxiety and depression. What I needed was metacognitive therapy and a mentor, but the cult of psychiatry was insistent that the solution to all my problems could be found in psychiatric drugs alongside made-up diseases and labels. I tried many of their useless so-called “medicines,” but in 2011 I ultimately ended up on Lyrica and Zyprexa alongside nine diagnoses. I was told that these drugs had the same dependence profile as ibuprofen (that is, none), and so I figured, “Well, it can’t hurt.”

Eight years later I had become a raging drug addict. By 2019 my daily regimen was 7 grams of cocaine, 320 mg oxycontin, 10 mg Xanax, 120 mg Elvanse, 400 mg modafinil, 5 grams of cannabis, testosterone injections, somatropin, ketamine nasal spray, psilocybin (for depression), MDMA, copious amounts of alcohol and whatever else I could get my hands on. I was working full-time as a professional stand-up comedian with my own travel show on MTV, doing five shows a week with 200 travel days a year. No one ever accused me of being high or being unruly or unprofessional until the last few months before going to rehab. This was simply the cocktail that was necessary for me to survive what Lyrica and Zyprexa did to me.

My baseline state on psychiatry’s drugs had become intolerable as early as 2013, causing severe pain, panic attacks, depression, anxiety, weight gain, fatigue, irrational behaviour, and a seemingly infinite supply of physical and psychological ailments. Calling it ‘side effects’ is an astronomical understatement; my experience is that nothing can make you more mentally ill than a psychiatric drug. My narcotics regimen was just a necessity to feel “normal” while on these psychiatric drugs. I was simply compensating. I had to.

Chemical torture

Over the years I made several attempts to come off both Lyrica and Zyprexa following the fantasy world, reality-denying guidelines provided by my psychiatrist, and I failed every time. When I followed his advice, it felt like I suddenly became immediately brain-damaged and had every neurological disorder known to man. I didn’t, but that’s how it felt. Being on these “medicines” was the equivalent of being installed with a “kill switch” where if I stopped taking them, I immediately became a physically and mentally handicapped person who simply could not function. After just a few attempts resulting in the chemical torture that is withdrawal symptoms from too rapid tapering of psychiatric drugs, I simply concluded that my number one priority in life must be to never stop taking these drugs. With narcotics, it’s hard to quit because you love them so much, but with psychiatric drugs, it’s hard to quit because you fear them so much. Ultimately, this fear is amplified by the fact that there is very little useful information out there about safe tapering (a problem I’m now trying to fix, but I’ll get to that).

When I woke up at rehab that early summer day of 2019, my number one priority was to get to a psychiatrist to get my psych drugs and avoid going into withdrawal, which was constantly lurking. I had to keep the “kill switch” from kicking in. Henry took me to the best psychiatrist in Thailand who proudly and arrogantly proclaimed in his delusional aura of self-importance and wisdom that the smartest thing to do in my situation was to quit both Lyrica and Zyprexa at the same time, cold turkey. When I protested, he became more and more insistent about his brilliant cold turkey plan and explained to me that the seven valium pills he had given Henry would make it so that I wouldn’t even notice coming off the Lyrica and Zyprexa.

As with all psychiatrists I had met in my life, it was terrifying to see how detached from reality this man was as I watched him feel so superior to me based solely on his belief in the medical model. However, based on experience I knew that as long as I pandered to his ideology, I could get my way. The protocol with these people is always the same: list your diagnoses, praise the psychiatric drugs, and praise them. I ended up getting what I wanted, the Lyrica and Zyprexa; and so I could just focus on getting clean and sober from narcotics for now, keeping withdrawal symptoms from the psychiatric drugs at bay.

After five weeks at rehab, I went back to Norway and started going to twelve-step meetings. I stayed clean and sober, but I was getting sicker and sicker from the Lyrica and Zyprexa cocktail. At nine months clean from narcotics, I was sleeping 16 hours a day and was fat, sick, and felt like I was dying inside. I had lost all hope of coming off these psychiatric drugs years ago, and since it felt like they were slowly killing me, my rational conclusion at the time was that assisted suicide or resuming narcotics were my only two options moving forward.

Survivors group

Then, on February 18th, 2020, my girlfriend at the time discovered a Facebook group called “Lyrica Survivors.” This support group gave me the motivation and the knowledge to summon the courage to start my Lyrica taper on March 9th, 2020. It was a 10½ month taper, and I reached zero milligrams on January 19th, 2021. It was the most torturous experience of my life and was roughly ten thousand times worse than oxycontin withdrawal. I had no strategies for coping with these withdrawals and assumed on a daily basis that I was either going to die from the experience or at the very least be permanently brain-damaged.

I later learned that an even slower taper – over maybe two to three years – would have minimised the withdrawal symptoms significantly, which is what I’d recommend other people to do. In my experience, the only way to call these drugs effective would be if they were made by the Soviet Union as a torture device to be used in North Korean prison camps. The original mental state I took these pills for was a mental state I could only dream about as a best-case scenario for life during these withdrawals. Without my girlfriend at the time supporting me through the process with the help of Lyrica survivors, I simply would not be alive today.

Lyrica Survivors is a very active Facebook group and an incredibly supportive community, but with Zyprexa, I found very little information about safe tapering and issues of withdrawal in general. When I googled “How to come off Zyprexa,” the top search result was: “Don’t ever start!” Information is the most valuable currency in the tapering game, and when it came to Zyprexa, there was none. But then, about four months after coming off Lyrica, my girlfriend at the time found a little pamphlet called ‘Psychiatric drug withdrawal – worth knowing about mitigation and management of withdrawal symptoms, racing thoughts, and difficult emotions’, written by a Danish psychologist and researcher named Anders Sørensen. She was able to find his contact information and we arranged a Zoom call right away.

I remember being terrified to talk to him, because I was convinced he was going to tell me that I was now permanently brain-damaged by the drug and that I should focus on buying the wheelchair I’d have to spend the rest of my ruined life in. But instead of what my ever-catastrophising thoughts tried to convince me of, I met the nicest, most knowledgeable and motivating tapering expert in the world who’s first response to my tapering request was, “Zyprexa? No problem, let’s get you off that!” This moment was the turning point in my tapering process.

When tapering off a psychiatric drug, you need realistic information, acknowledgement of the severity of the experience, constructive advice, and hope. Unfortunately, the health care system operates in a world of make believe, and most of the well-meaning online support communities are packed with horror stories that can be discouraging. Constructive and helpful expertise is the rarest and most valuable commodity when tapering a psychiatric drug. Most health care professionals seem deeply invested in denying the withdrawal experience, and the fact that Anders had just acknowledged what I was going through was worth its weight in gold. Anders emphasised that my withdrawal state was temporary, gave me realistic timelines, validated the symptoms and the brutality of the experience, and was able to answer all my questions based on years of experience. The headline here was, “You will feel normal again, just give it time. Trust me.”

After an 11-month taper with dose reductions down to just 0.1 and even 0.05 mg at a time, I was finally off Zyprexa on June 19th, 2022. Throughout the entire process I had regular online consultations with Anders where he calmly answered all my neurotic questions, guided me on how and when to reduce the dose, and gave me amazing coping strategies to manage my withdrawal symptoms and challenge my paranoia, my ruminations, and all my worries. He was also very funny and had a very light demeanour which made it clear to me that he was not worried about my situation and that this would all pass one day. With the only health care professional I ever met who wasn’t in denial about these withdrawal symptoms on board, tapering was a completely different story.

Safe tapering

I am now 22 months off psych drugs, almost five years clean and sober from narcotics, and I feel better than ever. I would rather go to Stalingrad as a German soldier in 1942 than go through psychiatric drug withdrawal again. And now to the very point of this whole story: There is no greater passion in my life than helping other people going through withdrawal from psychiatric drugs as I did, and I believe Anders Sørensen’s work and approach can change the online information landscape when it comes to psychiatric drug withdrawal in a much-needed way. Therefore, on April 1st, 2024, I travelled to Copenhagen, Denmark, and made a series of videos about safe tapering with Anders in his office, which we’re now ready to release on Youtube.

The idea was this: I had prepared a list of the questions that had haunted me the most throughout my tapering process, and I fired them off one by one to Anders with the camera on. I wanted these videos to be a source of comfort and constructive, motivating, practical knowledge that people could watch again and again if needed throughout the tapering process. We wanted to make a counterweight and an antidote to both the ignorance dominating the mental health system and the horror stories dominating large parts of the peer support community. The end result was these 26 Youtube videos (see below) of some of the most commonly asked questions about psychiatric drug withdrawal, now released on Anders Sørensen’s Youtube account (created for this occasion). We have also created an email address, questionsforanders@gmail.com, where people can send in their questions about psychiatric drug withdrawal that Anders will answer in future videos.

In my opinion, this video series is a game changer. If such videos had been available to me in early 2020, my suffering would have been far less and more manageable. I urge everyone to spread them far and wide. While psychiatry lives in a fantasy world of delusion, denying reality, it is important that the rest of us who have to face the reality of the horrors of psychiatric drug withdrawal help each other out.

What do I need to know before I taper?

Which psychiatric drugs have withdrawal symptoms?

What does a safe taper look like?

Why do I need to taper slowly?

Where do I get ahold of the smaller doses?

How do I know when I’m ready for a new reduction?

What is a safe dose to drop to zero from?

I tried to taper before and failed. Does this mean I need the drug?

What are the biggest problems people face during a taper?

Can I drink coffee or alcohol when tapering?

I’m on multiple psychiatric drugs. Which one do I taper first?

How do you taper injectable psychiatric drugs?

I’ve gone on and off psych drugs before. Why do I get withdrawals now?

Will I ever feel normal again?

What is happening in my brain and body during withdrawal?

I can’t function due to the withdrawal symptoms. Is this normal?

How can I tell the difference between withdrawal symptoms and relapse?

Can I die from a taper?

What is a realistic timeline for these withdrawal symptoms?

Is there anything I can take to alleviate withdrawal symptoms?

How can I survive/manage these withdrawal symptoms?

Can I replace my drug with another drug that is easier to taper?

I came off too fast and my symptoms are extreme. What can I do?

Who can potentially help me through the tapering process?

How do I know when I’m fully stabilized?

I switched psychiatric drugs and feel terrible. Why?

This article was first posted on our affiliate site Mad in America.
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Jørgen Kjønø is a Norwegian stand-up comedian who goes under the stage name Dex Carrington. During the decade he was stuck on Lyrica and Zyprexa he developed a soul-crushing drug addiction. After getting clean and sober in 2019, he spent over four years in psychiatric drug withdrawal. Today he works as a volunteer for WSO in Oslo, helping to spread tapering resources in an effort to help people come off psychiatric drugs

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