Anne Woodlen Speakout

Submitted by admin on Wed, 02/21/2007 - 02:00
“Mindfulness, the capacity to be here, to witness deeply everything that happens in the present moment, is the beginning of enlightenment.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

“You must make the unjust visible.” –Gandhi

The Un-drugging of Annie Part One

It is a large, square, clear plastic Rubbermaid container with a blue-rimmed lid, and it is full of pills. Red pills, brown pills, white pills. Capsules and packed powder. Round and oval. Large, medium and small. Gray pills, yellow pills, blue pills. Half a gallon of pills.

I take it to Dr. Ghaly, the psychiatrist and acupuncturist, and he looks aghast. “What is this?” he cries. “What is this?”

“These are all the pills I was taking when I stopped taking pills,” I tell him. His eyes wide with amazement, he grabs the container and races out of the room. When he comes back, he tells me he went to weigh it. There are two and a half pounds of pills.

I take them to Dr. Cohen, the psychologist and hypnotherapist. He looks at them awfully and says, “Where did these come from?”

“When I came home from the hospital,” I say, “I took the bottles full of all the pills I was taking. I put the bottles in a basket, the basket in a bag, the bag in a carton, and the carton in the closet. Last week I needed the basket to plant pansy seeds, so my aide emptied all the bottles into this container.”

I take the container to Dr. Wechsler, the chiropractor and Ayurvedic practitioner. “Who gave you these?” he asks.

“The doctors,” I say. “These were all prescribed by physicians. I was taking them all at the same time.”

“What are you going to do with them?”

“I dunno. Maybe sort them out by color, layer them in an apothecary jar—strata of disaster, you know?—then permanently seal the apothecary jar and put it on display as testament to—well, to something.”

I take the lid off, pick up handfuls of drugs, and let them slide through my fingers.

Dr. Wechsler looks sick and cries, “Don’t! The toxins will be absorbed through your skin!”

In 1974, a neurologist, a pastor, and a social worker with terminal cancer formed “Alethea: The Center on Death and Dying” in Syracuse, New York. Their avowed concerns were that Americans were denying grief or treating it as pathological, and that there was a need to develop a healthy acceptance of a normal mourning process. I participated in a lengthy course to train grief counselors.

On Thanksgiving Day, I went for a walk before dinner and mailed a letter to my dear beloved—a Marine Corps fighter pilot—saying that I would join him on base as soon as I could make arrangements. Before he received the letter, his plane crashed. He ejected but his parachute did not open. I missed the last Alethea meeting because I was in New York burying my heart, my soul, my hope, my future, my everything.

Several months later, I went to the neurologist complaining of fatigue, lethargy, lack of spontaneous movement. He said I was depressed, and had a history of what he called “endogenous depression.” He dealt with the depressive phase of my mourning by prescribing drugs, specifically, the antidepressant Elavil. When the prescription ran out, I would call his office. Around seven o’clock the next morning, he would wake me with a phone call. We would talk a few minutes, then he would mail me a new prescription for a thirty-day supply, with twelve refills. We did that for several years, then I moved on to a psychiatrist who prescribed more drugs.

I was handed from one psychiatrist to another, each altering the antidepressant prescription, until I ended up with Dr. Jenifer Rich. She continued the drugging. I was a good girl, and totally committed to the idea that my life depended on drugs. One day in group therapy, we were asked what three things we would want to have if we were stranded on a desert island. I was the only person who said I wanted my medication. I was a believer.

No matter what was done in the way of therapy or antidepressants, I continued to cycle through what was now called major depression, severe and recurrent. There were occasional suicide attempts, and several hospitalizations each year that would last four or five days. I went to NIMH and they recommended an MAO inhibitor; Dr. Rich went to a conference and the chief of psychiatry at Stanford recommended a combination of lithium and an antidepressant.

I took 1500 mg. of lithium every day for seven years, plus an antidepressant and such other drugs as Dr. Rich ordered. When it reached the point that I was getting up four or five times a night to urinate, I insisted—against Dr. Rich’s wishes—that she refer me to another psychiatrist for evaluation. He recommended that she do the kidney tests that she should have been doing every six months, but had never done.

I was diagnosed with nephrogenic diabetes insipidus, a rare incurable kidney disease that is usually caused by bad doctors prescribing lithium. Nephrogenic diabetes insipidus causes urine output to increase—in my case, the increase was five times normal. I quit the doctor and the lithium.

The treatment for nephrogenic diabetes insipidus is DDAVP, which costs $10,000 a year, and hydrochlorathiazide (HCTZ), which causes potassium depletion, so I took DDAVP, HCTZ, and got hypokalemia. Potassium supplements were added to complete the drug package.

When I went to the next psychiatrist, it turned out I also had cardiac irregularities. When I went to the lawyer, I discovered that dozens of my other physical complaints, ranging from shortness of breath to my fingers turning black, were side effects of the lithium. Poverty was also a side effect: I had been an administrative assistant in the New York State Office of Mental Health when I become Dr. Rich’s patient. When I left her, I was on Welfare.

I had a friend who was a psychiatrist (I am neither bragging nor apologizing). He picked me up for lunch one day, declared that I looked great and asked what I’d changed. I told him I’d stopped taking the lithium. He slapped his hand on the steering wheel, laughed, and declared that I’d invented a new treatment modality: withdrawing medication.

About St. Joseph’s Hospital Psychiatric Services Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP)

About Michael

Michael is ten years old and has freckles. He was a skinny kid wearing a tank top and too-big shorts on June 16, Father’s Day, when he came to me in CPEP and asked for a drink. CPEP is the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program at St. Joseph’s Hospital. I had been admitted to CPEP on Friday night, but that morning they had locked me out in the hall and I was sitting in an interview room. I had no drink to give Michael. There were no cups, nor any drinking fountain.

The next time I saw Michael, a man had tied down his feet, and was tying his wrists together with something black, then pulling his wrists over his head and tying them down while Michael screamed in terror.

This is called “four-point restraint.” My friend came to visit me and heard the screaming. My pastor saw the child tied down.

The NYS Office of Mental Health did a study of restraint and seclusion policies at mental health facilities and concluded that if an institution has a policy of restraint, then it finds the need to use it; if it does not have a restraint policy, then it never seems to have patients who need such restraint.

When I was at Benjamin Rush Center, a private psychiatric hospital, I was told that if they need to restrain a child, they do it by having a staff member sit cross-legged on the floor and wrap her arms and legs around the child; the child is restrained with humanity. Among other things, the child can hear the adult’s heartbeat and feel her breathing, which has a calming effect.

Later, after they had untied Michael, I went and sat with him while he had something to eat. Dr. Alou came in to talk to him, so I left.

The next time I saw Michael was around midnight. Michael had been admitted to the back, and I had been allowed to return to my room. The child came to me with his arms outstretched. I hugged him and got him a drink. Then I sat with Donna, who looked like a suburban housewife, but she talked strange. I don’t know what was wrong with her.

I saw Michael again in the morning, Monday. He was in the bed in the first room. The morning nurse, Kathy, and the night nurse, Anthony, were shut up in the medication room, counting meds. George Van Latham was supposed to be on the floor but he wasn’t there much.

Eddie is 20 years old, 6’6” tall, and weighs 420 pounds. The day before, Eddie told me that he had been arrested for violence three times, that he had stabbed his brother, and that he was going to stab his brother’s baby. When Michael came out of his room, Eddie pressed the child to his side, with his arm around him. Nobody could have gotten Michael away if Eddie turned mean. (The day before, Eddie threatened to hit me; that’s why they locked me out in the hall, and the day before that, the security men were getting ready to put Eddie in four-point because of the way he was acting.)

When George came back, I was afraid to tell him about Eddie holding on to Michael because the staff get mad if you do, but Michael was cold from only having a tank top, so I asked George if he could get something warm for Michael. He said no, he didn’t have anything.

Next thing, Donna took Michael into bed with her. She’d slept on a cot in the day area. Michael was lying on his back staring at the ceiling. Donna was snuggled up next to him with her arm across his chest. Nobody was around.

There was a man there who looked like a biker. He had long dark hair, a jacket-shirt with the sleeves torn off, and tattoos. I was crying. I thought that maybe if he would just walk with the child, Michael would be protected. I asked him, but he went and lay down on his bed. The man’s name was Al. Later he told me that he’d been in Sing-Sing, Attica and other places for drugs and weapons and killing somebody.

In the afternoon, an older woman with a hearing aide in her left ear came and took Michael away.

I keep thinking about what Jesus did to the moneychangers in the temple, and wondering how he would tear up the place if he saw what was done to Michael.

The child only asked for a drink of water, but there was none to give him.

Read Anne's essay on labeling, "You Too Can Have One."

Read Anne's essay The Undrugging Of Annie Part Two."
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