Reducing Psychiatric Meds: A Journey
by patricia.deegan on Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - 2:14pm

Each month we add a new homepage for our Recovery Library and CommonGround users.  The June 2015 homepage was on the topic of Psychiatric Meds: Hard Choices.  As you can see from this image, the homepage contains a lot of multimedia content, first person accounts and information that can only be gleaned from the wisdom of peers:

Each month, as part of the new homepage, I create a short video reflection.  This month I shared some of the important lessons I have learned about reducing mental health medicines in my own life.  Here's an excerpt:

Over time I learned a lot of important lessons about how to successfully reduce psychiatric medicine without relapsing.  Today I use a very small amount of psychiatric medicine.  Combined with my powerful Personal Medicine, my recovery is strong. Here are some of the lessons I learned about reducing medicine in my recovery:

First, I learned it was better for me to work with my doctor when reducing medications.  Together, my doctor and I were able to develop a plan for reducing or eventually discontinuing medicine.

Secondly, I learned my best chance for success was to very slowly reduce one medicine at a time.  I found going too fast or reducing all meds at once was a set up for failure.  My body and mind needed time to get used to the lower dosages.  For instance, many psychiatric medicines dull emotions.  As the dose of the medicine was lowered, I began to feel emotions like hurt, anger and sadness again. I had forgotten how intense emotions could be.  I needed time to adjust.  If I reduced meds too fast, I would have been overwhelmed by the intensity of emotions.  Going slow helped me get support from friends as I learned to live a vibrant emotional life again.

I did not use street drugs or alcohol during my medication reduction.  Many doctors advise achieving solid sobriety first, before attempting medication reduction.  Also, using street drugs or alcohol can cause symptoms to get worse and make reducing medicine even harder.

Like many people, I found it important to drink plenty of water, get exercise and eat healthy food when reducing medicine.

I also found it important to tell a friend about my plan to reduce medicine.  In fact, I would ask a close friend to be my “designated observer”.  My designated observer agreed to share their impressions of how I was doing as the medication was lowered.   Did I seem to have more energy?  Was my sense of humor coming back?  Did I seem to be more anxious or suspicious? Of course, I had my own personal observations too.  But we can’t always see ourselves clearly. Inviting a friend to share their observations was very helpful to me and my doctor.  It helped us assess my progress.

Another important strategy was not to attempt a reduction if there was turmoil or a big change going on in my life.  Going through a breakup, moving to a new apartment, starting a new school year or a new job – these were NOT the times to reduce medicine because my stress levels were too high.  I found it was best to wait for calmer, more settled times to continue my medication reduction.

Finally, I learned that reducing meds does not have to be an all or nothing proposition.  I learned it was OK to slow down and even pause dose reductions.  There were even times when my doctor and I decided to raise the dose for a while.  I learned that raising a dose of medicine was not a failure.  I just needed more time to acclimate and get used to lower dosages.  I needed more time to build up my Personal Medicine so I had more skills for coping with difficult symptoms and the stresses that life can bring.  One helpful way to think of it is that for every dose reduction, I needed time to add more Personal Medicine.  In other words, as I was decreasing pill medicine, I was increasing Personal Medicine.

Reducing psychiatric medicine is a journey.  It’s a time of exploration and learning.  It’s OK to take our time.  It’s important to have a plan and support.  My advice is don’t do it alone.

I have been living my recovery for decades now and have not been to the hospital since 1994.  However, there are still times I feel frustrated and I want to get off all my medications.  Nobody likes taking pills.  But then I remind myself of what I have to lose and the misery I would put my family through if I just abruptly went off meds and ended up back in the hospital.  That simple thought reminds me there’s no shame in using medication as one tool among many tools in my recovery.