OYM Brooke Siem | Psychiatric Drugs

 

Our road to finding happiness is not on the prescription given by your psychiatrist. Our happiness lies beyond the healing of our bottomless pit of suffering. In this episode, Brooke Siem, the Founder of Happiness is a Skill, illuminates the truth behind psychiatric drugs as they May Cause Side Effects in their long-term use. She shares her story and the psychiatric intervention led her to excruciating suffering. Brooke’s realization delivers her to find the path to rebuild her life. Tune in to this insightful conversation with Brooke Siem today.

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Brooke Siem Author Of May Cause Side Effects

Brooke Siem is a writer whose work on antidepressant withdrawal has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Post, Psychology Today, and more. Her debut memoir, May Cause Side Effects, is the first book on antidepressant withdrawal to hit the mass market, a notable milestone in the journey to bring global awareness to antidepressant withdrawal. She is also an award-winning chef and Food Network Chopped Champion, and Founder of the newsletter, Happiness is a Skill.

Brooke, thank you so much for joining us here.

Thanks for having me.

I have been thoroughly impressed with, scared by, and heartened by the book you wrote, May Cause Side Effects. I’m hoping you can tell us which aspects of that book you want to promote most.

I always struggle with this question because there are 5 or 6 different avenues and directions you can take from my book. I want to talk about all of them all the time, and we never have enough time. The main reason why I wrote May Cause Side Effects is because it is the first book that was bought by a traditional publisher and is being marketed towards the mass market, which is important on the subject of antidepressant withdrawal.

That is a topic that affects tens of millions of people, but they don’t know. We need to make sure people understand this because there are many people on antidepressants all around the world. People need to know that getting off of them is not as simple as getting on them. For me, the book is a pure memoir. It tells a story of what happened when I pulled off Effexor XR and Wellbutrin XL in a rushed and not smart way in 2016. It goes into the year that I spent on severe antidepressant withdrawal.

I hope that when people read the book, whether or not it is a patient going through withdrawal or a family member of someone in withdrawal or clinicians especially, they are better able to identify what an antidepressant withdrawal looks like. As opposed to what usually happens, which is people confuse it for the re-emergence of the depression, anxiety, or whatever they were experiencing that led them to take these drugs in the first place.

Even worse case scenarios, people get labeled bipolar, schizophrenic, or other mental illnesses because their symptoms look like the criteria for those illnesses. The hope of this book is that it cuts down on misdiagnosis. It helps people who want to get off these drugs get off of it safely so that they can live the life they want to, and keep people from being on drugs they never need to be on for an illness they don’t have. That is the work I do.

When people are going through whatever the backlash, withdrawal, or the flood of symptoms that happen when they stop taking the medications, some of those people who are not well educated about this topic think, “This is a recurrence of the symptoms that say you need the medication. This means you are sick or crazier.” That is rarely the case.

The other point I wanted to make is that the book is such a powerful read because you are such a good writer. It is a blessing and a curse because people might take it more as a novel or that you are sensationalizing this. Whereas because I have experience in the field, I know this is a raw gut-level explanation of the horrors of going through withdrawal in a rough and not very intelligent way.

I am an artist and a writer at heart. I worked for many years massaging the language to make sure that it was getting the feel of the experience across in a powerful way but also in a compelling way. At the end of the day, storytelling is what changes. That is the movement and story. People can get data and research thrown at them all day, but we are all numbed out on that, or we think it doesn’t apply to us. It doesn’t matter unless you are getting to the emotion of it. That part is important to me. It is an extremely accurate representation of what was happening. If it makes people uncomfortable, then they need to look at that within themselves because this is what happened to me.

Storytelling is what changes. That is the movement and story. We are all numbed out on data or think it doesn't apply to us. It doesn't matter unless you are getting to the emotion of it. Share on X

The wonderful writing had me staying with it and wanting to know where it goes. You are in that page-turning process, and it can be easy to forget that the topic is intense and crucial for us. Whereas many people are struggling with this, either staying on meds for years at a time and/or getting off of them before there is an appropriate evaluation.

You mentioned at the end of the book the idea of hyperbolic tapering, which Peter Breggin writes about psychiatric drug withdrawal in his book. He talks about how there isn’t any prescription about how to come off of these unless you are deeply connected to the individual and their experience and symptoms. That is rare to find in a professional and a medical doctor.

You mentioned in the book that there aren’t that many people who are well-versed. You went to a psychiatrist who is supposed to be a specialist. It is almost as though they take offense at the idea that you want to go off the meds. Rather than being well versed in how to do that, getting to know you as a person, and working with you on a plan for you, you had a horrible experience because you had the opposite, somebody who was going by formula, setting up the appointments and making sure you could pay for them. It was heartbreaking to read when you went to say, “I want to go off of the second medication.” You heard from the psychiatrist, a female nonetheless, “Good luck with that.”

Can you tell us a little bit about what you have learned looking back on this about how an intelligent creative person like you could have been thrown or grown into a situation where the adults in your life thought you needed a whole bunch of medicines in you for the next fifteen years? What do you understand about that looking back on it?

The context here is important because it adds another layer of complexity to my situation. What happened is my father died suddenly when I was fifteen. This was in 2001. We have to think about the time and place there, although I would not like this to have gotten any better. Maybe the time and place don’t matter. The bottom line is that my father died, and I had a reaction to that because who wouldn’t? I wasn’t actively suicidal. My grades hadn’t plummeted. I wasn’t hanging out with the wrong crowd or getting into street drugs.

I was shocked and lost. These are things that I think are completely normal reactions. I was taken to a child psychologist who called up my mother one day and said, “You are wasting your money because what Brooke needs is a psychiatrist, not a psychologist. I’m diagnosing anxiety and depressive disorder and recommending medication. Here is the name of a child psychiatrist I recommend.”

You were fifteen at the time.

Yes, and not only that, we had a small family. It was my mom, me, and my dad. Losing my dad meant that my mom suddenly didn’t have the other person she would bounce ideas off of when it came to me. Furthermore, she was grieving herself. She is not a doctor. What else is she going to do other than say,

“We will follow the expert’s recommendations.” I was taken to a child psychiatrist. Within ten minutes, I had a couple of scripts. I started taking them.

I was in the position to question the adults or the experts around me. We have all grown up to listen to doctors. I will go to the doctor and trust that whatever they say is true. The psychiatrist told me that I had a chemical imbalance in my brain. I was depressed and anxious. I was going to need to take these antidepressants. Who was I to question that? Why wouldn’t I believe that? On top of that, it validated what I was feeling because I was depressed. My dad had died six months before. This isn’t a shocking revelation. Nobody likes feeling bad and feeling sad.

The entire trajectory had fundamentally changed for me. Not only was I grieving, sad, and depressed about the actual physical loss of my father, but that was the moment when I realized that I wasn’t going to live forever. We all have that moment. It comes. It usually doesn’t come when you are fifteen, but these are existential anxieties that are valid that need to be worked through. I suddenly had a reason.

These are existential anxieties that are valid that need to be worked through. Share on X

There is also the idea that it wasn’t highlighted. A little bit later in the book, you revealed that your parents had a family business when your dad died. It wasn’t just she lost her partner. She also had to do all this extra work with the business. You also reveal through the book how your father struggled with his anger. He had a clear way of expressing his anger but not so much fluency with the subtleties of other emotions. You were close to him. You did the best you could, but you bottled a lot up.

I seem to remember a situation with going to the doctor to need one stitch in your hand and having all of these tears come out. Your mom tried to explain to the doctor, “Her dad died.” It is that flow of life that if you don’t have anything other than a list of prescriptions in your toolkit, you just give prescriptions. There are many other things that could be done with a fifteen-year-old who had a limited range of exposure to various emotions and lost her father that you didn’t get the benefit of. Because you were so intelligent and driven, you kept churning through life. Describe for us what you were churning through. What was the impact of having all of those medicines in your system?

They didn’t make me feel any less depressed. Most people comment, “Lows are higher, and the highs are lower.” It took all the edges off and numbed me out. You have the impression of being better when in reality, you are just numbing yourself through whatever is going on. I still had the ability to focus on my SATs, graduating, and going to college. What it took away was curiosity, wonder, and ambition. It made me a slave to the expected. I needed to go to college, get a job, get an apartment, and make money. Because I was disconnected from myself, I never had the ability to turn inward and say what I want and what life I want to live.

On some level, that is common for people of that age. There should be a level of curiosity and experimentation happening at that time where you figure out what you like and don’t like. I never did that because I was always defaulting to the path of least resistance. From my perspective, I had been given this message at a formidable age that I had a chemical imbalance in my brain, so I was fundamentally always going to trend toward melancholy and be broken.

If that is the message you receive and the identity that you create, there is no reason to be curious about the world. It doesn’t matter if you are an artist, a banker, or an insurance agent, you are going to be depressed no matter what. I do the easiest and the path of least resistance, which at the beginning, doesn’t seem to be that consequential. If you start doing that for 5 to 15 years, you eventually get to a point where you are living a life that is wrong for you. The depression continues being your friend along the path. You have a rationalization for it so you have no reason to question it, when in reality, maybe your life is wrong with you.

The other thing you write about well is that your actual perceptions were changed dramatically. You were numbed down. You tolerated burns from the bakery. You didn’t see colors as you came off the medication. You wrote about it beautifully. It is the kind of thing that you couldn’t even understand until after you come off the medication because, for fifteen years, it was your norm.

It’s like if someone drips a little bit of liquid cellophane on you every day for fifteen years, evetually, you are going to be covered in this layer of plastic. You are not going to realize how you have been losing little bits of perception. When I started to get off the antidepressants, the colors brightened. This is not a perception. Literally, the colors got brighter. My hearing became more sensitive. What I like to watch on TV and what I like to eat all changed. It was affecting every single aspect of my personality and my perception of the world. I had no idea because it was so normal to me.

You started early, 15, 16, or 17. It was such a formative period. What do you see now, looking back on it, that you think allowed you to break free of the antidepressant and the routine?

I had a bit of an extenuating circumstance because I had had this opportunity to travel around the world for a year that dropped into my lap out of nowhere. I couldn’t ignore that. It was such a big opportunity. I realized that logistically, I was going to have a lot of problems with the number of drugs I was on and getting them all around the world. I couldn’t source them from the places I was going because we weren’t going to big cities. We were going to little towns, villages, and islands. There wasn’t going to be a reliable source to get my Effexor in Europe, where the vaccine is banned. It is not even legal there. I said, “I got a problem.”

That was the first reason why I said, “Let me see if I can get off these and discover my baseline. Maybe I need to be on something else.” I didn’t know, but I knew I had to at least address the situation at hand. When I started to get off of the drugs, I was having such severe withdrawal. I was also having these little moments when the colors changed and brightened. It was this holy crap moment where I said, “If these drugs were affecting the way I see color, what else they affected.”

I was angry because I felt like I had been robbed of beauty for fifteen years. The color is wonderful. To have not seen that for fifteen years, I was deeply pissed off. Combine that with some world-class stubbornness, I said, “I’m not going to do this. I’m going to ride out this withdrawal.” I didn’t know how long it was going to last at that point, but I was angry at the situation that I said, “We are getting through this. I’m going to get off these drugs.”

It was that anger and stubbornness that pushed me through the worst of it because I knew that I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t go from seeing color and go back to everything being muted. I couldn’t do it. It made me upset. I wanted to know who I was. My only point of reference was when I was a child when my dad was alive. I still am angry about that.

The other thing you write about powerfully is that even though you were on them before you started trying to get off of them, you were still focused on ending your life and had a plan. Whatever benefit was supposed to be given to you from taking these meds, it wasn’t ending the suicidal depression.

If they are not doing that, what the hell are they doing? It is not exactly a glowing advertisement for their advocacy.

Robert Whitaker writes about it, the Anatomy Of An Epidemic. By a number of different measures, if these drugs are supposed to be helping, and we have many of them, and they are being given to many people, why are the rates of people going on disability for mental health skyrocketing? Why do many people have to have them in this country and not in other countries? There are powerful questions to be asked. A book like yours can help people on that individual level and the systemic level, step into questioning this. Thank you for being willing to put it out there so honestly.

OYM Brooke Siem | Psychiatric Drugs

Anatomy Of An Epidemic

It is interesting because the suicidal ideation evaporated when I got the drugs out of my system. Even in withdrawal, when it was so hard to handle, the suicidal impulses disappeared. I’m not the only person who has felt that shift. It brings into question, at least for a percentage of people and for me, at what point do we maybe face the uncomfortable truth that at the end of the day, at least for some people, we have done far more severe things in this world for far fewer people than this has affected? When do we start to acknowledge that maybe the drugs are part of causing the problem or at least prolonging it? That is an individual question, but it is the truth for me.

Unfortunately, more people are coming through medical school and finding books like Robert Whitaker’s, perhaps yours, and Peter Breggin, saying, “None of this was covered in medical school. What if there is a whole different range of ways to help people with mental health struggles than matching a list of symptoms with a list of medications?”

I would like the bifurcation of psychiatry. We need to treat never medicated people differently than we treat medicated people because the assumption of the DSM is under the assumption that you are not influenced by a psychiatric drug. If you have a spontaneous schizophrenic episode, in theory, you are supposed to follow the directions, the DSM, and go down that route. That is a different scenario than someone who has been on powerful multiple psychiatric drugs for several years and then has broken because a medication was changed. They are now given a diagnosis of schizophrenia and treated as if it was a first-time thing. It makes no sense to me.

I see many issues as a direct result of polypharmacy. People are getting moved all over on their drugs and being prescribed one drug on Monday. Two Mondays later, they are saying, “It is not working. Let’s give you something else.” These things create these psychological symptoms. People want to put you in a box of pro or anti-anything. Realistically, these drugs aren’t going away. We need a lot more education and true expertise and specialists on how they work, and what the different side effects are and manifestations in people.

If someone comes in and says, “I was seventeen years old and I was diagnosed as bipolar with depression and ADHD. I’m on one drug for each of these, and now I’m having these symptoms,” I want a doctor to look at them and say, “You are on a ton of competing drugs. We need to figure out your genetic ability to metabolize these. We need to maybe get you off a couple of them and see if symptoms improve before they are immediately hospitalized and tranquilized even more.”

That is a different practice than someone who is in a crisis for the first time, or they are having their first bout of depression and anxiety. Maybe they are in a situation that is so extreme that everyone involved thinks they need a little bit of psycho-pharmacology health. These are two different practices entirely, yet there is no distinction and nuance at all.

That is not even to say about the 40-year-old woman whose both kids leave for the first time. She is feeling a little bit of emptiness syndrome. Her OB-GYN or GP gives her some pats. That is a different problem. The point is that this is extremely diverse, nuanced, and representative of the individual who is involved and what happened to that individual. Yet, we put these stupid blanket diagnoses and prescriptions on everyone and walk around wondering, “We don’t have any better solutions. Why doesn’t it work?” It is not that hard, but no one wants to look at it because that takes time and effort. It forces us to face some very uncomfortable truths.

It requires changing a paradigm in the way the medical field practices that. There are all kinds of dynamics and political reasons why that is challenging. The most important, relative to what we are talking about is the clinical impact on people. I like the fact that a book like yours puts it out there for people that there is an option. There are more people there. It is not a flood or a tsunami yet of people who are studying this and willing to help you get off with hyperbolic tapering or whatever, but it is an option. You are one of the many people experiencing that, but you are putting it out there in your story. It makes it more available to people.

I generally don’t go through life with a cynical outlook. I do have a fairly cynical view of the paradigm shift here. I don’t think it is going to come from the top down. If you wait for science to come around and solve this problem for you, you are going to wait a lot longer than you want. Therefore, this becomes an individual problem to be solved, both on the part of the individual and the practitioner. It takes both.

What is entirely frustrating to me is I get the paradigm in the system we are in. It is profit-driven and politically driven. We know that, but this is also not something that you don’t have the power to change, address, and research on your own whether or not you are a doctor or a patient. The fact that we have psychiatrists and doctors whose job is to be the expert, go down the road of continuing education and read a wide variety of research on this topic, and they don’t. That frustrates me because that influences the patient.

In the same vein, if you are a patient, it is on you now to have some medical literacy and understand how research happens in this country and what we know about these drugs that you might not see in the commercial. You have to take your agency into your own hands a little bit because you can’t expect your doctor to do this. Even the most well-meaning doctors in the world, which a lot of them are, just have bad information, and don’t have time because they are bogged down with a crappy insurance system. It’s the big reason why they can’t do their own research and stay up to date. It’s because they are too busy trying to find codes to get paid to do their job. The system is broken, but you can fix it for yourself within if you take a little bit of initiative. That needs to happen on both ends.

OYM Brooke Siem | Psychiatric Drugs

Psychiatric Drugs: You must take your agency into your own hands because you can’t expect your doctor to do this.

 

That is the thing we have been trying to promote with this show of psychiatrists like Dr. Jodie Skillicorn, who got out of her medical degree in Anatomy of An Epidemic and said, “I got to reeducate myself and figure out how to help people in a different way.” She wrote the book Healing Depression Without Medication. She is 1 of 6 or 8 different integrative and/or functional medicine psychiatrists that we have interviewed on this show alone in the past few years. It is happening that people are waking up to it, but it is going to happen from the bottom. The system is going to change at the insurance company level or the medical school level.

I want to speak to as many medical schools and residents as possible. You got to plant this seed early. The most frustrating conversations I have are with people who have been doing this for a while and refuse. When you get into the medical school, you get them earlier. I don’t expect people to change careers. All I’m asking is, “You need to know that psychiatric drug withdrawal, specifically antidepressant withdrawal, is a real thing. This is what it looks like. This is how you can avoid it.”

Here are the PET scans that show the plasma levels and the cert occupancy of each individual drug that will explain to you why you can’t say, “Cut this pill in half for two weeks and then stop.” We have the research. It is not like I’m some conspiracy theorist here. I can show you the actual PET scans that were done for this drug and explain this. Why me? The chef is the one having to do that as a baffling question, but here we are and doing good.

The other thing that I wanted to ask you about is what you think you learned most about or learned most from your year of travel through the fog of all of the extra intensity of the withdrawal in the first few months of it. That was a fascinating part of your book. You had such detail. For the first couple of stops, because we were running out of pages in the book, I thought she was either going to say, “I dropped out and didn’t work out,” or she is going to magically wrap this up. What would you say you learned most from that year of travel?

The key part about the travel in my book is when people reach out to me and they are in their own withdrawal process, I wish I could replicate the situation I was in for them. What it did for me is that in the organization and the program I was doing, we traveled to a different place every month. One month, I was in Malaysia, and the next month, I was in Thailand, Cambodia, and Croatia. What that did is it completely removes any external stimuli that you can blame for your own problems.

Your environment is constantly changing. In my case, I had spent many years creating a narrative in my head that the source of my emotional distress was because of my business partner, living in New York, not having enough money, or not finding my dream partner. There were many reasons I could look outside of me and point to it and say, “That is the problem. If I could just fix that,” because I was in the same place doing the same thing.

As soon as I started traveling and had gotten rid of every single one of those external stimuli, and furthermore, that wasn’t following me from place to place. If I was upset about something in Malaysia, that was going to go away in three weeks when I was in Thailand. There was something new. What you learned quickly in that constantly changing environment is that the problem is you. People don’t like that because, especially for emotional and mental health, it feels outside of your control. It feels like something is happening to you.

In that constantly changing environment is that the problem is you. People don't like that, especially for emotional and mental health. It feels outside of your control. It feels like something is happening to you. Share on X

I looked at it and said, “If I’m taking myself with me wherever I go, I know that I have the power to figure out how to do this differently.” I was forced to because the withdrawal symptoms were so bad that I was desperate enough to start trying new things. As I started doing that, what we were doing was addressing all of this deep existential wounding. Things then started to get better. I’m not as triggered anymore because I healed the issue. It got to a point when I was writing where I was finally starting to feel well enough that it wasn’t a book about traveling. It wasn’t a travel memoir. There was no need to keep writing.

You did a beautiful job of explaining how it made sense to give quick summaries of the other stops because you had done such an integration of dealing with your new level of perception and getting through the withdrawal. As you talked about facing some fears, learning to scuba dive, and doing it with all people that weren’t your family that you grew up with, they weren’t your best friends for years. You said, “The environment and the people kept changing,” yet you were able to make that progress. As you were writing, I could sense that you were building that core strength that is essential for all of us. That was shaken to your core when you were fifteen and you lost your dad, then the meds got thrown on it.

I wasn’t given the opportunity to build tools or resilience when my father died because I was medicated quickly. The withdrawal was a crash course in that. I had to learn all the things that I would have learned more slowly in my twenties but that I didn’t learn because I was living in a state of despair the whole time. Once I got off the drugs and suddenly wanted a future, I wanted to live. I had reasoned to have to gain some tools and to get to know myself and understand the flow of emotion, intensity, and the fleetness of everything and how we are meant to change, grow, change our minds, and pay attention to how we feel around certain people, places, or experiences. It is all of those things that if you listen to it, it is what leads you to the that you want. If you ignore that, you end up in a place you don’t want.

The other thing is that during that period in your teens is when most of us from a relatively healthy family start to learn how to integrate the good stuff we are getting from mom and dad, and the not-so-good stuff from mom and dad. You didn’t have a chance to do that because of the grief that wasn’t processed and this concrete shell around you that was formed by the dumbing of your senses from the medications. How long has it been now since you have been off the meds?

It is long enough that I’m losing track. We are approaching the seventh anniversary. I got off the last drug sometime in the summer of August 2016. I was on a bunch of other prescription drugs for physical stuff that had appeared within the year of being on antidepressants. That is the other factor of this. The antidepressants caused physical side effects that we had to medicate with more pharmaceuticals. I didn’t know up or down with my body. It wasn’t an emotional problem. My thyroid was a mess. I had something called bile reflux disease.

I got off all of those drugs at a point where I said, “I need to clear up everything and see where I’m at.” I haven’t taken a prescription drug now in six years. The thyroid problem went away, which is miraculous. The bile reflux disease went away. Everything disappeared. It took a while for my physical body to stabilize but I gave it time.

Are you noticing still little things that are still changing the further you go away from the medications?

From a physical standpoint?

From the mental, emotional, and physical. I’m thinking about Jill Bolte Taylor who helped rewrite the ideas about what happens after a stroke. She was a neuroscientist herself who had her own stroke. It used to be that they would tell you that most of what you recover after a stroke, you get from after six months. If you haven’t gotten it at the end of a year, it is not coming back. She was rewriting that because she was documenting how things were coming back in her functioning 7 and 8 years after her stroke.

I understand that regardless of whether or not the research is sound. I love that we have science and research in order for us to give a general umbrella of what might be happening. It is the law of averages. You can’t apply averages to the individual. To tell them, “You are not getting any feeling back after a year,” is cruel. It sets people up for failure.

There are still some things that I will never know, and often wonder if this would be different had I never been on antidepressants. The sexual health side effects, I wonder about. There is PSSD which is Post-SSRI Sexual Dysfunction. I experienced a level while I was medicated. Things have gotten better in the years since I haven’t been medicated, but I still feel the only description is rather stunted in a way that I think had to do with the timing because I was medicated right at puberty.

That had fundamentally altered that aspect of my life, which is something I wasn’t comfortable enough to talk about when I was writing the books. It is not in there. It is something I have become more comfortable with the older I have gotten in. I have seen improvement in that. It has taken a lot of emotional work, counseling work, forgiveness, and grace. That is one aspect.

I’m still dealing with gut health issues that were caused by the long-term use of all these psychiatric drugs, and all the drugs I was on. You got biome stuff. Ninety percent of your serotonin is created in your gut. If you are on antidepressants, that is affecting your gut somehow. I’m looking at a stack of supplements over here that I’m working on to help still get my digestion functioning in a nonproblematic way.

What is interesting is that nothing I have experienced since withdrawal has been as bad as withdrawal, but sometimes you can get little snippets of what I felt in withdrawal. If I’m feeling emotionally dysregulated or my nervous system is dysregulated, I’m still sensitive to noise. That was something that was a big problem in withdrawal for me. I still feel that if I’m not feeling emotionally strong or if I haven’t been taking care of myself. I look at that and say if you are having trouble being outside because it is too loud, that means we need to adjust what is going on in our life. Meditation needs to come back. You probably need to call your counselor. Let’s look at what is going on because something is breaking me down.

OYM Brooke Siem | Psychiatric Drugs

Psychiatric Drugs: If you have trouble being outside because it is too loud, you need to adjust to what will happen in your life.

 

What this whole process did is it allowed my compass to be more attuned. I can tell when I’m going off in the wrong direction far earlier than a crisis, so I can bring myself back. That is beautiful. That is what you learn. If everybody had the tools I have and the ability to be as in tune with their inner state as I am, I don’t think we would be where we are from an emotional health level in this country and even in the world. You have to learn it and have people who support you. I got lucky in the sense that my mom never believed I was mentally ill. She was fighting against this the whole time. When I finally decided to listen to her, I realized she was right the whole time.

What was the first name of the counselor?

Alan.

That was another part of the book where I thought you got lucky with him as a coach and helping you tune into what is going on in your system, and not rationalizing all kinds of things about it, but being with it and letting it speak to you. That was a beautiful piece of work that is in line with all the best stuff I’ve ever learned in many years doing therapy.

When we try and use our brains to fix this stuff, we are going to reach a dead end every time because so much of our mental and emotional health lives in our bodies. Our brains are the little monkeys trying to make sense of it all. We got to get out of that.

Do I remember this correctly? Did you say that your mother went and trained with Alan?

She did. She and my parents had owned a family business together. After I went through withdrawal and had such a huge transformation, she said, “I’m not doing this anymore. I want to help people.” She sold her business. She is in a second career where she works with people. A huge percentage of her clientele is either in withdrawal or recovering from long-term use of antidepressants.

She works with them through multiple modalities. She uses the ones similar to Alan, which is the compassion key. She uses a lot of hypnotherapy. She is good. I don’t get details, but she will say, “I have a client who had this happen to them. They have been medicated since they were nine. They took their last Paxil, and they are doing well. It has been twenty years.” You don’t hear these kinds of success stories from standard psychiatric practices. It is the coolest thing, and I wish we could clone her a million times to help more people.

I know the feeling. Occasionally, I run into somebody that’s just good at that. Whatever they are doing, I wish we could have every therapist or coach be that good. I realize we are going to one of my hard stops here because I have another patient coming in, but I wonder if you could take a breath, get centered, and let me ask you to think. Is there something we have already talked about that you want to highlight or something about your recovery or this book that you want to mention that we haven’t even touched on yet?

I have been thinking a lot about what the legacy of this work is and what I want people to walk away from. I want more information and education about psychiatric drug withdrawal. My goal is to have people start to question the stories they have told themselves about mental illness or psychiatric drugs of the concept. We have been sold a narrative through advertising about what these things are.

Many of the stories I hear from people can always be traced back to a thing. Either it is something that happened to someone when they were a kid or a series of bad things that happened to them. In some cases, it is years of being switched from one drug to another, and nobody puts two and two together that every time you switch a drug, you have a manic episode. Maybe it is the drugs. We have narrowed our view of this in a way that is hugely detrimental when it needs to be expanded.

The other thing that is important and that needs to be demanded from patients because it is not going to come from the top down again is the idea of truly fully informed consent. I was on a call with the psychiatrist several days ago. Throughout the course of our conversation, he said out loud that he is pro-medication to start. At one point, he says, “Antidepressants are bad for you. They are poison.” You threw up his hands and said, “What other option do we have?” I wanted to ask him and I didn’t get a chance to, “Do you tell your patients that?” In my view, that is part of full consent.

Here is the reality. These drugs are bad for you. They are poison. They may also help you with this situation. Here is all of the information. What do you want to do with it? That is informed consent. That is true full consent, where the patient has the ability to look at all the pros and cons and make the best choice for them. That doesn’t happen because he doesn’t say that in his practice. Instead, he just pushes the positive.

These psychiatric drugs are bad for you. They are poison. Share on X

The other thing is you say he said, “What other choice do we have?” There are all kinds of other options. We don’t have any other drugs, but we have other techniques, supports, and structures.

Even in a world where this is the last line of defense and not the first, that still needs to be said to parents and kids because kids don’t have any agency. When you are fifteen and haven’t gone through puberty, you are not thinking about whether or not the antidepressant that your doctor, mother, and father are about to give you is going to affect your sexual health for the rest of your life.

OYM Brooke Siem | Psychiatric Drugs

May Cause Side Effects

That is not on your mind. It is not your responsibility. That is the responsibility of the doctor and your parents, caregiver, social worker, or whoever, to know that and to be told that. It doesn’t happen. We don’t have informed consent. We have digital lawyer things that protect the doctor from getting sued. That is what consent means in this day and age.

I would have to agree that idea of more fully open and informed consent is a deal-changer or deal-breaker for a lot of parents to hear, “This is poison for your kids.” It might have these short-term benefits but long-term, it is not a good thing to keep your kids on them. The basic message from Robert Whitaker’s book, Anatomy of An Epidemic, is long-term, these things have more downsides than up.

That is also reflected directly in the research. It is not like anyone is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. In some of the research Whitaker talks about and all of these researchers, in some cases, sometimes there does seem to be a short-term benefit, but it is rare. We are talking about 3 to 6 months, then there needs to be a plan to get people off. None of that is happening.

Hopefully, with books like yours and people like you to promote the conversations, we are heading in the right direction. I thank you again for your willingness to share with our audience and for the courage it took to put this book out.

You are welcome. Thank you for having me. The book is available all around the world. You should be able to order it from any bookstore, Amazon, and all those retailers. People can find me all over the internet @BrookeSiem. If people message me, I do respond eventually.

I appreciate that as well as you are spending time with us. It has been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

Thank you, Timothy.

Brooke Siem is a writer whose work on antidepressant withdrawal has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Post, Psychology Today, and more. Her debut memoir, May Cause Side Effects, is the first book on antidepressant withdrawal to hit the mass market, a notable milestone in the journey to bring global awareness to antidepressant withdrawal. She is also an award-winning chef and Food Network Chopped Champion, and Founder of the newsletter, Happiness is a Skill.

 

 

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About Brooke Siem

OYM Brooke Siem | Psychiatric DrugsBrooke Siem (@brookesiem) is a writer whose work on antidepressant withdrawal has appeared in The Washington Post, New York Post, Psychology Today, and more. Her debut memoir, MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS is the first book on antidepressant withdrawal to hit the mass market, a notable milestone in the journey to bring global awareness to antidepressant withdrawal. She is also an award-winning chef and Food Network “Chopped” Champion and founder of the newsletter, Happiness Is A Skill.

 

 

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