“Don’t Make Any Major Life Changes In Withdrawal”

Why this common advice can be problematic, and my top 5 tips for how to determine if or when a big life change is actually in your best interest.

The Common Advice

If you have been in the psychiatric drug withdrawal world for any length of time, you have probably encountered this very common advice: don’t make any major life changes until you’re on the other side of your withdrawal journey.

There can indeed be some merit to this advice. Very often we who are walking this road have had our lives turned completely upside down. If you are reading this, there is a good chance that you or someone you love has first hand experience with this. We don’t feel at all like ourselves. We may be in the midst of navigating all kinds of wildly intense thoughts, feelings, and bodily experiences that are foreign to us and that may feel overwhelming and frightening. These are all good reasons to wait before making any major life changes. We don’t want to do anything we might really come to regret later on when we have come out the other side and are feeling more like ourselves again.

It’s Not That Simple

But there is also a lot more nuance here than we realize. While keeping in mind that it’s important not to act rashly, it is equally important to consider that the withdrawal journey is often a call to action in our own lives, insisting that we change. Let’s look more closely at what I am getting at.

There is a lot that is inherently problematic with the messaging that we cannot trust ourselves. Most of us who have ended up in situations of harm at the hands of psychiatric drugs, found ourselves there because we trusted someone else to tell us what was best for us. Yes, it’s important to have some external checks and balances sometimes (keep reading for more on this), but not at the expense of our own agency and inner wisdom. “Don’t make any major changes in withdrawal because you’re not yourself” sounds an awful lot like “you can’t trust yourself because of your so-called mental illness.” Especially if the latter is a paradigm you want to leave behind, then consider that there is always something to be trusted in whatever experience you are having, whether you choose to act or not.

For many of us, the distress that led us to psychiatric drugs in the first place was really there as a messenger asking us to change. It was asking us to face some hard truths and do some hard things in the service of a life that would ultimately be better. And if we do the work to look back at our life circumstances honestly, most of us in hindsight will come to see this clearly. A lot of us–myself included–who took these prescribed drugs, may well find that what we didn’t fully deal with before comes up again on our withdrawal journey. And when it does it’s usually louder and more disruptive than ever before. The chemical chaos happening in our bodies has already brought us to our knees, and we can no longer turn away from everything unresolved that is resurfacing in new ways.

For many of us, navigating withdrawal and iatrogenic harm successfully means that we MUST change some very fundamental things about how we show up in our own lives.

Photo: Kalei de Leon on Unsplash
My Own Experience

Not everyone will find that they are being asked to change as much as I did. But I want to use my own experience as an illustration of what I mean, because nothing about my life at the end of my taper looked like it did at the beginning.

At the start of my taper I was in a toxic job, I had a lot of unhealthy friendships, I ate garbage processed “food” and otherwise took pretty poor care of my body, I was living in a situation that wasn’t working, I spent a lot of my free time doing activities that I had committed to but that didn’t leave me feeling good, I often said “yes” when I really wanted to say “no,” I held a lot of beliefs about myself and the world that were keeping me small and stuck, and much more. And I was either largely unaware of these realities, or resisting my own awareness because I was overwhelmed with what it would mean to shift and let some of these things go.

But over the course of my taper and my healing process, I slowly but surely changed pretty much every major thing that someone can change in their life. My line of work is different, how I spend my leisure time is different, where I live is different, most of my relationships are different, my experience of community is different, some of my values are different, what I spend my energy and attention is different, I say “no” more than ever before, much of what I believe about myself and about the world is different, my attitude about basically everything is different, you get the idea. I can’t imagine where I would be today if I hadn’t first recognized and then heeded my own call to action.

I could not stay in the same kinds of circumstances that were contributing to my distress and my “sickness,” and expect to get or be better on any level.

To Wait, Or To Make A Change?

You are your own best expert, and that’s the point. You will always know your answer better than anyone else. But I’ll share some of my favorite tips, tools, and thoughts for discerning when to wait, and when you will be best served by making a change.

  1. “If it’s urgent it’s not important, and if it’s important it’s not urgent.” Not original, but still some of the best advice I have ever received. And with the exception of true emergencies (which are rare), it always seems to be true. When something feels urgent, that’s often a good indication to pause and reflect before taking action. If that same thing continues to feel important upon pausing, reflecting, and perhaps consulting with some trusted others, it might be time to make a change. Similarly, if you recognize that something has felt important for a long while but you have been pushing it away, then perhaps it’s time to make a change.
  2. Seek support and feedback from trusted people. Especially if you are struggling with whether or not to trust your own inclination, share your thoughts and feelings with people you trust and ask for their feedback. This isn’t the same thing as deferring to someone else to tell you what the right thing is. Talking a situation through with a trusted “think partner” can be invaluable at helping you gain clarity.
  3. Get quiet with yourself. There is a still small voice deep within you that is always there whether you feel connected with it or not. It is always underneath any internal noise, chaos or confusion, I promise. Spend some quiet time reflecting, journaling, out in nature, or doing whatever your favorite things are to help you really tap in and hear yourself. Your still small voice will tell you what you need to know.
  4. Come back to your values. What is most important to you? I am not talking about what you think “should” be most important, or what our culture or the world at large has told you is most important. I am talking about what’s actually most important to you in your heart of hearts. Is the change you’re contemplating is in line with what or not? Does it move you closer to what matters most? Let the answers to these questions help guide your decision about making a change.
  5. When necessary, make a plan. You can do this on your own, with your trusted people, or both. What’s important is to keep in mind that often making major life changes requires some planning. With this in mind, make sure your bases are covered as much as possible, so that at the very least your basic needs (and where applicable your family’s basic needs) will be met.

If you take anything away from this post I hope it’s the recognition that sometimes major change in withdrawal is necessary, and also that you are capable of determining what might need to shift and when.