Medicating Normal – A Film Review
This is a review of the forthcoming documentary Medicating Normal. It’s a film about the dangers of psychoactive medications, the pathologizing of normal human experience, and the path of destruction left in the wake of the capitalist fascination with quick fixes and miracle cures. But first, a story.
Early last year, I got a call from a new client looking for someone who could work with anxiety. Not a garden variety anxiety, but one stemming from withdrawal from benzodiazepines and other psychiatric medications.
Withdrawal from benzos? Well that takes 3 weeks, right? Maybe a little more? NO, she emphatically explained to me. There are some people for whom benzo withdrawal can go on for years.
She was early into her second year.
This was outside my realm of experience with these things. It left me at first skeptical, but my gut told me to sit still and listen. What came next was a story of extreme anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia, brain zaps, akathisia, mood swings, intrusive thoughts, PTSD…you name it, it was happening regularly with a woman who up until then did not have such symptoms.
This was my introduction to the world of extreme withdrawals from benzos and psychoactive medications.
Beware confusing normal with comfortable
For your intro, I suggest watching the documentary Medicating Normal.
In this film you follow 4 people and their histories of interactions with the psychiatric establishment: a naval officer and his wife, a combat veteran, a waitress, and a student.
In each story, you are hearing how they interacted with medical professionals who exposed them to misguided expediency (throw a pill at the problem!), belief in big pharma marketing (trust us our drugs only make people better!), and worse. By worse, I mean pathologizing the range of normal human reactions to real stressors.
In all of the stories, you will hear about people going through a variety of life experiences causing stress of different levels such as school pressures, combat exposures, and difficult work schedules. These people got drugged rather than supported and given help to humanize and ground their experience. This is where the documentary derives its name. As Dr. Mary Vieten, PhD says…we confuse normal with comfortable.
The other significant side of the film are the withdrawals people go through. Lasting anywhere from weeks to months to years…yes, years…the withdrawal symptoms are often worse than the original stressors. The film moves quickly most of the time, but where it lingers is on the poignant and devastating after effects of going off these meds either cold turkey (please don’t do this) or by doing a micro-taper.
You will also hear from a variety of professionals as they detail a system that is moved more by profit than science. The reality is, human bodies are all different and they all respond to meds differently. This nuance has to be built into good psychiatric care as described by Dr. David Cohen, PhD. He describes in the film that a percentage of people report being helped by their meds (20%), a percentage report neutral experiences (40%), and upwards of 30% who report being damaged by their meds.
A nuance not mentioned in these percentages but alluded to in the film is that they can shift. Drugs, often meant only to be used in the short term, effect positive changes for patients initially but over time (and in toxic combinations) create harmful results. So it’s possible the 30% gets larger given enough time.
The result is a slow-rolling explosion of unnecessary misery and suffering for people who were already hurting.
Medicating Normal is a powerful documentary encouraging your education on psychoactive medications and psychiatry in general. It leans towards making for yourself a better understanding of the full range of human experience and approaching it with compassion rather than pathology.
For more information, check out the website Medicating Normal where you can find more about the film and lots of resources on medication alternatives.