I grew up in Ferguson, Missouri with three siblings. The product of divorced parents of little means, my childhood was rough. My ticket out of my family and out of my city was to join the U.S. Army.

I served in the Army for almost seven years as a communications specialist with one deployment to Iraq. During deployment, I was medically evacuated due to a non-combat, life-threatening illness. Prior to that deployment, I was also a victim of sexual assault and the frequent object of sexual harassment in the mostly male environments in which I was assigned. These compounding traumas eventually led to the diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and major depression. For nearly 15  years, I was considered “seriously mentally ill with chronic and severe occupational and social impairment.” Providers  said I was “not likely to improve” and that I would have to take medication for the rest of my life.  

In the 13 years following my medical retirement from the military, my full-time job was that of a patient in the mental health care system. Those years are a blur. I was prescribed over 50 drugs and was hospitalized seven times. I had life-threatening seizures twice and attended several intensive programs and retreats trying to regain my sense of well-being. I became disillusioned when I felt that all I was doing wasn’t working; even more, all of my efforts with medication and therapies were making me worse. I thought to myself, “I’m doing everything all of these providers are telling me to do and I’m not getting better, so that must mean I am beyond help.” I was done. 

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.

Bob MarleyVisionary

Despite having severe symptoms for many years, there was a voice inside of me that wanted to know who I was with less medication, to know what my baseline really was.   What were my emotions versus the effects of the medications and the hyperfocus on symptoms caused by psychiatry? Under medical supervision, I was taken off approximately 10 drugs overnight in a psychiatric hospital, but I was still left on about eight more. The next few years, I diligently tapered off the rest, often licking my fingertip to count the beads one by one. Then, there was one drug left to go- Ativan / Lorazepam, a benzodiazepine. Little did I know, the last drug would be the hardest one and that it would almost cost me my life.

My withdrawal symptoms were so severe that I lost the ability to speak for two months, I couldn’t shower standing up for over two years, and I had to re-teach myself how to read. I had constant suicidal and homicidal thoughts for over two years. But, I felt deep inside that I would heal, that my story was important, and that I could not simply get on with my life once I did heal: I had to talk about this and had to help others heal, too.

Never Give Up

Despite my traumas, the endless tapers, constant symptoms, side effects, and disability accommodations, I was able to earn both a bachelor’s in science in psychology and master’s in social work from Washington University in St. Louis, both with high honors. For 14 months, I interned as a mental health therapist in a community health center for immigrants, refugees, and others with no access to mental health services. What I learned was that ALL PEOPLE have valid reasons for how they are feeling if we are to listen. 

I learned to listen. I learned to look past labels and to be with the suffering person sitting in front of me. I learned to dump the garbage of all the lettered therapies (CBT, ABT, DBT, CPT, PE, etc.) that I learned in school and just be with the person seeking “help.” Working in the “system” was not for me. I decided not to get licensed, to not provide therapy, but to heal myself as much as possible and consult with others who need support during the taper and healing process themselves. I am a coach, a consultant, a friend, a support, a guide along your path. 

During my withdrawal from psychiatric drugs, I was the veteran adviser at Benzodiazepine Information Coalition, I volunteered with World Benzodiazepine Awareness Day, and helped administer the Facebook group, Benzodiazepine Recovery. The past two years, I was a team member with Inner Compass Initiative hosting community discussions on topics such as Coping With Difficult Withdrawal Symptoms, Mindset and Withdrawal, and How to Work with Suicidal Thoughts During Tapering and Withdrawal. 

In my tenth month off all psychiatric drugs, a filmmaker approached me about my experience in the mental health care system and with psychiatric drug withdrawal. The crew followed me for the next three years and my story of overmedication after trauma appears in that film Medicating Normal (2020). After healing to some extent, I sold 90% of what I owned, bought a campervan, and traveled across the country, while presenting the film and leading discussions about the mental health industry, informed consent, psychiatric drug use, and withdrawal. When the pandemic hit, we shifted all screenings and presentations to virtual screenings and were able to engage over 180 audiences. During that time, I presented the paradigm-shifting ideas that maybe our current mental health paradigm was wrong and, in fact, may be more broken than we are. I presented to conferences, sat alongside psychiatrists during panel discussions, and interviewed some of the leading thinkers in critical mental health.

The time came when it was time to set off on my own initiative and that’s why this website exists. I am using my hard-earned lived experience, education, and research to help others who are leaving the mental health care system and looking to re-create their new lives with their own definition of health. YOU have the innate ability to heal and design a life worth living.