I went off my meds to be more spiritual. There, I said it.

Well, okay – let me qualify that. I reduced my meds because I believed I would have more access to my spirituality and spiritual gifts. Now, I didn’t say this was a smart choice. And you’d think, since this ain’t my first rodeo with mental illness, I’d know better. I’ve lived (and lived quite well on the whole) with bipolar disorder, anxiety and psychosis for over 25 years and for most of those years I’ve taken medication.

Though this has been the case, there’s always been this niggling feeling that if I could just reduce (and eventually not take any) medication I’d be better off for it. More spiritual – closer to the divine, more peaceful, more at one with the world, able to become more self-realized, liberated and enlightened.

Who can blame me? I don’t know of any spiritual teachers on psychiatric medication. Not any who admit it anyway. Dali Lama? Not that I know of – maybe meds for high cholesterol, but even that’s a guess. Eckhart Tolle? Doubt it. Byron Katie? Not likely. Though, they might be. Perhaps I’m just imagining what spiritual celebrities are all about.

Regardless, stigma about mental illness in general and psychiatric medication in particular runs deep. More accurately, misinformation about it runs deep. Really deep: “threads-of-steel-around-the-roots-of-a-tree-and-into-the-magma-of-the-earth” kind of deep. Even for me, who has experienced relief by taking medication.

Somehow, I think medication stops me from being all of me, clogs up my energy systems, makes me foggy. When I or others are overmedicated, yes – that’s definitely the case. But I’m taking a dose that doesn’t do any of those things. Yet I still feel I could have more spiritual growth, faster growth, if I wasn’t on medication. Somehow though, in my mind, this didn’t apply to the birth control pills I took. Hmmm?

So a few months ago with the guidance of my psychiatrist I began to reduce my meds. Over six weeks I began, very slowly, to decrease the amount of both my antidepressant and mood stabilizer.

I was honest about the reasons. I told him, one: I have so many effective self-management tools, maybe a lower dosage would be okay. Two: I’d like to be on as little medication as possible due to potential, negative effects of being on meds long term. And, three (most importantly): I had started a spiritual practice in earnest over the past few years and was concerned the meds might be interfering with my spiritual development and awareness.

He said okay. Yup, I know. Very progressive and very good he is. I thank my lucky stars I’ve had the privilege to work with him.

Over the next month and half, little by little, I started reducing. Week one, things are going fine. Week two, the same. Week three, four, five – all good. Then, week six – a bump, well more like a shadow – you know a black, creepy, blur fraying the sides of my life and the inside of my mind, turning my thoughts dark, melting my energy limpish, figuratively bruising my body purple. This wasn’t good. I stepped up my spiritual practice, exercised more, regulated my sleep. The gloomy lump lifted – for two days. Then it was back, in full force.

I was scared. The dark silhouette adhered to my shoulders, behind my eyes, on the bottoms of my feet. It didn’t matter how much exercise, how much sleep or how much light I got into my eyes, it didn’t budge.

I didn’t feel spiritual, I felt wretched.

I meditated, practiced Chi Kung, prayed, ran every day for short spurts, but still depression wedged in every cavity it could. I didn’t know between my fingers could ache so much.

I went back to my psychiatrist.

“Isn’t it true, even if I go back to my old dose, the meds might not work? I’ve heard that. It’s true, right? Right? My old meds aren’t going to be effective. I’ve f%*ked myself.” Why didn’t he stop me before I tried this insane experiment?  

“Nooo…,” he said slowly shaking his head, “that’s not true.”

“Oh,” was all I could say.

So that same day, back at home, sitting at my vanity table, I opened up my two pill bottles.  I picked out the dose of pills I’d taken before said spiritual experiment and washed them down with water in the hopes with the health habits I was still practicing I might regain a feeling of wellness.

I did. Over the next couple weeks I slowly started to feel myself again. After taking my medication (medicine really) and continuing to practice my wellness tools, I started to feel back to my good ol’ Victoria: grounded, clear seeing, content and at ease with the natural ebb and flow of emotions that just a few weeks ago seemed locked away forever and doused with dollops of severe depression. Taking the right dose of medicine, I actually felt more spiritual, not less.

What did I learn? It was something I remembered actually about my journey with creativity.

Years ago, when psychiatric medication was suggested (very strongly) as an additional support to my recovery, I was afraid it would take away my creative spark. I was an actor, a writer – creativity was my life-blood. I couldn’t afford to live without the passion that kept me alive and added meaning to my life.

At first I was prescribed lithium. It had worked wonders for my mom. Yup, bipolar disorder is a family affair. Me, I felt like a walking piece of chalk. Not dampened emotions, just NO emotions. The only thing worse than feeling suicidal, is not feeling anything at all.

But then 2 years of sampling different medications, I was given something else to try – and lo’ and behold, this particular combination of anti-depressant and mood stabiliser helped raise my bottom and gave me a roof to curb dangerous stratospheric spikes in my emotions.

I didn’t feel medicated. I didn’t feel high. I felt like me. Me.

And, what happened to my creativity? It came back to life. My creative output was sustainable, of good quality and I flowed with it instead of being led hurly burly by it.

When I wasn’t on the right medication, the right dosage – my creativity was squelched, lost to the pharmaceutical stew of overmedication or ineffectiveness. When I wasn’t on medication at all, I THOUGHT I was creative. I actually was prolific. I was writing copious amounts of poetry…but, really, really BAD poetry.

When I wasn’t on medicine to reign in the fire that touched my brain, the creativity I had ran amok and was awful. Mania led me to create a lot, but create poor quality. While depression stopped it in its tracks.

Surprisingly (at least to me) the same course of events happened with my spirituality. When on the wrong kind, wrong dose or no medication at all, my access to spirituality and sense of the divine was warped and draped in a painful fog or hysterical mania. The depth of despair was not a ‘dark night of the soul’ it was a cemented state of being that wouldn’t budge. My manias were not wisdom unleashed, but euphoria skyrocketing into heights of dangerous behaviour.

When I am on the right medication (as I am now), the right dosage (as low as possible, but enough to help), I am connected and aligned to what I define as spirit and the divine. I feel the joyful (not manic) flow of life and I rest in trust and ease. Seriously. This is how I feel when I have the correct dose of medicine as well as consistently practice my many self-management wellness tools. Medication is a small, but important, recovery tool.

I can’t shirk any of them. I am adamantly, furiously committed to enacting my wellness tools daily (which includes taking my trusty anti-depressant and mood stabilizer). I can’t afford not to.

Both my creative and spiritual life depend on it.

Do you or someone you know take psychiatric medication? Does one of your clients? What are your thoughts on medication and spirituality? Does it help or hinder? I want to hear about your experience. Please leave a comment below.  

© Victoria Maxwell

If you liked this post, you may enjoy this podcast interview where Victoria and Chris Cole of ‘Waking Up Bipolar’ discuss naked psychosis, imperfect bodies, medication and spirituality.

Creativity is one of my go to wellness tools. It breaks me out of ruminating if I’m anxious. Gets me inspired when I’m craving sunshine and there is none. When things are going well, it keeps that fire going.

Science Shows Small Simple Acts of Creativity Help us Flourish

There is a LOT of science to back creativity as an effective tool to improve well-being. In this recent study researchers found individuals engaging in small daily acts of creativity experienced more “flourishing and positive emotions like energy, enthusiasm, and excitement the next day”.

For people struggling with mental illness, flourishing may seem out of reach. But the scientific definition of flourishing is at the heart of recovery. Flourishing is defined as “an overall sense of meaning, purpose, engagement, and social connection”. Recovery is about a good quality of life despite the presence of symptoms. It’s about having a reason to get out of bed.

‘Everyday creativity’ it isn’t about talent, quality or quantity. It’s about bringing something into being out of nothing. It’s about making different choices, instead of excuses. Like adding a new twist to an old recipe. Small victories of creativity. Learn more about ‘everyday creativity’ in my Psychology Today post.

Use Free Writing to Help you Flourish (difficulty level: easy / time: 5 – 10 mins)

Try the following simple creativity exercise to boost your mental health. If you’re a health professional, share it as a wellness tool with your clients. As a corporate leader, try variations of it at staff meetings to creatively find solutions. Shout out to Natalie Goldberg, writing coach, author and Buddhist, who I learned this from in her book, Writing Down the Bones.

Basically, these are the ground rules: keep your pen/fingers moving. Don’t correct mistakes. Let yourself go. For a fuller outline of guidelines, check out my The Crazy Naked Truth Cheat Sheet for Writing with All Your Heart.

  1. Check in with how you feel before you start. Jot that down. Or rate the intensity of your anxiety if that’s what you’re experiencing.
  2. Set a timer for 5 – 10 minutes.
  3. Begin with the prompt “I know with my whole heart that…” or “I remember…” and let the flood gates open. For finding solutions, craft a tailored prompt that relates the challenge at hand. Keeping your pen moving and see where it takes you.
  4. Stop when the timer goes off.
  5. Check in with how you feel now. Record anything you notice that different.

You may find free writing can be as good as power nap, a piece of fruit or cup of coffee to wake you up and recharge you.

Suggestion: Do this for 5 or 10 minutes every day for a week. Try any number of prompts. Start with a word, like blue and go!  Track how you feel before and after. Jot down if you notice improvements in energy, sense of purpose, less anxiety or more positive thoughts. If you do, try if for another week. Maybe it can be a part of your wellness toolbox too.

This exercise and every day creativity helps shake up your thinking, gets your energy moving and helps you meet yourself in a way you never have. It paves the way for more wellness patterns in your life.

Tell me! Tell me!

When you’ve tried your hand at it, or pen in hand as the case may be, share what your experience was like in the comments below.

© Victoria Maxwell