How Laypeople Build a Strong Support System for the Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal Journey
When asked what sat at the heart of their successful journey off psychiatric drugs, a significant percentage of individuals in the withdrawal community report that having a support system in place made up of compassionate, accepting, and understanding people was a vital piece of the puzzle. If this is an issue that resonates with you, we encourage you to first read Step 5: Building a Support System in our Companion Guide to Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal, where we explore what “support” means to different people in different situations.
However, many find that building this kind of “human infrastructure” in advance of starting a taper can be far from easy, and often requires some practical work. Laypeople have reported that the following measures have been helpful to take when further thinking through what “support” means and doesn’t mean to them, what kinds of support systems might be worth trying to build based on personal needs and preferences, and what steps to think about taking in order to get a stronger support system in place:
Before setting out to build or strengthen their support system, they make sure that they are well-informed about psychiatric drugs and withdrawal, so that they can show people around them that they’ve invested time and care into researching, thinking about, preparing and planning for the safest possible taper journey.
Many individuals have found that the idea of “going off meds” is a “hot button issue” among their family and friends that can evoke fear, concern, and even panic—especially for people who’ve witnessed a “failed” attempt at coming off psychiatric drugs in the past. Prior to setting out to bring people in their life up-to-speed on their plans, then, many folks in the withdrawal community have found it’s been equally important to be sure that they have first given themselves the time needed to carefully and thoroughly do preparatory research, thinking and planning. The clearer they can be in their reasons for wanting to withdraw and in their awareness of what it might take to do so as safely and responsibly as possible, the better able they become at “making the case” to the people around them. Additionally, taking time to reflect on what may have caused previous attempts at coming off to not go well—such as a taper rate that was too fast, or too many other circumstantial stressors—can help everyone feel more confident moving ahead.
They stay connected with the tools and strategies they already have in place for taking care of themselves in difficult times, and consider expanding their coping repertoire.
Many people find that the more they get their own coping strategies and techniques in place and activated in their lives—for example, by practicing meditation, eating foods more aligned with their bodies’ needs, or exercising more—the more reassured their family members and friends feel, and the more comfortable and confident they feel in offering up an additional level of assistance.
They stay connected to their own strengths and abilities, and remember the power of mutual aid.
For many people, thinking through the decision to come off psychiatric drugs is a scary process rife with insecurity, uncertainty, and fear. Understandably, these feelings can take up a lot of mental and emotional space—sometimes so much space that they push out any recognition of the strength and power that each of us has within us to face these big unknowns. Simultaneously, these fears and insecurities can diminish recognition of what a person has to offer others.
Many laypeople report that staying connected to the abilities and skills that they have within themselves has been an important part of the withdrawal journey. First, these abilities have helped them better navigate the road ahead. And second, these abilities can help others around them who are going through their own struggles. That is, as they have thought through the kinds of supports that they wanted or needed, people in the withdrawal community have found that this in turn has helped them stay connected to the assets within them that might help to support someone else as well.
Basically, it’s thinking about support as mutual giving and receiving, rather than as a one-way street where one person always gives and the other always receives. By building a withdrawal support system with a foundation in mutual aid in this way, not only are we more likely to stay connected to the tremendous power we have within us, but our support systems are likely to become more sustainable, meaningful, and valuable to everyone involved. Plus, a lot of people—many of us at TWP, included—have found that there’s no better way to get through a difficult period of time than to step out of ourselves and be of service to someone else!
They find that proactively setting boundaries, establishing parameters, considering the needs and limitations of each person involved, and thinking through a crisis plan makes the support system more sustainable over the long haul.
Many people find it beneficial to come together to establish a clear plan in advance of a taper that lays out the personal boundaries, limitations, parameters, and needs of each person involved. This can help the “team” feel more united, on the same page, mutually respected, and even energized about moving ahead. This works best in a “mutual aid community” of people where everyone is looking to both give and receive supports, but it has also been reported to be helpful for individuals in a situation where they are simply establishing parameters with their own support team. Often, people will build into their plan ideas for how to help prevent a crisis from developing, as well as for how to handle a crisis if it does develop. Thinking all of these factors through can help avoid or minimize tension and conflict down the road that might otherwise arise from differing perspectives or opinions. By breaking everything down clearly and simply up front, the support system is more likely to stay sustainable and mutually beneficial.
Laypeople have found it helpful to consider elements such as:
- Time availability and limitations (Which time windows for connecting generally work best for which people? How much planning of get-togethers in advance does there need to be?)
- Sustainability (What does each person anticipate needing in order to avoid getting hurt, annoyed, angry, or burned out?)
- Comfort zones and boundaries (What are the personal lines that each person draws emotionally, mentally, physically, etc. so that they can feel respected? For example, maybe certain people feel perfectly comfortable being a silent shoulder to lean on, but find it too difficult to talk about especially dark or disturbing thoughts.)
- Communication (What are the optimal frequencies, means and methods for communicating for each person—Phone? Text? Email? Face-to-face?—and what might lead to frustration or burnout?)
- “Deal-breakers” (What needs, demands, behaviors and actions are not only un-meetable for each person in the support system, but will also likely lead to its breakdown?)
- Warning signs (What behaviors, activities, or other observable measures might be a sign that the person coming off psychiatric drugs and anyone else in the support system might be heading down a dark or difficult path? For example, loss of sleep, binge-eating, increased paranoia, drinking alcohol, etc. Making a list of these kinds of “red flags” can help everyone stay on the same page.)
- Crisis mitigation (If those warning signs and red flags do emerge, what can be done early on to help prevent them from going further?)
- Crisis planning (If a full-blown crisis hits—whether for the person coming off psychiatric drugs or for anyone else—what might be helpful? What would definitely be harmful? How would each person want the support system to respond?)
People have also found it helpful to put these kinds of plans in writing, so that it can become a shared, “living document” that can be referenced by anyone in the support system at any time, and modified as necessary.
They remind themselves that everyone is on his or her own journey of learning and discovery—especially in regards to psychiatric drugs and withdrawal.
A lot of people have found that previously unsupportive family members or friends changed their perspectives once they had a chance to properly inform themselves about what’s known regarding the safety and efficacy of psychiatric drugs, the impacts that psychiatric drugs can have on the brain and body, and psychiatric drug withdrawal-related issues—but that these realizations and awakenings can sometimes take time to develop or unfold.
Laypeople have found it helpful to remind themselves of the “bigness” of these issues, and how counter to the “mainstream” narrative they are. For many people—ourselves at TWP included—it can take a lot to find the willingness to let go of deep-seated beliefs, and to make space for new or foreign ideas to evolve that go against things we previously believed very deeply. Changes don’t always happen overnight! Indeed, as much as they may want to be understood and treated respectfully themselves, many laypeople in the withdrawal community report that it’s especially important to be gentle, patient, understanding, and compassionate with the people around them who might be going through their own process of struggling to let go of deep-seated beliefs about psychiatric drugs and withdrawal. Of course, meeting harsh resistance and criticism from the people around them can be difficult and invalidating for people in withdrawal, too, so communications can often become frayed all around.
Laypeople have found that when it feels appropriate, and when they’re ready for more in-depth discussions that could arise, it’s helpful to ask the people in their life whom they’re hoping will be a part of their support system whether those individuals would be willing to do some reading and then discuss the content together. For example, people have found it helpful to explore resources that break down what’s known regarding the safety and effectiveness of psychiatric drugs such as the essays in Inner Compass Initiative’s Learn/Unlearn section, or review the information about psychiatric drug dependence and withdrawal in TWP’s Learn section.
They encourage their family members, friends, and other supporters to find and connect with others who’ve supported loved ones and friends tapering off psychiatric drugs.
It isn’t just the person tapering who embarks upon the withdrawal journey… In a sense, it’s also the people close to them who go on the journey. Many have found that when the time feels right, it can be helpful to encourage people in their life to find and connect with other family members and friends who are also supporting someone on a withdrawal journey. After all, supporters often need some mutual aid, support and guidance, too. Many family members and friends have found it invaluable to connect with other family members and friends of folks on the withdrawal journey to learn about what helps, what doesn’t, and how to take care of themselves as supporters. ICI Connect was created for this very reason.