Introduction: The Vital Role of Good Preparation

man climbing mountain

Why start a Companion Guide to Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal with nine steps of “preparing” before the “tapering” discussions even start? Our own experiences in the layperson withdrawal community have shown us why careful preparation is so important: There are many other aspects of the withdrawal journey that can have enormous impacts on your chances of a successful taper that have nothing at all to do with optimally adjusting taper rates, setting comfortable schedules, and getting accurate dosages.

Essentially, even if you taper in the safest known way possible, other factors entirely unrelated to your medications can come into play and create anything from irksome setbacks to a complete derailing of your whole withdrawal process. People often find, however, that it is possible to minimize or even prevent those kinds of disruptive and disabling experiences from ever happening – provided they do key preparation work in advance of starting their taper. And it is exactly this that Part 1 of the TWP Companion Guide is here to help with. If you aren’t sure what we mean, here are a few examples of the kinds of events that have sidetracked many other people’s tapers:

  • You start in on a taper without having a reasonable level of certainty and clarity about why you’re doing it and what to expect. Your first withdrawal symptom turns out to be some heightened anxiety, and your own uncertainty and fear make that symptom persist and start feeling dramatically worse than it would have felt otherwise. (See Steps 1-3, where you’ll learn about tapering from people who’ve been through it and get more grounded in what your personal “withdrawal beacon” is, and Step 8, where you’ll explore ways of becoming more comfortable ‘being with’ difficult experiences.)
  • One of your withdrawal symptoms is relatively minor but for a period of time unexpectedly affects your ability to do a particular, important daily task that you normally take for granted – like your ability to clearly read small text on printed documents or distant signposts while driving, or your level of comfort being in crowded public settings like supermarkets. Because you have no back-up plan, your work or home life starts to derail. (See Step 4, “Managing Day-to-day Responsibilities and Tasks”.)
  • You start experiencing some bizarre withdrawal symptoms and think it would feel better to just talk with a friend or family member about them – but they immediately become worried and call your psychiatrist who contacts the police to have you hospitalized. (See Step 5, which discusses ways of building social support systems for tapering.)
  • You bring up the topic of tapering with your prescriber and the prescriber decides he or she isn’t interested in helping – and suddenly you’re left in the lurch with either no possible safe taper plan or no prescriber. (See Step 6, “Communicating with Prescribers”.)
  • You are tapering slowly but keep finding yourself plagued by unbearable difficulties such as adrenaline surges, panic attacks, and extreme irritability—not recognizing how much of an impact your eating habits are having on your body due to common withdrawal-induced sensitivities you weren’t aware of. (See Step 7, “Listening to the Body and Its Messages”.)

So Prepare is a compilation of the experiences of those of us who’ve been through relatively smooth tapers along with those of us who’ve endured difficult, dark and trying ones. Our aim is to share with you the wisdom we have learned along the way about what’s been helpful, empowering, debilitating or harmful – and everything else we wish someone had told us before we set out on the withdrawal journey.

Each step in Prepare comes with several parts:  

  • A brief discussion of why the step is important
  • An introductory orientation to some of the key issues in the step
  • Different types of exercises to explore the topic further
  • Reflections and wrap-up related to learnings from the step

These can be navigated by using the ‘left’ and ‘right’ arrow buttons underneath the text of a page, or the footer or right sidebar menus.

As you work through these steps in Prepare, we encourage you to take it slow and give yourself the gift of time to explore the many facets of your life that may have implications – either positive or negative – for the nature and success of your withdrawal journey. Far from a postponement of your taper, most of us in the layperson withdrawal community have found that good preparation is an absolutely critical step towards optimizing one’s chances of getting off and staying off psychiatric medications. Skipping over withdrawal preparation work is like trying to climb Mount Everest without bothering to get in shape for the ascent, learn how to navigate storms, or plan the route. If you are considering tapering, though, neither should you be daunted—as many who’ve gone before you can attest, with careful, patient, and well-informed preparation, that distant, glistening pinnacle is entirely within reach.

painting of three people climbing up a mountain

'Road to Emmaus', by Caitlin Ambery.