It all started with David Westerfield

Every time, the pharmaceuticals win

I take my chances with a bottle of small blue pills. They’re intended for my grandfather, but since he isn’t here anymore, he won’t mind sharing a couple, maybe three or four. Ten minutes into surfing the Web, I can’t feel my legs. I am slipping from my chair, and I can’t stop myself from falling. I am on the ground. I have enough strength to reach up and knock my cell phone off the desk. Next thing I know, I am in a hospital bed surrounded by worried faces as I am force-fed a new stomach lining, a black tar toothpaste of sorts. It is gross. I have ash in my teeth for a week.

“If she had gone to sleep, she would have never woken up.” At least that’s what they tell my mom, two hours after I am admitted.

I am lucky. But now, I have to pretend I am somewhat normal. As the days, weeks, and months went on, the fetal position becomes my only escape from the real world.

It all started with David Westerfield, the pervert who snatched a seven-year-old girl.

Ever since I was little, I would check my closet. Not for monsters or ghouls but for murderers and rapists. I was afraid of being kidnapped. As I grew, that paranoia became an everyday obsession. TV news didn’t help. With creepers and media working together, it was impossible for me to ignore my fears.

It was February 2002. I was 13, at a friend’s house for the night. A relatively quiet, safe Sabre Springs neighborhood was about to break its silence.

“Taylor, wake up!” My friend shook me.

“What?” The sunlight was scorching my sensitive eyes.

“Don’t you hear those police cars? Someone has been kidnapped! Right down the street!”

“Who was it?” I was now on full alert.

“Some girl I knew. It’s all over the news.”

After a late-night pizza party, Danielle van Dam’s parents noticed that their little girl was not in her room. She was taken in the middle of the night by Westerfield, their neighbor. The innocent seven-year-old girl with the choker was never to be seen again.

Stories like Danielle van Dam’s had a major effect, especially because they were going on right around me. I don’t know whom I should thank more for my phobia: David Westerfield or cable TV shows. If they didn’t report on child abductions, maybe I wouldn’t even know these types of crimes existed. But weirdoes like Westerfield are real.

While I am in the hospital, I am told that I need to see a psychiatrist. Days later, my mom and I spend most of our time on the Web and phone, trying to find someone. We schedule an appointment as soon as possible.

It takes the five-foot-tall Asian doctor a couple of questions to figure out what is wrong with me. I’ve only been sitting on the love seat in her office for five minutes.

I am depressed. Obsessive-compulsive. Anxious. She writes a prescription and I am out the door.

The thing about the pharmaceutical companies is that they brainwash doctors and patients alike into believing that there is a pill to cure any ailment. If there is a little something wrong with the medicine you are taking, there is another one you can add to your handful. Like when they put me on Zoloft. I hated it.

“So how is the…” The doctor stops talking to look at my file. “How is Zoloft working for you?”

“Well, honestly, I just don’t think it is working.”

She gives me a fake empathetic look. “Why do you say that?” Like she really cares.

“When I miss a dosage, I feel like crap. I am gaining weight and sleeping all day.”

“Those are the side effects, you know, the ones I told you about.” She seems smug in her big office chair, which swallows her tiny body.

“Okay, the thing is, I don’t want to feel like this anymore.”

Instead of taking me off the medicine, she adds another one, Lamictal, to the mixture. I am in high school, on antidepressant, antianxiety, and mood-stabilizing pills. I am losing focus and my GPA. As my attention slips, self-control slides away.

“I don’t want to take this stuff anymore!” I complain to my mom as we are walking out of the doctor’s office. “I hate the way it makes me feel.”

“It isn’t as bad as you think, Tay.”

“Really? Then why have I gained, like, five pounds?” I grab the roll of fat.

“I’m sorry, but you should really just do what the doctors tell you. They say it for a reason.”

My mom agrees with the doctors, and why wouldn’t she? She is the drug industry’s prime target. She never had the best health and always has to take a new medication for something. My dad never misses a chance to call us the family pharmacy with “all our fixes for whatever ails ya.”

He isn’t lying. Our pantry is loaded with painkillers, tranquilizers, and vitamins of all sizes, shapes, and colors. The lazy Susan, piled high with bottles, is at our disposal for any type of headache or dietary need. Just like the little blue pills that sent me on my journey.

When my cousins were old enough to have their spongy minds infected with anything and everything, you can bet I was there. We put on dance shows to classics like Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” I taught them to say phrases like “Somebody needs a Prozac!” which even my 12-year-old mind couldn’t even fully comprehend. Seven years later, that would come back to bite me in the ass.

Even though the medicine was supposed to help my obsessions, I still lived in fear. I would use my cell phone or laptop as a nightlight in order to fall asleep. Sometimes, if I heard footsteps outside my door, I would sleep with my field hockey stick, staying up for hours planning an escape route just in case something happened.

My fears didn’t just stay in my room at night; throughout the day, they followed me. Even though I was an active, outwardly happy person, I was a terrified child on the inside. My therapist refers to it as catastrophism.

“Your problem is that you take a small thing, and your mind creates an elaborate scenario around it,” she says.

Her curly hair and sweet disposition keep me comfortable on the sofa in her air-conditioned office, but it is her tough-cookie personality that makes me stay. Facing my problems is vital to fixing my issues, especially my ability to distort a situation.

“So I am Chicken Little, so to speak?”

“Exactly. If something hits your head, you start thinking the sky is falling.” She has a pad of paper in her lap, but her eyes are on me.

She’s right. If I am at the grocery store and someone looks at me funny, that produces a horrible scenario of murder in my brain. And even though I can shake off the idea and laugh about how stupid I am being, in the back of my head, I am wondering if I should look up the number of registered sex offenders in the area on, just to make sure.

Every day seems to be a new roller coaster, and I am getting sick of the ride. I tell my miniature psychiatrist about my attention-span problems. Instead of listening, she sits in her enormous chair, writing yet another prescription for some sort of ADD medication. I am fed up. I say no to the new meds and walk out. I never make another appointment with her. For the two years that follow, I deal with it, myself.

Leaving high school, ready to enter college, I want to leave all prescriptions of the past behind me. Thinking I am cured of my disorders, I start weaning myself off the pills. It is a rocky road, but I feel it’s worth all the bad emotions.

I’m off the meds for less than a year, but I find myself checking into the San Diego State Medical Center. Mascara running, body trembling, I am a knee-buckling mess. My out-of-control spiral leaves me feeling out my skin, which is all too grotesquely familiar. The doctor, who knows nothing about prescription-anxiety medications, gives me the same stuff I’ve been taking. It’s a punch in the gut. After almost a year on nothing and just dealing with my problems internally, I get back on the path I tried so hard to avoid.

For six months, I continue on the medication. I get over the fact that I don’t really have a choice. Instead of enjoying the days, I take them as they are.

After the pill-plagued fall and winter, I again really dislike the medicine. I decide to be done with Zoloft and Lamictal for good.

After going off the medicine the second time, the fears become worse. I am more jittery and anxious. My friends aren’t as sympathetic, so they don’t understand. I can’t blame them for calling me a [email protected]#$y. I am a coward, but at least I can own up to it. It has come to the point where I have prohibited myself from watching certain movies, knowing they would keep me up for nights on end, crying over which body part the ax murderer is going to chop off first.

I find myself getting flushed about the dumbest things, like outfits that don’t feel “right” or when people wear the colors brown and black together. I obviously need help for these issues, but I really don’t want to jump back on the pill wagon. I want to take a different route.

Enter: cognitive behavioral therapy. This focuses on the problem and fixes it with tasks and mental focusing. My tough-cookie therapist won’t take my crap any longer. I am all aboard to fix this problem for good.

“You can’t control what goes on around you, but you can control your thoughts, rather than them controlling you,” she says. “Being able to take the bad news — crime, media, apocalypse — and separate it from your own life, you will be able to start living free of these debilitating thoughts.” She hands me a paper with different faces on it, representing a range of emotions.

“Can you identify what you feel like when you think of being killed?”

I struggle with the question, looking from the paper to her face. In this no-pressure atmosphere, I feel put on the spot.

“Um, well… I feel vulnerable.” The faces are wrinkling in my tightening grip. “I feel helpless, scared, and out of control.” I feel better, saying it out loud.

“Good, now we are getting somewhere.”

I begin to relax. Someone is going to help me.

We are two sessions into working out my problems when the words I fear come out of her mouth. She tells me that my problem is biological. I still need medication.

“Prozac,” she says.

Tears roll down my cheeks.

“Tell me, why are you crying?”

“I am 20 years old, and for the rest of my life I need to be on medication to keep me sane. Other people my age don’t have to deal with this. I don’t think it’s fair. Why can’t I be normal?”

“It takes work, but I really can see you overcoming this,” she reassures me. “Medicine will help for the time being.”

Well, that’s it. I admit defeat. Pharmaceutical companies 3, Taylor 0.

I have an ongoing battle with an industry that has a drug for everything but a cure for nothing. It is like a profitable inside joke of the pharmaceutical bigwigs, because as the rest of us try to fix ourselves with their meds, some of us end up dead because of too many prescriptions. (Rest in peace, MJ.) The joke might be on the pill-popping world, but since I am on Prozac now, I can have a good laugh at it.

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I went through the psychiatric mill for 30 years. No medication worked for me, and like Taylor says, the doctors just hand you the next pill. The symptoms of my illness were easier to tolerate than the side effects from the meds. I think psychiatry is a bogus field and if you take a pill and it helps, then good for you. But if it doesn't, and it often doesn't, you shouldn't have it forced on you. My former therapist has been in the business for over twenty years and says sometimes meds work and sometimes they don't. She had seen me struggle with the side effects and supported me when I did away with all drugs.

Last summer, I stopped seeing her and started concentrating on my health and practicing Zen Buddhism. When I saw my primary care physician in September, I thought she'd jump all over me for not being on meds, but she said, "You look better than I've ever seen you look." She's been my doctor for years.

Sorry, Matt Lauer. I'm with Tom Cruise on this one.

I'm missing something in this article...

The dramatic opening, with the blue knock out pill, isn't mentioned again.

This article would be outstanding if the ending closed the beginning, explaining the connection. What does being on prozac have to do with taking one of your grandfather's meds? I can guess, but it would have been a very powerful ending for this otherwise well written story.

Another thought that strikes me is that the panic over sex offenders has real negative consequences for the young. It makes them paranoid for no good reason. Even though something like 90% of all molestations are committed by friends and family, Westerfield is an example, the kids are taught to be wary of strangers instead.

I was on the team that created California's Megan's Law database for the Cal Department of Justice. I think now that these registries tend to do more harm than good.

Chilling video. The sad thing is, people thin that these murdererscommit these acts because of their illness, not because of the meds. Without revealing too much personal information, I'll confirm that this stuff can make you nuts.

re: #1:

"I think psychiatry is a bogus field and if you take a pill and it helps, then good for you.

If psychiatry is a bogus field, then why would you allow that pills may work for some, not others?

"But if it doesn't, and it often doesn't, you shouldn't have it forced on you."

When do psychiatrists "force" pills on anyone? Patients need to make informed decisions, and be as involved as possible in their health decisions and therapeutic relationships. Only minors could possibly have pills forced on them.

The other point here is that antidepressants "often" don't work--perhaps, since this evidence is purely anecdotal, you should add--"for me." Many have benefited from antidepressants, people whose lives would have been otherwise untenable.

"Sorry, Matt Lauer. I'm with Tom Cruise on this one."

But Tom Cruise would not entirely be with you on this one: He would surely agree that psychiatry (a field he "knows") is a bogus field, but would not by any means agree that pills work for some. He believes that pills are evil, and interfere with his ability to reduce the number of evil, alien ghost-spirits, who whisper in his head, and block his path to mental clarity and good health. Instead of psychiatry, he uses a special measuring device ("E-Meter") to measure the number of these dead alien ghosts in his body.

A quick Google search reveals that the "E-Meter" is markedly cheaper than a relationship with a psychiatrist, but negligible in comparison with the costs of a lifetime's tithes (and $$$ spent on seminars) to Scientology.

re: #7: Mindy, the point is that unless you are flagrantly psychotic, and a danger to yourself and/or the general public, no one forces anything in this scenario. If you don't get what you want from one doctor, i.e., talk therapy instead of pills, you go to someone else for talk therapy. You go to an MFCC or a psychoanalyst, or a relational analyst, the list goes on and on. It is difficult to miss in a random google how many different kinds of talk therapy are out there, aside from medical treatment for depression.

The point is that it is irresponsible to be so flip about medications that yes, have helped hundreds of thousands of people. Anti-rejection drugs are known to sometimes cause life-threatening lymphomas, but patients are supposed to self-educate enough to weigh a couple of risks, along with their doctors' help.

You don't go around telling potential organ recipients to forget it and just die, because YOU got a lymphoma, or because you heard someone did. For some patients, there is no other choice. And for many people with lifelong, chronic, clinical depression, antidepressants are a lifesaver.

"And I am with Tom Cruise. E-meters make as much sense as some of these meds do."

Again, so flip about a serious issue. What do you mean by "some" of these meds, then?

Are you again arguing against just the one or two drugs you tried, that didn't work for you?

After going through what you hint at going through, it seems kind of selfish to insist in irrational and unsupported fashion that no one should take antidepressants, because they did not seem to work for you.

I am sorry, but I found this article really offensive. I have struggled through out my teen years with bi-polar disorder and have gone through many different medications. I agree that pills are not the answer to a mental illness, but with the combination of therapy they are a huge help. If you had a pyschiatrist who obviously didn't know what they were doing why would you stay with them and then complain about what they did to you? You play the victom in a situation that was entirely in your control, and then you blame the people who were trying to help you, albeit they sound as if they were not qualified. Medications do cause side effects but that is why you change drugs. You find one that works with you. You make huge statements about a field you know absolutely nothing about. Its infuriating. Who are you to discourage other individuals to take medications?

You think you had it tough? Try having Anorexia and Bulimia then finding out your Bipolar. However, because you are not a trained therapist or psychiatrist you most likely do not know that both eating disorders come with severe depression, severe anxiety, and also OCD. Are shunning the 13 year old girl who took Zoloft to relieve some of those symptoms?

I have been in therapy and also in a residential treatment center (for 9 months) and have worked on myself but the only way I could FUNCTION was to take medication to relieve symptoms. I have had side affects including weight gain but guess what? The trade off of not feeling like a crazy person is worth the five pounds.

Altogether, you can hardly blame an entire medical field for your problems. In therapy you learn that you can only control your behavior, not the behavior of others or their reactions. Thus learning to be your own advocate.

“I am 20 years old, and for the rest of my life I need to be on medication to keep me sane. Other people my age don’t have to deal with this. I don’t think it’s fair. Why can’t I be normal?”

That is the most self centered statement I have ever heard. Look around you, people struggle every day with diseases and mental disorders much worse than your own. You have a phobia, and as phobias go, not that severe. Get over it.

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