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During COVID quarantine, I decided it was time to finish my memoir.
And so I did.
I’m thrilled to announce the release of PSYCHIATRIZED: Waking Up After a Decade of Bad Medicine.
I’m currently taking payment for signed, paperback copies until July 31, 2021.
Copies will be shipped in August.
If you’d like to order a copy (or copies), CLICK HERE:
Or you can Venmo me at @rasjacobson.
Thank you all so much for your support during these last eight years of crazy-town.
When a trusted physician tells Renée Schuls-Jacobson that he has the solution for her chronic insomnia — a “tried and true medication without any side effects,” she believes him. For seven years, she takes her clonazepam exactly as prescribed until, one day, she learns that her doctor is wrong: long-term benzodiazepine use causes all kinds of problems including profound changes in brain function.
With the help of an addiction specialist, Renée embarks on a slow, medically supervised taper, only to find herself cognitively scrambled and stuck in the nightmare of benzodiazepine withdrawal. For nearly four years, she endures hundreds of terrifying physical, emotional and psychological symptoms – none of which were present before taking the medication.
While healing from an iatrogenic brain injury that is not widely recognized by doctors, Renée leaves everything familiar behind and goes on a journey, meeting scientists and sages, healers and hucksters, who all teach her the same hard lesson: to stop seeking the help of experts and to trust her intuition.
In PSYCHIATRIZED: Waking Up After a Decade of Bad Medicine, Renée Schuls-Jacobson contemplates the cost of compliance and exposes the truth about the dangers of psychiatric drugs as well as a discontinuation syndrome, which affects thousands of men and women worldwide.
More information to follow under the hashtag #psychiatrized!
When one of my former roommates suggested a bunch of us “girls,” get together for a weekend, I jumped at the idea. Monique found an adorable, affordable B&B in the middle of Geneva, an old house that was big enough for each of us to have our own individual bedroom with enough shared space to make for a communal experience. And it was wonderful reconnecting with my old friends, women I hadn’t seen in nearly three decades.
We curled up on couches, stayed up late in our jammies, catching each other up on our lives, our loves and our losses, our successes and our failures.
And that part was wonderful, intimate and restorative.
But then it was time to venture out to the “larger” campus to connect with other alums celebrating their reunions as well.
In general, I think I do pretty well socially, but last weekend, I was forced to confront something that I don’t think I processed until this weekend.
While Hobart & William Smith Colleges was a good fit for me intellectually, socially, I was a complete misfit.
I grew up in a family where alcohol did not exist. With the exception of a very infrequent glass of wine, neither of my parents drank alcohol. We never had beer in the house, and their basement “bar” still displays the same unopened bottles of liquor that were there when I graduated from high school. We just didn’t drink. The few times where I’d tried alcohol in high school, I ended up feeling afraid and alone. It just really didn’t agree with me, so I evolved into the designated driver and avoided most social activities that revolved around alcohol.
And then I went to college.
I remember my first night on campus. It was a warm September night, and all the girls in my dorm dressed up in pretty summer dresses to attend a fraternity party.
“It’ll be fun,” someone told me.
So I put on a dress and followed along.
That night, in that frat house, I was ogled and objectified. Men made unwanted advances, touching my hair and my body — which was bad enough — but watching my female classmates consume so much alcohol that they were literally falling down drunk was worse.
I didn’t know how to talk to people who were drinking so excessively, people who were so over the top sloppy that they didn’t respect my boundaries.
Meanwhile, they all seemed so comfortable — drinking & laughing & talking about lacrosse.
It was like that most weekends and, eventually, I stopped attending those types of parties altogether, opting to study in my room or in the library.
Last weekend, I had to confront my social anxiety around alcohol consumption.
While most people were much better behaved then they were thirty years ago, at one point, I was so overwhelmed by all the drinking and so underwhelmed by all the small talk, I retreated to the basement to regroup.
While I was hiding out down there making friends with a row of washing machines, a former classmate approached me aside to remind me how I’d helped him to edit several English essays which were difficult for him. (Though I have no recollection of doing this, it sounds like something I’d do.) He said that with my help, he went from earning C’s to A’s. I was stunned.
We continued to talk about what we’ve been doing since graduation – our families, our work – and eventually we went back upstairs. Though he disappeared back into the throng, and I stayed on the fray, I felt seen and heard.
I imagine he has no idea how much that interaction meant to me.
During that conversation, my former classmate told me I’d made a difference in his life.
And it rocked my world because, quite frankly, most of the time I don’t feel very significant at all.
When I left the party shortly thereafter, it was dark outside. There was a rabbit on the lawn, sitting perfectly still on the grass. Her fur was grey in the moonlight and she looked alert and a little afraid. I don’t know if anyone else saw her, but I did.
I often feel like I move through the world like that rabbit — off by myself, on alert, ready to skitter away, secretly hoping someone will notice me.
Back at home, I was eager to get into my studio.
I knew I wanted to honor the weekend, that moment in particular.
This piece isn’t finished yet, but when it is, it may have to live with me for a little while as a reminder that all creatures, great and small, are here for a reason — and that we are all truly connected to one other.
Do you attend reunions? Why or why not? Has anyone ever said something to you that moved you to tears — in a good way? What was it?
I sparkle and shimmer and shine in June, July and August and love the heat and the water, from pool or ocean.
How I used to look forward to the summer. Summer camp. Skinny-dipping. Getting a deep dark delicious tan. (In the 1980s we did these things.) A plain girl, I felt prettier in the summer. Transformed, I always fell in love in the summer. I married in the summer. My son was born in the summer.
But now, I feel autumn creeping up on me, wrapping her fingers around my throat.
Yesterday, I was waxing nostalgic for the many wonders of summer, a friend informed me that she actually hates summer. That, in fact, it is her least favorite season. I was shocked. Horrified. How could it be? She explained her story to me, and I understand it — but it is a foreign concept to me. I’d like to hear from others.
Be neat. Those are my father’s famous words. A child of Depression-era parents, my dad learned not to waste anything. Messes were not well tolerated in our house. Spilled milk? That was a serious offense, absolutely a reason for buckets and sponges and dirty looks and blame.
For $1 each month, you can subscribe to read my continuing story of what brought me to benzodiazepines, including how I felt while I was on them, information about my horrendous 30 month withdrawal, what helped me heal (and what didn’t), and how I’m doing now.
There is other content there, too, that can only be accessed on Patreon!
Readers can ask questions which I’ll try to answer in future chapters. Feel free to offer feedback about the content, and if you notice a grammar error, tell me to fix it! You’ll be doing me a favor. Less to edit later!
I attended a wedding recently after which I was invited back to the family’s home and had the opportunity to see the bride and groom open some of their gifts, and I couldn’t help but remember how, the day after we were married, as my new husband and I were opening our wedding gifts, we noticed someone had given us a used casserole dish. Yellow and chipped, it was actually even a little dirty.
“Who would give us a used dish?!” I ranted.
Then I read the card.
The casserole dish had come from a distant aunt who was in her early 90s at the time, and quite ill. Still, Aunt Bea wanted to send us something. Her husband, whom she had loved dearly, had passed away by then and she was alone. In her beautifully written penmanship, Bea explained that a dear friend had given her (and her new husband) that very casserole dish that I now had before me over fifty years earlier. She apologized about the chips and dings, but pointed out that the dish had seen her family through the good years and the lean years. That casserole dish had fed them through The Great Depression, fed their children and grandchildren. She told me that – while she no longer cooked her own meals – she still cherished the dish, but now she wanted me to have it.
Suddenly, everything changed. I no longer disliked the old, used casserole dish. I actually loved it. From that moment forward, I always put sweet things in it, like apple crisp or blueberry cobbler.
Several years ago, that casserole dish split into two pieces as I carefully washed it in the sink. It was old and fragile. Its time had come. Nevertheless, I wept. Who knew that something that I had thought represented such a thoughtless gesture would become one of my most precious possessions? It was hard to throw away the pieces.
These days, whenever I attend people’s weddings — while I don’t give them something used — I nearly always give the couple a hand-thrown casserole dish, usually one made by a talented, local potter, and I attach a note explaining the story about the casserole dish. I always wish the bride and groom well and hope that — in the very least — they always have a pot to cook in.
It is amazing how one’s perspective can quickly change when presented with the right lens through which to view things. Ugly things can become beautiful; things that seem like curses can be blessings in disguise. Aunt Bea taught me that sometimes my eyes lie. Sometimes people have to go deeper and see with their hearts.
What is something you have unexpectedly come to cherish?
The first night in my apartment building, the upstairs’ neighbor’s toilet clogged and overflowed. Bilgy water rained down from the ceiling, soaking my new bathroom mat. I’m not a squeamish person. I can touch spiders and snakes. I don’t mind getting dirty. But I was completely unprepared for brown water dripping on my head. I didn’t know what to do or who to call.
At the time, I didn’t even own a mop.
That night, I stayed up very late with a dear friend who’d come over to help me unpack. Together, Sara and I furiously unboxed my housewares, strategically placing what few pots and pans we could find all over the bathroom.
After Sara went home, I climbed into bed and wept.
The next day, I packed until dinnertime. After I’d washed the dishes, I decided to hang up some artwork. It was early, and, outside my windows, the sky was still light. If I had to guess, I’d say I hung up three paintings.
So maybe 15 whacks with a hammer.
The next morning, I found a handwritten note that someone had slid under my door.
“Too loud!!!” the note read in cursive. “Do not make noise after 5PM!!!”
I stewed for a little while, wondering which neighbor had left me the note. Eventually, I tossed the note in the trash and decided to venture out. The wait for the elevator took forever. When the doors opened, I stepped into the lobby area. It’s a formal space, and even after two years, it feels more like a hotel than anywhere I’d ever call home.
The doorman pointed at me. “You’re the new girl everyone is complaining about,” he said. “The loud one.”
It. Was. Awesome.
(And by awesome, I mean it sucked.)
It took me a year to get brave enough to buy a stereo speaker and actually play some music. Because, seriously, screw them. I’m not going to bed at 8PM.
Since my first day, I’ve received more notes. Apparently, I don’t empty the lint trap in the dryer well enough. And while I enjoy having a diverse group of friends, it seems some folks don’t like “the colored girls” coming round.
Another year has passed, and I’m still rebuilding. Apartment living for me is a lot like solitary confinement. The nature of the work I do (writing and painting) is isolating. I spend a lot of time in other people’s backyards, gardening, helping to decorate their patios. I’m still looking for a house, a community, people with whom to share a heart connection. I have Sara, thank goodness, and my parents, and the reality is that very few people check in on me with any regularity. When I need a ride to the airport, I call a taxi.
What does my life look like now? I get up, shower, make my bed, eat a little breakfast, lunch and dinner. Somewhere in there, I paint, write, do some yoga. I take long walks and learn something new every single day. (Thank goodness for NPR podcasts.) I help one person in benzo withdrawal every day. I clean, do my laundry, and try to connect with another human being in real life.
Weekends are hard.
I spend time going to garage sales in search of abandoned picture frames and Mason jars. I never had a thing for glass before I moved into an apartment, but I especially like the ones with rusty metal lids. I relate to their weatheredness, their fragility.
So here I am. It’s early, and I’ve run thru my entire bag of tricks. I’ve painted and shopped. Walked and cleaned. Visited with friends. Got a carwash. Made dinner.
I don’t cry every night anymore, but I’m still not smiling as much as I’d like.
I’m on mission to find a new home. My son will graduate from high school next Saturday. He’s ready to fly, and I’m so excited for him. Unlike my son, I don’t feel quite ready to launch. I need to do a bit more research, poke around and decide where I want to start the next chapter of my life.
A triangular girl, all I know is that living in a rectangle is not for me.
If you were starting over, where would you go and why? Got any suggestions?
I often work as a Professional Organizer, helping people declutter their little messes. I learn a lot on that little job. I see how things represent people and am forever amazed how people become connected to the strangest things: pantyhose, flip-flops, even mismatched drinking glasses.
I’m not the most sentimental gal, but I collect Fiestaware. The brightly colored pieces make putting the dishes away less of a chore and more of a joy. One or two of the pieces are from my grandmother’s own collection and, though I rarely eat from them, I like opening my doors to my cabinet and seeing them there all nestled in amongst the rest of the pieces. Since she passed away, these few bowls have served as a daily special reminder of our connectedness.
Many years ago, a shelf that held much of my beautiful Fiestaware collection caved in and I found myself desperately trying to catch the dishes as they fell, rainbows-colored disks crashing around me.
Strangely, in that instant, I remembered all the smashing and crashing in my life. Broken teacups and broken hearts. I realized that when things break, a person has to make choices.
Initially, I wanted to try to Super-glue the smithereens together in an attempt to make imperfect things perfect again, but I learned long ago perfection is temporary, at best. I briefly considered taking the busted up pieces and trying to make some kind of mosaic out of all the funky colors and sharp edges, but who has time for that, really? Eventually, I got my broom and old green dustpan, swept everything up, vacuumed for good measure, and threw all the pieces-parts into the garbage.
Not everything can be saved.
After I cried a little, I decided I was like an ant whose home had just been knocked over by an unforeseen storm. And everyone knows what ants do; they rebuild. So I pretended that my collection had been cosmically revised and started collecting again. Losing the chartreuse platter was a bummer, but my grandmother’s pieces were spared and, for that, I was grateful.
I’m blessed to have a loving family and few good friends. And stuff, while we like to surround ourselves with it, is just filler.
Who would have thought I’d find so much in my daily dishes?
She does cartwheels with the girls who live in the house across the street.
My mother is in nearly all of my earliest childhood memories. She encouraged me to paint, explore calligraphy, and use pipe cleaners to make frogs and ladybugs. She loved when I sang and danced and rode horses and did backflips off the diving board.
When I was sick, my mother brought the black-and-white television into my bedroom along with a little bell, which she told me to ring if I needed anything. On those miserable days, I watched My Three Sons and The Don Ho Show until my mother emerged with green medicine and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup served on a swirly green and blue plastic tray.
One day, I didn’t want to be my mother’s twin anymore.
Pink and yellow were not my colors.
I remember shouting and slamming doors, tears.
I saw my mother throw her hands up, exhausted, not knowing what else to do.
I felt powerful then, driving her to pain and chaos.
Now that I have a teenager in the house, I want to tell my mother, I’m sorry.
Because I see how precious it is, that time when our children are young. And what a gift it is, to let a mother hold on to the little things for another day, another year.
Because it hurts when our children reject our offerings.
Even when I didn’t give her any credit, my mother remained steadfast, guiding me with an invisible hand.
She still does.
I suspect she always will.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.
Hey mom, from the looks of this photo, you knew how to style your hair. Do you think you could have done something with mine? Seriously. Also, if you still have that hat, can I borrow it? xoxoRASJ
Last Sunday, I asked my 17-year old son about his upcoming Senior Prom. I knew he’d roughed out some vague plans to go with a group of friends, but I didn’t know about any of the particulars. They were planning to go somewhere for dinner. He didn’t know who would be driving. He might be sleeping over at someone’s house. But he might not.
“Are you aware it’s this Saturday?” I asked. “Did you even order a tux?”
He shrugged his shoulders. I’d interrupted his computer game. He’d been winning and was annoyed by my questions.
No, he hadn’t thought of it.
Neither had he thought about shoes.
A half hour later, we were standing in Men’s Warehouse talking to a short Italian stylist who knew his suits. “Tuxedo specials are over,” he said while sifting through a wall of black jackets. “It makes better sense to buy.” Within minutes, Weggie had selected the perfect ensemble, and one hour later, my son was back in front of his computer, a beautiful black suit, shirt and tie now hanging in his closet.
I considered my son’s utter lack of preparation for prom. This is a kid who preps strenuously for academic exams, who is intentional about nearly every decision he makes. What is the deal with his avoidance? Is it a guy thing, this lack of attention to details? What would have happened had I not intervened?
I thought back to my own school formals of the mid 1980s.
I went to junior prom with TB, a boy I spent most of middle school trying to get to fall in love with notice me. Lord knows, we spent many afternoons in detention together as a result of misbehaving in French class. Before he moved to Philadelphia, I realized we were always going to be “just friends,” which was good enough for me. I figured I’d never see him again, but he magically materialized to take me to prom.
First, let’s establish TB looked awesome in his tux.
Okay, now let’s talk about my dress.
Featured in Seventeen Magazine, my dress was a gauzy, white Gunne Sax for Jessica McClintock that covered me from chin to ankle; it had three layers of crinoline and 10,000 buttons up the back. I was hermetically sealed inside that garment. All I knew was that from the neck down, I was Madonna in that dress.
Sadly, we must address things from the neck up.
A few months prior, I’d butchered my long mane and had not yet figured out quite what to do with what was, tragically, a long brush-cut. Or a lady-mullet. There wasn’t much I could do. Part of the night, I wore a hat.
For Senior Ball, I was slightly better prepared.
First, let us establish that JMo looked awesome in his tux.
Now, about my dress.
Senior year, I toned down my attire and wore a simple dress. But somehow I ended up looking like I’d been dipped first in a vat of French’s mustard and then into a vat of Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Seriously, I had no business wearing pastel yellow. I know you can’t tell from the pictures, but I looked jaundiced. Luckily, people were blinded by my like totally radical Sun-In highlights and my tan, both of which I had been cultivating after school for weeks while ignoring my upcoming Trigonometry final.
I didn’t do a lot of primping for either prom.
I mean, I showered.
I was clean.
I bought a dress and put it on.
(So there was a little extra room up top. What’s your point?)
I didn’t go to a spa for a salt scrub or have anyone professionally style my hair. (Although looking back, I see that would have been a good thing.) I didn’t think about getting a mani/pedi or having my brows arched.
All I’m saying is that I guess my son gets it from me, his lackadaisical attitude about prom. He’ll probably clip his fingernails and clean his ears, shave and comb his hair. But that’s about it.
I wonder if he’s is nervous about the social stuff, all the expectations associated with prom.
Because truthfully, I do remember suffering a wee bit of mental anguish at both dances. Even though I wasn’t dating either guy, I wanted the romance of the evening. I wanted my dates to ask me to dance.
I mean I was scared, but I still wanted to be asked.
I imagine some things will never change about formal dances: the grown up feeling of getting dressed up and “going out on the town” without one’s parents; the freaky-deaky feeling a girl gets in her stomach as she sees her prom date pull into the driveway; those awkward posed moments where adults hover, taking zillions of photographs from every possible angle; the worry that a zit could erupt at any moment.
Even though the dresses are better, prom is still an awkward place, a threshold between adolescence and adulthood where no one really knows what to do, so we hold onto each other and spin in circles for a little while.
And so we did.
And hopefully, he will too.
What did you wear to prom? Did you think you were hot? Were you? Are all boys lame planners?
When I was in elementary school, I liked a boy whose face was always a little dirty, a boy who wore corduroys that were always patched at the knees. Somehow, I sensed he had less than I did in this life, and for some inexplicable reason I felt a connection to him.
One afternoon, this boy and I held hands during a roller-skating party in our school gymnasium. It was wonderful, the way he whipped me around the room. His fingers tightly gripping mine, I felt alive, chosen.
I started bringing candy to him, assorted caramels rolled in colorful wrappers, and he happily took my plastic baggy filled with sweets, eating everything hungrily and without much appreciation.
I brought him treats for a long time, until I realized it was the candy he liked, not me.
Apparently, I haven’t learned much since my elementary school days.
Because I did it again.
This one knew how to clean himself up well-enough. He told me that he’d stop smoking cigarettes someday and shared enough secrets to make me feel like I was special. I liked the way he curled around me at night, pulling my body against his, making me feel delicate. I loved watching him sleep, hearing his breath, studying the curve of his face, his perfectly shell-shaped ears.
But nothing was easy. Our conversations were filled with miscommunications, and he was forever hanging up on me when we spoke on the phone.
I encouraged him to follow his dreams, helped him with his business, opened my home to him, gave him my heart, my body. Some many offerings.
The point is I see it now, this old pattern, this longing to save someone I like. To make him love me.
I want to say that I’m hopeful that one day I’ll find my person – someone who is willing to accept responsibility for hurtful words, someone who apologizes and makes an attempt to change his future actions, someone who is willing to fight for me rather than with me, someone passionate and affectionate – a partner who possesses all the attributes I dream of and which, at one time, seemed so simple.
Time for me to stop offering up what little sweetness I have left.
Time to love myself and eat all the chocolates.
Ever stayed in a bad relationship for too long? How did you know when it was time to end things?