Katinka Blackford Newman talks about her new book
Its now nearly three years ago since I woke up and found myself in a mental hospital in North West London. I looked down and saw wealds on my arms where I had torn my skin apart. There was a mirror in the tiny room where I’d spent most of the last four weeks going through agonizing cold turkey from being taken off five antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs. I stood on the metal bed and struggled to recognize my body beneath the blue hospital gown. I used to be a keep fit fanatic, my body lithe and toned. Now I was three stone heavier. But that was the very least of my problems.
What the hell has happened, I wondered. I had a vague recollection of the last year, which I later called the year my life was stolen. It had started when I had hit a wall of despair while going through a divorce. Sleepless nights took me to a psychiatrist who prescribed an antidepressant. Within hours I was hallucinating, believed I had attacked my children and in fact attacked myself with a knife. I ended up in a private hospital where doctors clearly thought I had a screw loose when I told them I was being filmed and that there was a suicide pact with God. The psychosis ended when I said I wanted to stop taking the escitalopram but doctors insisted I take more pills. This began a terrible decline where I couldn’t leave the house, dress myself, finish a sentence. But the worst thing of all was that I couldn’t feel love for my children, Lily and Oscar, who were 10 and 11 at the time.
At the end of a year I was about to end it all. As a last resort I tried to get myself readmitted to the same private hospital, but my insurance had run out. And that was how I ended up sectioned at this NHS hospital that had made the decision to take me off all the drugs. (Lithium, olanzapine, sertraline, Prozac, lamotrigine,) I was climbing the walls, screaming, shouting, and begging my family to get me out of there. If I’d been suicidal while on the drugs, withdrawal made me far worse.
But that day, as if by magic, I woke up and I was fine. And that was where I found myself a few days before my 48th birthday in October 2013. My kids, by then, had become scared of the monster I had become and were living with my estranged husband. I had, in effect, lost everything. Well, not everything, because, actually I had the most important thing back that day. And that was me.
I needed to unravel what had happened. Before I became a dribbling lunatic unable to finish a sentence, I had been a TV documentary director. In fact I had begun my career doing hard-hitting investigations for the BBC.
It didn’t take me long to find out about RxISK. When I logged on to their site, I was aghast. There was story after story of cases far worse than mine.
I realized I had been lucky; very lucky. I decided to run a half marathon and raise money for RxISK. In the process I came across a man who made a lasting impact on me. David Carmichael who now works for the media department of RxISK, killed his son when he became psychotic after taking Seroxat (Paxil). I met others like him, who had killed on these pills. I learnt of the hidden trials that show these drugs are no more effective than a placebo, the fact that Pharma have paid out billions in settlements to people who have killed on these drugs. I contacted experts and whistleblowers around the world and started making a film pilot to pitch to broadcasters.
But there was something missing. I’d tried to put what happened behind me, to not talk about it. The impact of this was that I felt detached and unable to make proper friendships. A year of my life had been stolen and I was pretending that it had never happened.
Then all that changed. I met by chance someone who was a literary agent. He was fascinated by my story and asked if I’d ever consider writing a book. I laughed and said the most I’d ever written was a cheque.
He persisted and suggested I write a chapter. As soon as he read it and liked it, something very strange happened. I’m not religious, or even particularly spiritual. But actually, it was as if a force that wrote that book for me possessed me. I would be woken up at 2 a.m., driven towards my computer, and I simply could not stop writing.
I wrote about the year of drug induced hell, but also I was writing in the present tense about the film pilot I was making. By now I’d decided to make this as an authored film featuring my experiences as well as others.
Something told me I had to keep writing, not just about this, but also about everything that was happening in our lives at that time.
Whether it was taking Oscar to the orthodontist or me going on Tinder dates, everything that was unfolding in our post divorce lives in Harlesden North west London was written about in a daily diary.
I can’t explain this but I knew something very big was about to unfold.
I didn’t know what, but 5 weeks later, it happened.
I made a discovery that will have ramifications about mental health all over the world.
The only person that knew about this was my agent, who I was sending the chapters to as soon as I finished them.
As I clicked the send button on the email containing the chapter with my discovery, I wondered how long it would take before he rang. It was less than an hour, and he’s a busy man.
We met for lunch on my birthday on 19 October 2015 just 6 weeks after I’d begun the book. He asked if he could take the book that afternoon and pitch it to publishers.
We signed a deal a few weeks later with John Blake publishing who said they could get the book out very quickly.
The book is published on 7 July 2016
Its available for pre-orders on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pill-That-Steals-Lives-Antidepressants/dp/1786061333 and on many other sites.
For further info please visit www.thepillthatsteals.com and twitter @pillthatsteals
Editorial Note: Sufficient pre-orders of a book promote it to the display desk in shops, so in terms of getting the word out it would be helpful if as many as possible can pre-order.