Why does grief so often hit like this: if only, if only, I could have told the person how much they meant to me? Maybe it comes from guilt over how one took for granted shared moments, or the intensity of realizing that connections with human others are central to life’s meaning. I thought we had all the time in the world.

And I did think that. Tifani was only 25, you see, but the time she’d logged with erring prescribers was far too long. The antidepressant Celexa destroyed her liver, and Tifani died alone.

I have a daughter with autism: sweet, challenging, aggressive, affectionate…a tough customer and an enigma, but one who loves unconditionally. It isn’t easy to find caregivers to give our family some respite and help. Tifani Cutty took to our gal instantly. Petite but energetic and quick on her feet, Tifani may have seemed more like a peer to our daughter. I’ll never forget the day she said, “I hope I know Nattie for a long time. It will be great to see her grow up.”

Tifani played her guitar, created art and after art project with Nattie, took her down nature trails and campus streets, and once created a sprawling, handmade carnival in her own back yard. She seemed to love life, friends, and good times.

I knew about the anxiety, but not the depression. She told me about her Celexa and said it was necessary for her to survive living with a difficult boyfriend. But after they parted, Tif was down about the single life. Her doctor switched her to Paxil: a big mistake. She tried to commit suicide and arrived dead on arrival at the ER for the second time in her short existence, revived by emergency medicine once again. At the insistence of her sister she ditched the Paxil and her psychiatrist let her turn to an old “friend,” Celexa.

The FDA has placed a new warning label on Celexa, cautioning doctors that high doses could cause fatal heart complications. Indeed, Tifani’s first flatline experience occurred when her heart stopped in the middle of one night. The hospital physician on call could not believe she made it back to this world after so long in the next. Still, her antidepressant dose was maintained, as if the brain has not a single thing to do with the heart.

Yet recent studies confirm it: antidepressants up the risk of heart disease and stroke. We also hear that heart disease is the number-one killer of women. Add in the fact that more women than men take antidepressants. I’m just saying.

Tifani had no health insurance. The proper tests and follow up were not forthcoming. And the saddest waste of it all? Celexa manufacturer Forest Laboratories admits that studies show no benefit in treatment for depression when used at high doses. No wonder Tifani could never shake the dark cloud dogging her.

Then the autopsy report: Celexa toxicity. Her liver couldn’t handle the years on the drug, but who had ever tested that beleaguered organ, as they should have? Let’s be clear: the autopsy did not classify this tragedy a suicide–the finger pointed squarely at the drug. Yet the family has had trouble finding an attorney to take the case because the coroner will not commit to a firm cause-and-effect relationship.

But “the Tifster” and I had lost touch before that tragic day her liver simply quit. A falling out over a stressful moment with our daughter and she just never showed up again. I was self- righteously indignant. Too prideful to call back with a softer tone after a cooling-off period, I always figured we’d run into each other someday, go for a big hug, and pick up where we left off.

Time disguises itself so that few of us live with awareness of death as a constant, impending fact—every second, every breath. Am I being too morbid? Or would you, if you really took that fact to heart, do as James Taylor sang: “Shower the people you love with love/show them the way that you feel”?

I am astounded by how much I miss that young woman who did what many found impossible: she really loved my quirky, mysterious, sometimes maddening kid. I get the feeling Tifani’s prodding me from the spirit world to show folks there ARE alternatives to dangerous medications. My way is to make a contribution with the creation of the Natural Mind course, and to publish my book, Lunacy Lost: Learning from Autism, Finding Green Mental Health. Almost a year since her passing, in honor of Tifani, I re-launch those efforts and this blog now.

For her, and for so many others. Toddlers plied with mind-altering stimulants or antipsychotics…pregnant mothers on antidepressants setting themselves up for birth defects in their newly born…foster children and nursing home residents heavily sedated…the innocents in other countries, victims of drug companies’ fast-and-loose clinical trials…the 1 in 5 Americans who take some form of psychiatric medication because they don’t know there are other methods backed by research and clinical experience. For these, and because the drugging is on the rise, I’m putting my unmedicated, Pharm-free shoulder to the wheel.

If knowledge is power, focused education is our ticket to change. Look outside the prescription pillbox, and you’ll find supported avenues to explore natural, mental wellness. The Natural Mind course gathers dedicated, holistic and integrative practitioners from your community to teach about nutrients, special diets, appropriate exercise, meditation, and more.

Lately the course is on hold as I’ve focused on my book, Lunacy Lost: Learning from Autism, Finding Green Mental Health. On the home stretch now, working on interior and cover design, the publisher and I are pointed toward a late April deadline for its release. Lunacy Lost will be available for purchase from Amazon.com, its own website, and local sellers who will stock it.

Coming up on the one-year anniversary of her death, I feel the presence of Tifani in the vibrant redbuds blooming, the purity of the clouds and sky after these cleansing rains. I think of her family, still stunned and unable to read past two paragraphs of this tribute, yet supportive of any remembrance of Tif. I wish them healing.

The wrong-doers in this saga form a complicated weave but it all tracks back to Celexa. Drug companies make the highest profits, violate the most government regulations, and enjoy cozy, Congressional bedfellows. Spring is here and it’s time to Occupy Psychiatry. The Tifanis of our times can become a thing of the past. Meanwhile, we mourn and miss them so.

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