It’s ironic that the next topic I wanted to discuss on this blog was medication, because the reason why I couldn’t sit down to type about it was because of my … medication. It’s a tricky thing – medication is intended to help you get back to your life; to quiet the demons so you are strong enough to get out of bed, get out of the house, try to have some sort of consistency or “life.” But it’s a balance because feeling better is a complicated mix, with some severe side effects that are both psychological and physiological.
I have been on prescription medication since college. With each medication came its’ own set of side effects including: dry mouth, akinesia, stomachaches, weight gain, (a pro-depressant if you ask me,) headaches, light-headedness, dizziness, sluggishness, wanting to rip my skin off, insomnia – pick an uncomfortable side effect, and I’ve had it. And sometimes you have to decide if the side effect is worth the effect you are receiving psychologically from the medication. This is a personal, complicated, and often difficult process (both in starting new meds and withdrawing from old).
Four months ago, I went on a medication and within two months, had gained 30 pounds without change in diet or exercise. At that point, I didn’t care if it made me feel like someone in an anti-depressant commercial, it wasn’t worth it. Getting off that medication was difficult with headaches, sluggishness, and stomachaches, (in other words – withdrawal,) and the weight still hasn’t come off. Two weeks ago, I went on another medication and developed akinesia. It was like having 18 cups of coffee on 2 hours of sleep. I couldn’t stop moving but every time I took a step, I wanted to lay down wherever I was – in the street, at the gym. I was spelling words incorrectly, having a hard time doing anything for more than 15 minutes, and having massive panic attacks. So yeah, I decided after two weeks that all that the negatives outweighed the positives on that one.
The medication I am still on makes it difficult to fall and stay asleep. So, I take medications to help decrease anxiety (both mentally and physically) and medication to not only help me fall asleep but ideally stay asleep. I know – you all of a sudden go from no meds to having five because the one you are taking needs four to compensate for the first one. But at the same time, I can see the positive changes psychologically the first medication is making and it makes the other four worth it. At this point in time, even with the sleep aggravation, it’s an aggravation worth dealing with because the benefits of this medication do outweigh the annoying disadvantages. And besides, if I’m taking one pill, what’s another four. :)
A large problem for people with bipolar or schizophrenia (or any other mental illness for that matter,) is that they go off their meds. They decide to either self-medicate or go cold turkey because they don’t like the side effects. On meds, they don’t feel like themselves – they’re cloudy, unable to concentrate, and feel like their creativity is suppressed. I cannot tell anyone what they should or should not do because making these sacrifices/decisions are personal. I will say that sometimes we either think we don’t need medications when we feel better, even though it’s the meds we are taking that are making us feel that way, or we don’t want to feel the side effects so we give up. Unfortunately, given the power of mental illness, I think sometimes we just have to honestly weigh how bad the side effects are in relation to the impact and effect the medication is having on our overall mental health and well-being.
Another reason I’m often tempted to go off meds is because I miss how I “normally” feel. Sometimes you are depressed or sick for so long, that being like that starts to feel like the norm. I’ve been feeling different since I was eight and with the meds, I sometimes feel like I’m faking this version of myself and that version lacks the sensitivity, passion, and creativity I used to have in handfuls with my depression. In fact, when I take medication and start to make plans and build up life, I feel this deep sadness. At first I thought it was the depression creeping back in but I think sometimes I’m mourning the loss of my sadness and mood swings.
It is in those extremes, I feel most “alive.” I am more impulsive, more creative, and less passive. I yell at people instead of being polite; I hate myself without the guilt of those around me telling me I shouldn’t; I hurt myself and no one can stop me, and in a way, it makes me feel powerful, in control, and “normal.” Life may not feel dulled like when on medication, but I realize the feelings I have that are “full,” are dark, foreboding, and negative. When I’m having a hypomanic episode, I feel effective and efficient, but tottering on a string, about to slip and fall into a large hole of deep, intense depression. And I realize that in the end, it’s all about about the long-game and every day survival.
I know, at least for me, I also don’t just take these medications for myself. I take them for my family and friends. Because without them, I know eventually I’ll become suicidal (shit, sometimes even with them,) so I have to keep trying. After all, I don’t want to hurt my mom who tries so hard to help, or my friends who have stood by me for so long. I don’t want my sister to have to explain to her children what happened to their aunt. Even if I can’t fully do it for myself because at the moment all I can see is that this dry mouth is really impacting making any conversation and my jaw hurts from chewing so much gum, I have seen the possibility in others of what my life could look like, and I recognize it just takes time – even though I detest that idea, no matter how true it is.
I mentioned that I’ve been on medications for over 10 years. And that’s because sometimes medications stop working. Or they re-diagnose you. Or your lifestyle changes and a side effect is no longer viable. (I can imagine for some sex drive might become a game-changer. Sadly, not for me at this time.) I can’t think of a metaphor for how frustrating and disheartening this process is. It also has personally given me trust issues – what if I go on something and it works and I build my life up and then it just stops working and everything comes crashing down. Then, after all that, you want me to try it again? Patience is a bitch.
But every so often, I’ve found myself in a good place with medication and so I know it’s possible. And while faith is not a strong part of who I am, I can’t seem to get rid of the hope that one day I’ll find something that works and won’t quit on me. And so, at least for now, I won’t quit on myself.