psychiatric medications and my experiences with them

hey you guys,

this might be just a part one post, or maybe I’m done with this subject for now

so today I’m going to talk about my experiences with being on psychiatric meds. First of all, I should mention that this post might be really triggering if things like suicide being mentioned trigger you. I’m counting on you to stop reading this now if you think hearing intense stuff like that might upset you or trigger you. Second, I am not a doctor and have no training in the mental health field – I’m just a girl with multiple mental health issues who has been “in the system” getting all kinds of treatment for my mental health issues for years. I’ve paid attention, I’ve tried to learn not only coping skills from my experiences but also how all of this stuff works. I’m considering a career in the mental health field, and it’s something I’m very passionate about. Finally I should mention that I know a lot of people don’t want to regularly put medications in their system, and I respect that as a decision, but when people try to police other people’s decisions to put meds (I’m referring to meds that they’re prescribed here – not even gonna get into the huge topic of people taking prescription meds when they aren’t being prescribed them, at least today) I do have a problem with that. I may be biased since I’m on multiple psychiatric medications, but I also feel that my saying that is beyond justified, since psychiatric meds have literally saved my life.

I’ve been on psychiatric medications since my first psychiatric hospitalization at 16 for severe depression and suicidal ideation, plus a half-assed attempt prior to the hospitalization. If I’ve written here about a more serious attempt at ending my own life that landed me in the ICU, you should know that I’m referring to a separate incident. I’ve been on meds the entire time since then, with an exception I’ll talk about later. I’ve been on a lot of different meds over the years, and to be honest even the med combination I’m on now isn’t perfect – I think the meds could be helping more, although obviously they can’t do everything for me and I also need to work harder in therapy and on other things that help me. However, I am certain that if I’d never been put on meds, I would have killed myself by now.

I don’t even remember every med I’ve been on. Some of them stand out to me more than others. At some of my more recent hospitalizations, doctors have mentioned names of medications, and I know I’ve been on that med already and was taken off for a legitimate reason, but I can rarely remember the reason. A lot of this post is going to be intensely personal, and not something I would have been comfortable sharing several years ago. However, I’ve developed a pretty thick skin for hate from strangers at this point, and I’ve seen my sharing information related to my mental illnesses (and other chronic illnesses) help other people feel less alone, or more informed, or less scared to take the step that is going on meds or starting therapy, among other things. I want to help as much as I can. Mental illness is really awful – I know, I’m stating the obvious, but it helps a little to be less alone, or it can do. It’s a huge part of my life and I feel like it’s important for me to help people in any way I can. That probably sounds mega lame, but I’m not capable of contributing much to society with my anxiety at this level of severity (not to mention other health issues), and this is something I can do. Something that will improve my writing, since I have barely been writing since I graduated high school, and it used to be a strength of mine. Something that might help other people, and will almost certainly help me, too, at times.

Any person who has been on multiple psychiatric medications has probably been on at least one that they were taken off of – maybe it didn’t help, maybe there were side effects they didn’t want to deal with, etc. I know that this is the case for me. Just because a med is helpful for some people doesn’t mean it is going to be helpful for everyone, even if they suffer from the same problems. One med I’ve been on, that I absolutely hated (but that I know is helpful for some people) is seroquel. Seroquel did help me in some ways. It helped my depression and anxiety quite a lot, and that was on a fairly low dose. However, it also had side effects I didn’t like. When I say “didn’t like”, that really doesn’t do how I felt justice. I felt like a zombie. It actually slowed down how quickly I could process thoughts, which was really terrible for me. It made me tired all the time – for 24 hours after I took it, but I was supposed to take it every day so it was all of the time. I hated it and went off of it pretty quickly. Seroquel really helps people sometimes, but brain chemistry is super complicated, and everyone’s is different, and it just wasn’t for me.

Now I’m going to talk about the other extreme for me – a definite success. Wellbutrin is an antidepressant that uses different brain receptors from more antidepressants, the SSRIs (I’m on one of those too actually, prozac). I was first prescribed wellbutrin when I was 16, during my second psychiatric hospitalization, and it was the second med I was ever put on to try. It was a great success. I went from spending the majority of every day crying in a corner of whatever room I was in, unable to mostly even communicate anything to people other than how painful the depression was at that time, to mostly functioning, walking around and doing things, and sometimes even smiling or laughing, within a few days. I’m not exaggerating. Wellbutrin can be one of the most fast-acting antidepressants as far as I know. Some psychiatric meds (like klonopin, another one I’m on, for anxiety) act almost immediately, but a lot of them (like prozac) can take weeks to build up in your system enough to start taking effect.

I mentioned earlier that I have a long way to go still when it comes to functioning fully, staying stable and managing my mental health issues, but I have also come so far from where I was. I went on different meds gradually – it took years to get on this mostly-helpful combination of meds. However, I’ve taken myself off them a couple of times, both unintentionally through constantly missing doses when I wasn’t really coping with any aspects of being alive, and also more recently intentionally. I was struggling with my situation. I know I’m incredibly lucky to be registered as disabled and able to get by, afford my prescriptions, appointments and hospitalizations (and other things too) because of the insurance I have provided to me through the state of Massachusetts. I know, I know, I’m so lucky in so many ways. However, I was (and to some extent still am) upset about my situation. Two of my best friends that live locally are moving to Arizona this fall, and it really reminded me of the fact that I can’t easily go anywhere like them. I have a million (not really, but maybe like 12) health services set up regularly, and my life is currently mostly revolving around trying to get more services in place – like a nutritionist, for my eating disorder.

I feel very stuck in Massachusetts, and kind of even in this town because I can’t work due to my disabilities/severe anxiety so I can’t afford to move anywhere else in my current situation, which is a situation I will probably be in for years. I will spend at least a few more years getting better, I’m almost certain. Sure, maybe my mental health issues would subside rapidly tomorrow and I’ll suddenly be fine for the rest of my life, but somehow I doubt it. I don’t have a problem with putting psychiatric medicines in my body the way that some people do, but I don’t love the idea of being on meds for life, or even in therapy/other health services for life. I’m terrible at remembering to take my meds every day (I don’t even bother trying to take them at the same time every day, I do it sort of approximately whenever I actually remember and need a dose).

All of this stuff added up, and I was doing worse than usual with taking my meds regularly. I have a lot of meds I have to take once or twice a day, and I was managing to take them regularly less and less often. I was averaging at maybe getting my meds into me 2 or 3 times a week for months. I eventually decided to go off them all the time. They were a nuisance to take (when I was doing that) and I liked not having to feel guilty over forgetting to take them, because I wasn’t taking them at all. I went off all my psychiatric meds then.

A couple of years ago I was doing really badly because I’d mostly been (unintentionally) missing doses. It had only been about a month of barely taking them, and all I could do, once again, was cry about how much existing hurt, self harm, and how much I wanted to die. Well, I didn’t want to die so much as not have to deal with the awfulness that is being alive in this world, especially with depression. I went back on meds with a new enthusiasm for taking them regularly (that only lasted a few months). However, when I made that actual decision recently to go off them,at first I felt great. Less daily routine stuff to remember! I also suffer from nausea frequently, so sometimes it feels downright impossible to keep a pill down. I loved it, for a little under a month. After about that long, my mood swings started getting worse, and my depression was getting more intense. By three months of being off my meds, I was a mess of a person. I cried less than I had while off meds previously, but everything was bleak and dark and pointless. I felt too dead inside to cry frequently.

One morning, on a particularly bad day – extra sides of mood swings, irrational thinking and constant suicidal ideation – I ended up attempting suicide. That was actually maybe a little over a month ago. It wasn’t my worst attempt, and physically I’m fine from that incident. Well, I did bruise my pinky finger pretty badly when I was freaking out after my mom called 911. An ambulance and police showed up, and I just cried the whole way there, and also cried for maybe an hour after I was put into a bed in the ER. The local crisis team came to evaluate me and what level of care I’d need. After a lot of talking and several hours of waiting (which is not uncommon), they decided I probably didn’t need to go inpatient in a psych ward again but they wanted me to go back on my meds (all of my meds! regularly!) and they also had me sign a contract for safety. I’m still working up to the full doses I was on (for instance I’m still taking 150mg of slow release wellbutrin daily when in a few days I can move back onto my full dose of 300mg. I’m even taking my klonopin, which really does help my anxiety, but I don’t take it twice a day like I’m supposed to, and occasionally I skip entire days so I can drink alcohol without worrying about mixing benzos and alcohol (which is a terrible idea and the amount of people who do that at parties kind of terrifies me))

I’m really glad I’m getting back on my meds. Things look potentially awesome or at least better for my future. Hopefully that was informative or at least satiated any curiosity people have about my medications or whatever. Feel free to comment if you have a question and I’ll respond when I can! Also, here are some things you might want to know if you’re considering getting treatment or are in treatment for mental health issues and don’t know some of these things!

  • psychiatric meds can be really helpful, but you can never tell which meds will work best for you. just because your friend has depression too doesn’t mean prozac would help you if it helps them. it might! just try not to put all your faith in one medication. it’s okay to tell your psychiatrist or prescriber that a med isn’t working for you. feel free to try things, and after the period it’s supposed to be working by (or sooner if you have bad side effects) if it isn’t working out for you, it’s totally okay to ask for something different.
  • you help yourself out a lot more while seeing a prescriber if you’re totally honest, even if it’s embarrassing. at least here in massachusetts (and i think maybe the whole USA or even further but i’m really noy sure to be honest) anyone you see for your mental health will probably make you sign a form when you first start working with them, that means everything you say is confidential. There are a few exceptions – if you are considered an immediate threat to your own safety, someone else’s safety, if they are called to testify in court about you (i think, i never worried about that one i avoid legal troubles pretty well), if you mention a child being abused, etc. things they really just HAVE to report. but you can still tell them anything they would need to know without worrying about anyone else finding out, barring the exceptions and i think it’s pretty reasonable to give them the ability to contact the police if you tell a therapist you’re gonna perform a terrorist act or kill a family member or whatever else
  • also, just like with the meds you’re on, people in the mental health field are there to help you – if you don’t feel like you can connect with, say, your therapist, then that’s not a good therapist match for you. you should be able to at least choose between a couple of people for any service, although i guess that depends on where you live and your financial/health insurance situation. if you’re worried about offending them, don’t be. if you’re polite and explain you want a different therapist, they should be understanding and possibly can help you find a new one. even if you aren’t polite, you probably won’t leave the best impression, but they don’t really care. i’ve heard stories from therapists about previous (clients? patients?) that they had did things like throw a lamp from the room at their head. yes, that is a true story from an ex-therapist of mine. don’t worry, she just told me what i told you, no names or personal details were mentioned.
  • take the meds as prescribed!!! i cannot stress this enough. i know i am a hypocrite and a bad example because even since going back on meds i missed my doses of medicines yesterday completely because i just didn’t think of it, but it is important to take them regularly. but not too regularly. take them according to instructions, because, say you double up a med dose the next day because you missed it the day before. i’m sorry, but that is stupid. let’s look at my wellbutrin dose: my full dose is 300mg XL (extended release?) a day. that’s a fairly high dose of it. wellbutrin can cause seizures, and while I have never had a seizure caused by wellbutrin (even during a trazodone and wellbutrin binge dry-swallowing pill session suicide attempt), if i were to take 600mg of wellbutrin XL in one 24 hour period, sure i would probably live but it’d be a miserable over medicated few days probably featuring multiple seizures.
  • contact your doctor if you have bad side effects! some things are common side effects and easy to live with – for instance, my abilify (which I use as a mood stabilizer) makes me REALLY dizzy when i stand up too fast, more so than with most people who have that experience sometimes. but it is over in about a minute and the abilify helps me so i think it’s worth it. there are also much more severe, occasionally life-threatening side effects. they should be obvious, probably mentioned by the doctor before you are prescribed the med… and if they don’t let you know then maybe look it up online! google what side effects the med you’re on has. if in doubt, talk to your primary care doctor, or call your prescriber and ask what to do/if you should go off them (if you have severe side effects, you might want to go off that individual medicine completely)
  • don’t start 2 new meds at the same time. any good psychiatrist would know this already, but you can’t monitor how they’re doing if you don’t know which effects of the medicines come from which one, so if they suggest starting 2 new meds at once, you should maybe mention concern about that issue at least
some of the pills I am taking regularly now

I hope this was helpful for at least some of you. Let me know if you have any questions you want me to address, and I might write about this kind of thing again! However, I will definitely be writing more about mental health issues in the future.
xoxo,
Zelie Pie