By Sarah (visit her blog at: www.doesthatmakemecrazyblog.
I suffer from bipolar disorder, a debilitating psychiatric illness that, for most people, requires a constant stream of medication.
Let me tell you something about medication. I need it to function. Along with psychotherapy, lifestyle and diet changes, and avoiding any number of things that might trigger an episode, I need medication to be able to achieve anything even approaching normal human functionality. I wouldn’t, and in fact, couldn’t, be without it. I want to put that out there before anything. I am thankful that I have access to medication. But getting to a place where you can be living well with mental illness is not as simple as doing all the right things and remembering to take your drugs when you’re supposed to.
Medication is a four-letter word. For all the good it can do when it’s working right, when it’s wrong, it can mess you up. Medication can make you sicker than the illness it’s intended to treat. I’ve been put on, and taken off an endless list of prescription medications. Pills of all different shapes, colours and sizes have gone into my body in the fashion of a lab test animal. The paper inside the boxes that lists side effects may as well be written just for me. There’s not one unpleasant side effect that I’ve yet managed to avoid. At some point over the last five years, I have experienced them all.
Some of them made it impossible for me to get out of bed. Some have made me repulsed by food. Others have made me insatiably hungry. Some have made me vomit unpredictably, or made me so dizzy that I couldn’t keep my eyes focussed or my feet on the ground. I’ve been so weak that I couldn’t walk. One made me shake so severely that I had to be carried to the bathroom, and couldn’t brush my own teeth without help.
I’ve regularly slept for sixteen hours a day because of medication, and been literally a zombie for the other eight hours, barely able to sit up straight, held down to my seat by the incredible burden of holding open my own eyelids, having no energy left over to do anything else.
I’ve gone through medication hell with the aspiration that I would find a combination to give me back the use of my brain, one that would make my thoughts make sense and convince the darkest version of myself that life was worth living.
This part of my journey has been horrendous. Even worse was that I developed a severe form of allergic reaction which meant that once my brain was settled, and finally deciding to cooperate, my medication then had to be abruptly stopped, making me a slave to whatever my brain wanted me to feel at a moment’s notice, most of which was unpleasant to say the least.
But this isn’t a cautionary tale against the use of prescription medication. Quite the opposite. If you’re treated for a significant period of mental illness (and chances are, at least one in four people will be), it’s more than likely that you will experience the side effects of prescription psychiatric medication. I want to emphasise the importance of pushing through it. Never take yourself off your medication without medical consultation. If, like me, you are within the tiny percentage of people unfortunate enough to experience potentially life-threatening side effects, seek medical attention immediately. Read the insert in the box so you’ll know to distinguish between benign side effects and potentially dangerous adverse reactions (which I stress, are rare).
Don’t give up. Communicate with your doctor. Give yourself the best opportunity to find a combination that works for you. I’ve spoken to many people who refuse taking medication for fear of side effects, but medication is an important part of self-management and a balanced care plan, and for me, it’s worth every ghastly side-effect possible to come out of the other side with a combination of pills that allows me to be part of the normal world.
Despite every adverse effect I have had to contend with, it is nothing compared with now having medications that work for me. When it comes to drugs, you name it, I’ve tried it, and in the process it’s probably made me vomit, pass out, cry uncontrollably, or tremble so badly that I can’t hold my own cup of tea.
I lost a month at work because my medications were waging war on my body and brain. But now that everything is as it should be, (within the limitations of my illness, at least), I can do many things that I wouldn’t be able to do unmedicated or without the right medication. Things like getting out of bed, or standing on the platform before the train arrives without wanting to throw myself under the next train that comes. I am able to have a conversation without slurring my speech, or speaking so quickly or with such urgency that I frighten whoever is listening.
Because of my medication, I’m confident in my prognosis, and though I have a life-long condition, I know it needn’t be life-limiting. And that’s worth all the side effects on the list.