I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but never quite got around to it.
Anyone who has experienced some type of psychological distress or mental illness has likely also experienced some type of medication to treat it. Even with psychotherapy, most doctors and psychiatrists push medications to help ease the symptoms and improve functioning. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s always a gamble, more so than with physical conditions, because the brain isn’t always so straightforward. Fourteen years of experience, lots of research, and an education in psychology has allowed me to increase my knowledge about psychotropic medications. I almost wish I had the knowledge before taking some of these medications, but what’s done is done.
I started out, at the ripe young age of 15, on a twice daily prescription of Depakote. Since I couldn’t swallow pills at that age, I had to take the liquid form – which came in a container that resembled a large bottle of peroxide. The taste was not pleasant. The side effects were annoying; I would get sunburn just from sitting in the car. I also developed cystic ovaries that were most likely a direct side effect from the medication. More importantly, Depakote didn’t do shit for me psychologically. But why would it? I didn’t have Bipolar Disorder. It was a waste of money, a waste of time, and a waste of my ovaries.
I went quite a few years sans medication. That wasn’t by my choice, really. I wasn’t allowed to go to the doctor. I just dealt with everything on my own, as usual. I managed to stay alive, so I guess I can’t complain. Maybe I should have kept with that method, because starting back on a path of medications turned out to be a horrible experience.
In October 2014, I managed to sneak to the doctor’s office to ask about medication. I had been communicating with a therapist online who suggested that it was worth looking into. I was at a point where I was becoming increasingly unable to deal with shit on my own. I was prescribed 50mg of Zoloft and 0.25 of Xanax. After a week, I was having trouble sleeping, so they added on Ambien. After two more weeks, I still wasn’t feeling any better, so they increased my Zoloft to 50 mg twice a day and Xanax three times a day. Within a week or two, I was severely suicidal. I felt worse than I did the month before when I came to the doctor’s with nothing. I just wanted them to try a different medication. I knew there were numerous options. Instead, I ended up hospitalized.
During the first hospitalization, I was taken off Zoloft and put on Paxil. No change. After a few days, I was taken off Paxil and put on Prozac. Prozac made me want to jump out of my own skin. I was constantly on edge, irritated, and anxious. I couldn’t stop shaking during one of the group sessions, so the therapist called the psychiatrist in to reassess. The Prozac was immediately discontinued and I was started on 10mg of trifluoperazine. Yea, I never heard of it, either. Once I got out of the hospital, I was able to research it and found out is an old-school anti-psychotic prescribed for schizophrenia. It was definitely not a common drug – I had to go to several pharmacies before I found one that even had the medication in stock. While it didn’t make me worse like all of the antidepressants I had taken before, it didn’t really make me better. There were some days where it left me feeling weird overall – like it hurt to be in my own body, physically and mentally. I had to keep moving because I felt that if I had stopped, my body would become rigid and it made my pain worse. After a week of taking it outside of the hospital, I stopped. The weird sensations were just too much for me.
During my second hospitalization, my medications were changed again. I was put on Celexa and Ativan. The Ativan worked better than Xanax ever did, but the Celexa was the same as any other anti-depressant I had been on. I was switched to Remeron, which I had never heard of before. It’s a less popular anti-depressant, not an SSRI but a tetracyclic. I started back on the trifluoperazine. By this time, I was just tired of being in the hospital. I was also dealing with malnourishment and was put on a load of supplements, and was sort of in a “fuck it all” mindset. I had been sleeping a lot, but I had attributed it to the malnourishment. Weeks later, my sleeping had only gotten worse. I would wake up to take a shower and would crawl right back into bed afterwards because I was so exhausted. When I was working, I would come home and go right back to sleep. On the weekends when I had off from work, I would sleep 14-15 hours straight; even when I was awake, I was still too tired to do much of anything. I was miserable. To make matters worse, I started losing my vision; it was a side effect from the trifluoperazine. Once I started having involuntary facial twitches, which I recognized as the beginning of tardive dyskinesia, I knew I had to stop taking the trifluoperazine for good.
Some time between my December hospitalization and my last hospitalization in February, my primary care doctor prescribed me Adderall for ADHD. I always had problems with keeping focus and attention, but I managed all those years just fine. It did get to a point where it was becoming overwhelming. I was barely able to get my school work done and I was having problems at work. I started out with 10mg and it worked. I was able to get shit done. My mind was clear. I could focus for once. My doctor gradually increased the dose to 30mg twice a day. I felt so much better overall, not just attention-wise, but anxiety-wise as well.
Going back to that horrible drug Remeron, I couldn’t get a refill because county-run facilities are shit and the psychiatrist cancelled my appointments more than four times. I couldn’t even wean myself off and I became increasingly suicidal again. It’s no surprise I ended up in the hospital in February. In the hospital, they took me off of all my medications, including the Adderall, which was probably the only redeeming medication I was taking. The nurse practitioner did not think the Adderall was helping me; I found it somewhat amusing that this was the same facility that placed me on so many medications previously that did shit as far as making me better.
This time, I was prescribed 150mg of Zoloft and Seroquel. Within an hour of taking the Zoloft, I lost consciousness. I woke up on a hospital bed with no idea of what had happened. I was monitored for the next 12 hours and got to stay in bed. It was marked in my record that I was reactive to Zoloft and should not be prescribed it ever again. They waited a day and then started me on Lexapro. A few days later they changed the Seroquel to Risperdal because I guess I hadn’t had much benefit from it. I was also put on Klonopin for anxiety. I had a paper due soon, so I told the hospital staff the medication was working so I could get the hell home. I wasn’t any worse, maybe slightly better, but still not stable.
I didn’t like the way Klonopin made me feel, so I switched back to taking Ativan as needed. After a month or so, the psychiatrist doubled my Lexapro dose because I was (like clockwork) getting worse, added trazadone and increased my Ativan. I was taking so many medications that I carried around a purse just so I would remember to take them all.
I tried to keep up with taking my medications…I really did. I know that people go off of their medications all the time and end up in a worse position. In my heart, I believed it was too much. I got tired of taking multiple medications every hour of my life and not really seeing a result. I made the decision in May to wean myself off of all of my medications, including my beloved Adderall (which was re-prescribed by my PCP). I didn’t tell anyone because I knew I would get backlash from it. I would not have done it if I wasn’t educated and knew what I was dealing with. I also had enough sense to know if something was going wrong. I never suffered any withdrawals. While I didn’t get any better, more importantly, I didn’t get any worse.
It’s been more than two months now and I’m still functioning. I do occasionally take an Ativan when I feel my anxiety getting bad (who would blame me, especially these last several weeks). I did notice that my focus and attention went to shit, but I was coping. Then it got bad. I was so behind in my thesis work and got to a point of desperation. Luckily, I saved all of the medication I stopped taking. I took an Adderall on Tuesday night and finished 13 pages of research by Wednesday morning. My mind was clear, my anxiety was gone. I even decided to do something I never do and went to the beach by myself. It was a good feeling. I missed the Adderall. I probably shouldn’t have taken a full dose, though, as I ended up staying awake for over 40 hours straight. It was nice feeling somewhat normal for those 40 hours.
I’m not even sure if I’ve mentioned all of the medications I’ve been on. All I can tell you is it’s been too many. I probably function better now that I’m not on a bunch of medications. My therapist was actually supportive of my decision when I told her what I had done. Now, I am working on finding a new doctor that my therapist can work with to make sure I’m not sent down that slippery slope of over-medication again.