Medication is a controversial topic in the mental health world.
Some people think it’s essential, and others hate the idea of it. And do you know what? Both are fine! Mental illness is hard enough as it is, without us judging each other about our recovery choices.
I’ve been prescribed a number of different medications over the last 14 years or so. I’ve always struggled with taking medication; I’m forgetful and I have generally found that as soon as I feel better I become lax. For years I was prescribed a variety of different antidepressants on and off; some more helpful than others but none feeling particularly beneficial. I never expected it to be a magic fix, but it still never felt quite right. I know now that that’s because I was being treated for depression, when I actually had bipolar disorder, but at the time I felt like I was broken. Why am I cycling through these different tablets only for none of them to really feel as though they are working? However, one thing I was fortunate with when taking antidepressants was that I never really experienced any side effects, except a period of RLS (restless leg syndrome).
Unfortunately, that all changed after my diagnosis changed and I started taking antipsychotics. I was petrified; I knew a lot of these medications could cause weight gain, and as somebody in recovery from anorexia that was a very frightening prospect. Naively, I thought I could prevent that happening as somebody who remains very aware of their diet and exercise, but I was wrong. I did gain weight rapidly and I tried so hard to tolerate it because my mood genuinely had improved, but I started to find it impossible and requested to change medications. I had nasty withdrawals during this changeover in which I was vomiting frequently and had terrible sleep.
I changed to another tablet, which was not as likely to cause weight gain. However, I felt agitated all the time, couldn’t sit still and could barely sleep at all. Again, I tried to tolerate these side effects but I just couldn’t function properly. Why did I spend so many months trying to live with these symptoms? I suppose I didn’t want to feel like a failure, or like I was being difficult. I learnt during this time that I need to listen to my mind and my body if I truly want to be well, which I eventually did.
Finally, I changed again. My medication is brilliant for me. I have no side effects at all, and I feel as though I function as a completely ‘normal’ person (whatever that means). There have been times where I feel as though I have been bordering on hypomania (more on that in the future), but it feels almost like there is a ceiling to it now.
I guess what I am trying to say, is that medication is so personal and everyone responds differently. It’s also important to recognise that not everyone will experience the side effects I did, and equally I didn’t experience many of them that others do. That’s why we are so lucky we have so many different options. What works for me may not work for you, and that’s okay. The most important thing is to do what feels right for you. There’s no shame in needing support, whether pharmacological, psychological, or both. Sometimes people feel scared of taking medication, and I completely understand that. It’s taken me a fair few attempts to get where I am today, some of which have been very challenging, but I can categorically say that it has changed my life now I have found what is right for me. It’s definitely a trial and error process, but I’m finally happy with my medication.
It’s important to remember that medication isn’t always a quick fix. Mental illness is complex and we are all different as individuals. But it can and does help many people.
One of the most valuable things I have gained from this experience aside from my improved mental health, is how much empathy I have as a nurse for people prescribed these medicines. I don’t think I fully appreciated before both how rubbish and how much better they can make you feel. In some ways I’m glad I have had to go through this process because I know I’ll be able to use it to improve my practice.
Sometimes I feel frustrated that I may have to do this for the rest of my life. I have times where I want to stop taking it out of protest. But I don’t. The feeling of being suffocatingly depressed or out of control manic are not worth it, and who am I protesting against?
The most important thing to me is to be well, and right now, I am.