Medication: Symptoms or Side Effects?

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I’ve written about medication before, and touched on the ‘to medicate or not to medicate‘ discussion.

I’ve actually kind of forgotten what it’s like to be unhappy with medication because I found one that worked for me and, although it carries one very serious side effect, it has virtually no ‘less serious’ side effects as it were. I have been lucky enough to experience none of them at all.

It was only after this recent relapse that I was prescribed two more antipsychotics, and I instantly felt a horrible anxiety about it. I don’t like antipsychotics. They work wonders for some people and I see that day to day at work. Some people don’t get many side effects, or can tolerate the ones they do get if it means being well. I am not one of those people. I’m now on my fourth antipsychotic. The first two were very different from each other, but I found both intolerable. I went from being horribly sedated, gaining weight and having such a dry mouth that my tongue would bleed in the night, to being agitated, restless, irritable and a chronic insomniac. When I first started taking them I had a strange side effect of suddenly going completely blank when I was talking. That doesn’t sound like a big deal but it was actually really embarrassing. I couldn’t regain my train of thought. The third worked well but had a significant weight gain side effect, so I was too anxious to take in long term.

I was so upset at having gained weight – I had been maintaining at the same weight since I was discharged from the eating disorders team, which by then was around two years later. It was the longest time my weight had ever been stable. My body image went through the floor again. I asked to change to another medication and I think the complete inability to sit still while I was taking it is what caused me to lose the weight again and get back to my set point.

When I found my mood stabiliser it was such a relief. I was honestly wondering how I could live the rest of my life with medication having such a significant impact on my functioning. I was wondering if being unwell was the better option. Like I said before, I haven’t had any difficulties at all with my current medication other than that I may now have built up a tolerance to the dosage I was prescribed. So when my GP prescribed another antipsychotic I felt myself start to panic. I knew it was one that caused weight gain and I knew I couldn’t tolerate that a second time.

Making the decision about what is right for you in situations like this is so difficult. And being in a place where my judgement was slightly skewed, I took my GP’s advice. I had a dry mouth again. I was sedated. But I stabilised.

I knew that I wasn’t going to take it long term because of the high chance of weight gain, so the psychiatrist prescribed me a different one which is unlikely to carry that as a side effect. I now have to take that on top of my mood stabiliser, which is something that generally works for me already and I’m so relieved to have found it. I honestly don’t think people realise how difficult the decision is to pick between symptoms or side effects. So many people don’t take medicine as they are prescribed it, but this is particularly prevalent for psychiatric medication. I don’t think I fully appreciated before why so many people didn’t want to take it. Of course there are many different reasons people don’t take their medication, but struggling with side effects is a big factor. I never really understood why they would not just rather be well, until I experienced how difficult it was day in, day out.

I don’t really have a conclusion to this post, other than that I would just like people to realise the significance of adverse effects and what an impact they can have on people’s lives.

I truly hope everyone can be in a place where they don’t have to choose between symptoms or side effects, and can instead have neither.

But if you are somebody who’s not been able to find that balance yet, you don’t have to tolerate horrible side effects.

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4 comments

  1. I’m so glad you’ve found something that works – it’s such a minefield and I totally agree that it’s hard to know what are side effects and what are symptoms. It’s important to understand how difficult it can be to find something that works, and the more we talk about it hopefully the less afraid people will be about speaking out when something isn’t working ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m really glad you’ve found something that works. I was lucky that my doctor got it right first time for me, but whenever people ask me about medication, I make sure to tell them about potential side effects as well as letting them know they don’t have to stick with one option. Such an important post. 💛

    Liked by 1 person

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