A Bittersweet Pill

I’ve been thinking about how lucky I am. Okay, I can’t claim it’s been in the forefront of my mind as I navigate through this depressive episode, but I’ve been thinking about it for at least the last two minutes. That counts, right?

I’m lucky because the meds adjustment is beginning to help. I think. I’m lucky because the medication I take for my condition has far less side effects than many others. I’m lucky because I am able to obtain and pay for it.

Many people are less fortunate; including myself at times. It took years and many, many trials of different medications before we settled on this one, and I endured a dizzying spectrum of side effects: anxiety, sleeplessness, grogginess, nightmares, nausea, weight gain, intestinal problems, loss of libido, worsening of hypomanic symptoms, dissociative symptoms, intrusive thoughts of self-harm, and on two occasions a near-fatal desire to walk into traffic or turn the wheel sharply while driving.

My experience is not unusual. A lot of trial and error is often necessary, because both the biochemical nature of the problems and the biochemical action of the remedies are still so poorly understood. We’re reduced to the basic method of doing something and seeing what the results are, then doing the next thing. Some people say that the meds don’t work at all, or aren’t ever worth their cost in side effects, or that our culture is drugging away our individuality.

I’ve been told (not by doctors) that I don’t really have a form of bipolar disorder; that I’ve just been diagnosed with that because bipolar II is the trendy diagnosis right now. I’ve been told (not by doctors) that taking psych meds will interfere with my spiritual development and my “kundalini awakening” and I should let just my condition do what it does and follow the energy to where it wants to take me. I’ve been told (not by doctors) that I should stop taking bipolar meds because taking them means that I am not really abstinent from drugs and thus not fully in recovery. (More about this idea in Medications and Judgments)

I used to feel more defensive when faced with these kinds of opinions. The degree of brokenness that led to my recovery has left me not caring so much: my obligation is to stay in recovery and participate in life, no matter what I have to do, and whether it makes me look good or not.

The truth is, even I don’t understand what my meds do for me. Their action is so subtle that I feel nothing; am aware of no changes at all. Only in hindsight, days or weeks later, do I see that my symptoms have decreased. It caused me trouble in the past because at some point I would say, “Great! I’ve been doing better for a while now; I obviously don’t need these anymore. Toodles!” With antidepressants, a trial of going off them can be quite appropriate in that situation. With a bipolar person, and bipolar meds…not so much. If it’s working, it is usually best not to mess with it, and I learned that the hard way a few times.

There are people who must make much harder choices about their meds than I have to make. If their clinical condition is more extreme, the meds that help are more likely to have obvious side effects–feeling dull or groggy, weight gain, sexual impairment, even risk of neurological problems.

I’m not an authority on all of this. I’m a statistical universe of one. I’m just drawn to say how much I admire, and feel for, those who are going through these issues with their meds. I’m drawn to encourage anyone who hasn’t been there, or who has had a bad experience and is tempted to judge widely from it, to open their perception. I’m feeling a desire to acknowledge that it can take courage, and humility, to take psych meds. In some cases, it takes a willingness to give up some quality of life in exchange for being a safer and more productive member of their family or community. And I’m lucky that I don’t currently have to give up much to take mine except a little money and pride.

5 responses to “A Bittersweet Pill

  1. It is good to know, and to use, what works. Your courage and determination say much about who you are.

  2. Brilliantly written with excellent insights.

  3. Thank you for writing this. So many of us, including me, struggle with medication and how to tell if it’s working and at what cost.

  4. The hardest thing for me in taking the med is having to take more to treat the side effects of the previous ones. It begins to feel like a vicious cycle leaving me wondering what the true symptom are anymore.

  5. Pingback: I'm a lucky man | Recovery, a concurrent disorder perspective

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