Psychopharmacology

Medication against mental illness has always been an iffy topic full of taboo. Many believe we are being over-medicated, that mental illness should be treated mentally through therapy and not physically through medication, and so on and so forth. I tend to fall more towards the “no medication” than the “yes medication” end of the discussion. But I also think it is unwise to refuse medication entirely. I realize that my feelings on the matter are just feelings, not actual facts, and ultimately irrational.

I’ve never been a fan of antidepressants and am even less inclined to like antipsychotics. A big part of it is an irrational fear that the drugs will turn me into a completely different person somehow. Like the drugs will make me think and feel different than I normally do. But you could also say that my disorder makes me think and feel differently than I normally would. When you’re sick for so long, it can be difficult to discern where you end and the illness or disorder begins. Am I me or am I just the drugs?

Another big part of my reluctance to take any medication is, I’m embarrassed to take them. Especially when I visit my dad on the weekends. I don’t want him to see me take any pills. It’s a stupid, stupid reason not to take medication, I know. Even so, when I was on antidepressants, I often found myself “forgetting” to bring the pills or forgetting to take them when I did bring them. When I finally took them, I’d always covertly swallow them while no one was looking.

Because of my own stance on medication and the fact my symptoms have always been relatively mild as far as I can tell, my experience with medication is very limited. I’ve been on mild antidepressants twice in my life. Both times I abruptly stopped taking the medication. I’ve never been on antipsychotics. Why would I want antipsychotics when I’m not psychotic? Although, perhaps the classification is a little misleading. Perhaps it’s more helpful to think of them as thought-regulating medication? On second thought, that might actually be worse… It’s silly to get hung up on names and specification, I know but what can you do? My brain’s just full of excuses.

I’ve heard some medication can help with excessive thoughts. I considered something like that, but my thoughts feel more slow and rusty than excessive and I was afraid the medication would somehow slow my thinking to a crawl or even stop completely. I should probably have talked more about this with my psychologist at OPUS. Probably he would have been able to clarify what sort of medication does what and what might be a better fit for me. But I didn’t.

My biggest hang-up against psychopharmacology is perhaps the side effects. Sometimes, the side effects of some medication can be quite severe and it can feel a bit like cutting off a leg to save the arm. It’s a different kind of debility but still one way or the other, you’re still not whole. There are other medications you can take to treat some of the worse side effects, which is good. But at the end of the day, it’s just more pills to take and that can get a little exhausting just to think about.

The first time I took antidepressants, I was 18 and living at home in Nuuk, Greenland. I was diagnosed with mild depression and a visiting psychiatrist (meaning he worked there for a short time before returning to Denmark) prescribed me with Citalopram, I believe. It worked great for a couple of months. Then it stopped working. So I stopped taking them. I didn’t like my psychologist at the time either and when she failed to make a new appointment one session, I simply stopped coming. Instead of ineffective medication and useless psychologists, I decided to treat my own depression by making a point of exaggerating the enjoyment of the few things I still enjoyed. It worked well enough for a while. Focusing on the good things in life is helpful short-term, but if you don’t treat whatever’s making you miserable, eventually all those bottled up emotions are going to come crashing down. It may take years, but it’ll happen sooner or later.

The second time, I started taking basically the same drug, but a different brand because I felt mildly depressed while I was at OPUS and I had a lot of trouble sleeping. This time, I felt no difference at all from the drug after taking it for about a month. Rather, I suffered the unfortunate but very common side effect of being unable to orgasm or taking ages and ages to get there, without the actual intended benefit of the drug. And so, when I forgot to pick up my new prescription just before Christmas the year before last, I simply stopped taking the pills when I ran out. This turned out to be a very reckless move. As it turns out, going cold turkey on antidepressants can have some pretty uncomfortable side effects. Like dizzy spells. At first I thought it was simply lack of sleep that caused the dizziness, but after talking to my psychologist, I realized it was probably the drug. Thankfully, I didn’t suffer any worse side effects and the dizzy spells disappeared on their own.

I’ve heard a few other horror stories about medication, like the schizophrenic patient who spent her time drugged into a stupor and her medication messed with her hormones making her obese and grow unsightly facial hair that she hated so much she would escape into another world where she wasn’t sick and had a successful life with a career and family. Sometimes, I dream about being able to just park my body in some institution and disappear into my own head and live in my own dream world where everything is exactly how I want it. I feel like I’d be happier that way. But I’m much too proud to allow myself to live out my days like some institutionalized drugged-out potato.

So, do I believe psychopharmacology’s all bad and should be avoided at all costs? No. I do believe drugs can be helpful, even necessary. For all the horror stories, there are many more happy stories where drugs bring relief from internal torment and allow for a relatively normal life. I know someone who takes medication for her anxiety and it relieved her of the terrible stomach pains she suffered from due to the anxiety. I know of a family friend who takes antidepressants because he simply can’t function without them. I don’t think medication is the ultimate solution, but it can bring relief where it’s needed. Recognizing that need is an important step towards recovery.

If your own brain torments you so badly you can’t be in your own skin, if your anxiety is so bad it causes physical pain and leaves you trapped in your own head, if you feel so awful death seems the only escape? Then perhaps trading off happy-fun times with your favorite sex toy doesn’t feel like such a bad deal. And perhaps it won’t have to be for the rest of your life, but just until you’re in a better place overall. The important thing is, you get to a point where you can live well.

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