My Experience with Medication
This weekend, I went off my last prescription medication, just one month after weaning myself off a mood stabilizer I’d relied on since I was fourteen. Like many milestones in my recovery, this is one I never imagined I’d pass, and now that I have, it feels both surreal and exciting. I haven’t talked much about medications in the past because it’s a very individual and personal experience, however I think it’s important to be open about mine, if at the very least to combat the stigma that continues to surround using medication to treat mental illness.
For me, medications gave me some comfort and reprieve at a time in my life when I was constantly in distress. They decreased the frequency of my suicidal thoughts and urges to hurt myself, and they made it easier to get out of bed in the morning. They didn’t take away my pain or cure me of my disorder but they made living with a mental illness more manageable.
I first started experimenting—under the close supervision of my doctor, of course—with various medications in an adolescent psych hospital in ninth grade. I was deeply depressed, very anxious, and struggling with suicidal tendencies. I don’t remember the first medication I tried—as there were many, many that followed—but I do remember being bedridden for days with chills and an unshakeable, all-consuming fatigue. Some of the other medications I was on elevated my heart rate to the 130s and gave me intense mood swings, while others made my depression somehow even worse.
Finding the right medication for me was a long and difficult process. Ultimately, after a lot of trial and error, I settled upon a mood stabilizer, a serotonin supplement, and an antidepressant at a low dosage to help me sleep. For the years that followed, I relied on that special combination to function in my everyday life. Each morning with breakfast, I’d take my mood stabilizer and supplement, and each night an hour before I fell asleep, I’d take my antidepressant. When I was away, on vacations or (briefly) at college, I’d fill a pill case with my medications so I wouldn’t forget to take them. Having dealt with vicious withdrawals in the past, I knew missing just one day could have serious adverse effects so I stuck with my strict schedule, kept my prescriptions in supply, and continued to slowly but steadily get better.
This past year, I’ve made advances in my recovery that I once thought were unachievable. I’ve come a long way from where I was at age fourteen, and while there were a lot of factors that contributed to my personal growth, I do believe my medications were one of them. Last summer, I started to question whether I needed them anymore. I spoke with my psychiatrist, and we decided it was worth attempting to wean me off them. The antidepressant was easy, however the mood stabilizer, which I was taking at quite a high dosage, proved to be more challenging. Every two weeks, I reduced by 50 mg, and it was going fine . . . until I went from 50 to 0. That’s when the shakes, the fatigue, the emotional bluntness, the headaches—all of it—returned. I quickly went back up to 50 the next day and my symptoms subsided but the experience left me shaken and doubtful.
I stayed on 50 through the fall and winter, which are historically the most challenging times of the year for me. In March, I decided to try to go off my medication again, just with a different approach. I started by reducing to 25 and stayed on that for a whole month. Next, I cut the 25s in half and took 12.5 for two weeks. Then I began alternating the days I’d take it on, and finally, on a weekend when I didn’t have anything to do, I went off it entirely. Fortunately, my body reacted much better than the first time, and I haven’t had to go back on it since. I suppose it pays to take things more slowly in certain situations.
Going off my serotonin supplement (which was technically more of a vitamin than a prescription pill) was painless but still an important step. It feels incredible to not have to rely on medications any longer. Physically, I have a lot more energy, although that could also be due to recent dietary changes I’ve made. Mentally and emotionally, I’m relieved and reassured that I can continue to thrive in my recovery without them. Plus, now I don’t have to worry if I wake up late or forget to take my morning pills. I doubt I’ll notice a difference if I go a day without my multivitamin and iron supplement.
So, is prescription medication for everyone? Of course not. Is it a cure-all for mental illness? Hell no. But for many people, myself included, medication plays an important role in getting better, if not at the very least easing the pain long enough for the sufferer to persevere through the worst days. My medication made it possible for me to face life, and as a result, I was able to see for myself a future beyond my disorder. I’m happily living in that future now, and though I owe a lot to my medications for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned, I can’t say I’m going to miss them.