Being on medication is a reality for most of my generation. We are the product of a society that has decided that everything is a symptom. Society as a whole is pretty Stuck on the idea that pills will solve everything. And when the side effects start happening, there’s a pill for that too.
The funny thing is, while most medications have targeted purposes, the psychiatric medication industry is pretty damn unsure of what their pills do. In fact, the exact wording for most of them is “this pill is believed to help ease the symptoms of…”. Believed to help? Holy sh!t are they serious? And we just pop them like candy day after day. There are dozens on conditions in the DSM (that’s The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness, basically the Bible for mental illness.) and for each one there are multiple medications and those medications appear in multiple different categories for different things.
I take a medication now that helps with both bipolar disorder and seizures, among other things. And for the record, I don’t have, nor have i ever had seizures. But that’s just how it is. They think it helps and studies show that it helps enough of the time to be considered a viable choice, and doctors start passing it out.
And while there are all kinds of experience with medications i can talk about, there’s one that stands out so perfectly in my mind that it practically screams “my turn to talk” (as if there are little voices in my head or something, which is a totally different subject than this one, and also one for another day)
As you get older your body chemistry changes. So what a bipolar teenager takes isn’t necessarily what a bipolar adult will benefit from. This happens to be one of my more adult tales.
I had recently switched psychiatric offices and the new doctor was very thorough. The intake interview was nearly two hours long. He had a questionnaire for me to fill out before i got there. He got my medical records dating back to elementary school including all of my visits as a teenager to the inpatient ward of the Savannah’s Mental Health Center. All of these are a sign of a good doctor which, in the psychiatric industry, is a very hot commodity.
So all of those wonderful things he did would seem to tell the story of a wonderful experience leading to a fantastic assigning of prescriptions and a blissful bipolar existence. And that would be absolutely awesome to end a story with. By show of hands, how many of you think that’s how it went?
Ok you caught me, that is not at all what happened. It started fine. He prescribed me a new, once daily medication and kept me on the two i was already taking. That’s a total of 5 pills down the hatch a day between the morning and evening pills. And for those of you not familiar with being bipolar, that’s pretty normal. I am still on two medications for a total of 3 pills a day and I’d probably be on more if not for the essential oils I use to keep me level. (Please note that all oils are not created equal so simply using oils is not going to help. You need to find high quality oils and someone educated enough to guide you in using them and even then, they are not a safe reason to stop taking meds all together unless your doctor says so. And though I use, recommend and sell essential oils, I’m not a doctor so don’t go telling people “Adam said I can use oils and not take meds”)
As you’ve probably figured out on your own, that many pills has got to be contraindicated (chemically disagree with each other) at least a little, and you’d be right. The meds i was already on I’d bee on as a group for years so the introduction of this medication was bound to do something. And he warned me to be aware of “subtle changes” in myself.
I came home and told my girlfriend (who miraculously decided to marry me later on) and we agreed that she would help be an extra set of eyes to see if any changes happened.
We need to take a side bar here for a minute and explain what changes I could’ve been looking for. The list for this and basically all psych meds is long and varied but to be along for this ride with me you’ve got to know it. So in no particular order, side effects may include:
Changes in mood or behavior
Suicidal thoughts or feelings
Sterility in men
Unexplained hair growth in odd places
Shortness of breath
And guess what, that’s just off the top of my head, without researching the actual list which means, the list is actually longer and my brain just isn’t that sharp. Too many drugs as a teen. Or maybe it’s a side effect, memory loss was a side effect after all.
Did you notice anything strange about that list? Like for example it can cause suicidal thoughts or feelings? As in “Hi, I’m adam and I have bipolar disorder, a disorder that is regularly linked to suicide in the US, and I’m taking a pill that can make me feel suicidal”. Sounds ridiculous right? Totally true though.
Ok so back to the story, as the days went by I began to feel sick. We figured on me having caught the flu or a cold or something. I’d never had an adverse physical reaction to pills before. So we watched my behavior like lions following a gazelle, never even considering that my body was telling me to stop taking that garbage.
I saw this doctor once a month and i was only days out from the first visit, meaning a long time before I’d see him again and i kept getting worse. As we got further into the month it became really obvious that something was wrong. We settled on it being the pill after about two weeks of constant decline in my condition. I moved the appointment up a week and when it came down to me heading in for the visit, i was constantly hurting.
Every muscle in my body ached. I never wanted to get out of bed because i was so incessantly tired. I was seriously a walking example of what it looks like when a medicine is shutting your body down.
Then came the moment that inspired me to write this story. It began with “The doctor will see you now” just like a typical doctor scene in a movie. I got up, lumbered my way to his office and collapsed into a chair opposite him. I looked like hell. He looked up at me as I entered the room and his eyes followed me all the way to the chair. The conversation went exactly like this.
“How is everything Adam?”
“I feel like in dying”
“Oh really? Well, how are you emotionally?”
“Emotionally, like mood swings, sadness you can’t seem to explain, things like that.”
“No, my mood is pretty ok. Nothing out of the ordinary. You did hear me say that I feel like I’m dying though right? It’s been this way and getting worse since I started this new pill.”
“I did, but I like that your mood is good, so let’s keep taking the pills and this will probably pass.”
That was the moment I realized that this was not going to end well for me. I went home and told my girlfriend what had happened. Remember that for years of my youth and young adulthood I was intent on hurting myself and tried on more than one occasion to end my life so I’ve had psychiatrists and therapists dictating my life for quite a while now. I’d only recently been able to even say I was truly happy so the new doctor’s suggestion that I keep taking it was a bummer but I was going to do it.
If you ever hear me refer to my wife as a life saver, this next paragraph should explain why. She took the pill bottle off my nightstand. She looked up the full list of symptoms, looked me square in the eyes and said the following:
“No. you are not going to fade away. There are too many doctors out there and this one is going to let you die, close your file and send it to the pharmaceutical company so they can add it to their study on risk factors. No. Get a second opinion.”
It is at this time that I would like make a clear and hopefully very concise statement about mental health. Be your own God damn advocate. I was lucky to have my now wife by my side. Not everyone has that. Actually nobody has that, she married me and I’m not sharing.
If it doesn’t feel right, sound right, anything and your doc isn’t taking it seriously, move the heck on. There are thousands of psychiatrists in every country of the world who all get paid pretty darn well to do what they do. Many of those get paid not only by their clients and by the insurance companies, but also by pharmaceutical companies who only ask that in exchange for their “support” that the doctor prescribe certain meds more than others.
I found out years later that the doctor who was content to let me feel like I was dying was among the nations top prescribers of this medication and that they’d actually given him an award and had him speak on their behalf all over the country.
I found a new doctor. I stopped taking that pill. I felt normal again. Whatever that means. And life went in. I’d dodged a bullet. A little blue bullet that you take with water, at night, on a full stomach, until finally you get a fever, get lethargic, lose your vision, get constipated, lose all your hair, never have an erection, never have a baby, and then have a heart attack and die.
Sorry about that. I think I accidentally skipped a few of the possible side effects in that last paragraph. I can’t end a story with a mistake like that. Let me start over…..