DISCLAIMOR: The very nature of medication is controversial. I am not a doctor. I do not have MD after my name. I am merely a woman living with Bipolar 1 Disorder. This is my experience with medication. These are my truths. In no way, shape or form will I ever give medical advice to anyone. Puh-lease.
I literally waited until I had no choice but to go on meds. And by literally, I mean a nurse in a mental hospital gave me a little white cup with Lithium and Zoloft in it and another white cup with water in it and wouldn’t let me out of her sight until I emptied both cups.
And then she made me open my mouth to prove to her that I had actually swallowed the medication.
My misconceptions about psychiatric medications almost killed me. I was obstinate and close-minded about meds and therefore let my mental health absolutely deteriorate.
Before I disclose the fears I had swimming around in my unbalanced brain, I think it’s important to disclose exactly which medications I take so you have a frame of reference.
Today, I take Lamictal (for mania), Zoloft (for depression) and Wellbutrin (for depression). As needed and very rarely, I take Xanex (for anxiety). I also take Synthroid daily for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (a different disease entirely), but if my thyroid is out-of-whack (that’s the super cool technical term), I will become either manic or depressed.
I took Lithium until I got pregnant, then I stopped, under my psychiatrist’s close observation. Three-weeks after giving birth, I went back on Lithium, but it made me nauseous, so I had to eventually switch to Lamictal.
I also take plant-based multivitamins, fish oil with high EPA and DHA, eat a vegan diet (with exception to the fish oil) and exercise 2-3 times a week when not in a depression.
Now that the medication cat is out of the bag, let’s get to it.
Courtney’s fears and misconceptions about meds before ever taking meds:
MY FEAR: I'll lose my sobriety.
MY TRUTH: Diabetics take insulin to survive. I take my meds to survive. My meds do not make me high and I take them as prescribed. Xanex is the only med I take that can become addicting, so I tell my therapist when I take it and always check my intention – do I want to get high or am I having an anxiety attack? Luckily, I’ve never had a good time on Xanex. It goes right to the anxiety and I go right to sleep.
MY MISCONCEPTION: A pill will fix all my problems. Pills are for weak people.
MY TRUTH: I wish. Meds only get my head above water; I have to do the swimming to stay alive. I’ve done a whole lot of swimming and I’m stronger today than I’ve ever been.
MY FEAR: I'll be a zombie. My personality and creativity will go away.
MY TRUTH: Only if not medicated properly. I have a wonderful psychiatrist who keeps me on the lowest doses of everything. I have highs and lows and feelings just like everyone else.
MY FEAR: I'll never want/have sex again.
MY TRUTH: Not never, but medication and the work I was doing in therapy killed my libido for about 2-years. I’m happy to report that the libido is back and all is happy in that area.
MY FEAR: People won't think I'm sober anymore.
MY TRUTH: It’s none of my business what other people think of me.
MY MISCONCEPTION-ISH: Doctors prescribe happy pills because they have an "in" with the pharmaceutical companies so they can get you hooked.
MY TRUTH: I like a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy and I do think there’s some truth to this. I also know that they work. I don’t go to a general physician for psych meds. I’m on the generic of everything and my psychiatrist stays on top of trends and experimental and holistic approaches to psych meds.
MY MISCONCEPTION-ISH: I'll just take herbs and fish oil instead. Western medicine is BS. I'll do acupuncture.
MY TRUTH: I truly believe in holistic solutions and hope to someday be able to go off my meds, but in my experience, when my brain chemistry was so off-kilter (again, please don’t let my super awesome technical terms scare you), nothing would touch my symptoms except Western medicine. Acupuncture was far too subtle and short-lasting for me. I keep an open mind and continue to search for new natural healing methods for Bipolar.
MY MISCONCEPTION: I just need to pray more.
MY TRUTH: I almost killed myself with this one. I was the man treading water in the ocean praying for God to come save him. When the ship came by he turned down the ride because he was waiting for God to save him. I have a strong faith with my higher power and a very close relationship with it, but I needed to do the footwork to get better. I was born with a different brain that needs help. Yet again, it would be like a diabetic praying for God to take away his diabetes. While I will not deny miracles, they are pretty rare.
MY MISCONCEPTION-ISH: All ailments are from poor diets.
MY TRUTH: Most Americans have poor diets and I was one of them. High fructose corn syrup, animal flesh, trans fat, fried food and many other poor food choices definitely make me sick, not only physically, but mentally too. As stated earlier, I am vegan and trying to eliminate carcinogens from my diet. I also limit my caffeine intake as one cup of coffee can flip me into mania quicker than a cheetah can take down a gazelle.
MY MISCONCEPTION-ISH: I just need to exercise more.
MY TRUTH: There is truth in this belief as well. The problem is that depression is completely debilitating. I can hardly even get out of bed, let alone strap on running sneakers and get my fitness on. Depression is also physical, not just mental. I have injured myself countless times forcing myself to exercise when in a darkness and then been unable to exercise for months, which created a super-sucky-spiral (totally awesome technical term, yet again – I know, you’re impressed).
I’m lucky. I have a psychiatrist who really knows and understands me, is vehemently opposed to overmedicating patients and is constantly on top of new methods for treating mental illnesses. I’m grateful for medication – it put me back on the playing field so I could do the work that is keeping me alive.
This is only my experience with meds. Everyone is different. For me, a med cocktail (multiple medications, not a dirty martini) has kept me in good stead, but it hasn’t always been easy going.
Changing meds is always scary and often challenging.
I don’t think anyone wants to be chemically dependent, but until I find another solution, I’m happy to take my pink, blue and white pills everyday.