I’m sad to report that the quasi-writer’s block from my first post has struck me again these last few days, and I am now writing this post the night before it is scheduled to be posted. For me, this isn’t normal.
Truth is, I’ve had a terrible week. I’ve been super depressed and demotivated and I’ve spent a lot of time doing nothing. I’m not super sure why this week was a week where I got worse, but there isn’t always a concrete reason.
I didn’t sleep last night and I had a rough morning trying to follow up on referrals that my family doctor was supposed to have made; turns out she didn’t actually submit them all. It’s been over a month since I had my appointment with her and today I followed up on the other programs. Apparently calls have not been coming through properly to my phone and they haven’t been able to leave voicemails.
I could go on and on about the tragic saga that was my morning, but I’d rather just move on to the point of this post. Next week, I have an assessment with a psychiatrist as a part of a rapid-access psychiatry program. It’s not a long-term psychiatrist like I wanted (in fact I’m only allowed the one appointment) but at least something’s happening.
There are two basic reasons that I wanted to get into a psychiatrist as soon as possible: (1) I want to confirm my diagnoses and make sure that they’re still accurate. (My diagnoses are a couple years and a couple major life events old.) (2) I want to get back on a medication that works. That’s what I wanted to talk about in this post.
My History with Medication
I was first prescribed medication for my mental health when I practically begged my family doctor to give me something. She had referred me to a psychiatrist at CAMH, in Toronto and was worried about prescribing an antidepressant herself because there was a possibility of bipolar, OCD, or other concurrent illnesses.
I tried to be okay with her decision to wait for a psychiatrist to prescribe me something, but I wasn’t. My psychiatrist’s appointment was over two months away and I couldn’t imagine continuing to sit in so much pain and doing nothing for that long. So, I made an appointment and begged her to help me, to help me stop feeling this way. After warnings about mania and suicidal ideation, she prescribed be a very low dose of Zoloft. I was so excited until she told me that it might take four to six weeks to take effect.
That was soul-crushing. Six weeks?! Six weeks more of this hell to just see if this medication could maybe work? That was so demoralizing for me.
Nonetheless, I had my mother fill the prescription right away and I started taking them.
Finally, my CAMH appointment came and I was feeling no relief from the antidepressants. I met with the psychiatrist and she explained that starter doses are typically double what I was taking and she upped my dosage. She also said that I was likely in the tail-end of a minor depressive episode (spoiler: she was wrong), but gave me no concrete diagnosis.
Four weeks later I had a follow-up appointment and she increased the dose again. Six weeks after that, I drove three hours into Toronto to find that the appointment that I had confirmed wasn’t in their calendar. I gave up on CAMH after that. Nothing was working and they stood me up; why try? My family doctor refilled my prescription, but I stopped taking them.
After my first suicidal episode, I asked my doctor for a referral to a local psychiatrist; a couple of months later, I had an appointment.
To my dismay, the psychiatrist didn’t take on long-term patients and was only there to stabilize me on my medication and then I was to just get refills from my doctor. He confirmed a major depression and an OCD diagnosis. He got me back on Zoloft and added Abilify to the mix. Taking Abilify was the first time I noticed a difference in my symptoms. My anxiety lessened and so did my compulsions; my depression, not so much.
I saw him every four weeks for about six months until I was declared ‘stable.’ I took my medication for almost a year after that and had two more suicidal episodes. The third episode had me in the ER and I saw a psychiatrist there. He put me on Cipralex and kept the Abilify, but upped the dose. I took those for another nine months until I stopped because it wasn’t doing anything anyway. Shortly after I stopped, I had my latest episode where I resigned from my job and accepted that I need more intensive help.
That brings us to now.
The Evolution of My Thoughts on Psychopharmacology
Psychopharmacology. I’m usually good at big words, but that one’s tough.
When I first got on antidepressants, I called them “my short term solution while I work on my long term solution.” I said that I didn’t want to be on ‘drugs’ the rest of my life and that I shouldn’t need them to function. I was desperate and I wanted something to perk me up enough so that I could do something about my mental health.
After a couple of months of ineffective medication, I started to hate and resent my medication and the fact that I needed it at all. I felt defective and I felt like I couldn’t be normal or be myself because of my depression and my medication. I started to worry about what would happen if the medication actually started to work… Would I still even be me? It had taken me so long to be comfortable with who I am and I didn’t want me to go away. These thoughts all led to me stopping my medication the times that I did.
My view took a long time to change when it came to medication. My gut reaction is still to hate it and to avoid it. When I step back from the pure emotion, though, I see it for what it really is: I’m sick.
I take Tylenol Cold religiously when I get a cold; I stock up on Chlor-Tripolon when spring comes around. This isn’t any different. I’m severely depressed and my anxiety is out of control, it has been for three years. I’ve tried to power through it on my own, but it’s obviously not working.
So now, I’m looking forward to finding a medication that actually works. I’m wary, though. I’m not a patient person normally, and with the added irritability, I’m worse. I know it’s going to be hard to power through to find the right medication and the right dosage, and I’m trying to be mentally prepared. I just wish there would be a quicker-acting and one-size-fits-all solution. Damn complex brain.
Stigma Around Psychiatric Medication
This. The general mental health stigma is already a problem, but it is amplified when you add psychopharmacology to the mix. There are way too many people who are already so blanketly anti-‘Big Pharma’ and that extends even more to illnesses that they don’t believe are obvious or severe enough. But, as I mentioned, I was super hesitant about taking antidepressants, so I think I understand to a degree.
The problem is that mental health and mental illness are so abstract that people don’t always see the mentally ill as sick, but instead as defective or lacking moral fibre. I’ve been told that I should try and power through it ‘naturally’ and just ‘work harder.’ My own family, among others, told me that I don’t want to be on medication for the rest of my life. I should find ‘healthier’ ways of coping and find longer-term solutions to the problem.
At the time, the comments irked me, but now they make me mad. I should work through it ‘naturally?’ I tried that. I wanted to kill myself. I have worked as hard as I possibly can and it has not made a lasting difference. Why shouldn’t I be on medication the rest of my life? What if I had diabetes or chronically high blood pressure? Untreated depression can lead to death, too. When I put a ‘physical’ illness in the place of my mental illness, it’s virtually a no-brainer. Of course I should do everything I can to get better, including medication.
I know medication helps, and I know I wouldn’t think twice about taking antibiotics for an infection, pain killers for a broken leg, or insulin for diabetes. I know how desperately I just want to feel better and I am going to try and get there, I just have remember that feeling. Hey, maybe I’ll reread this post for inspiration.
What about you? What is your experience with mental health medication? What comments have you heard about it?