When Tegan invited me to guest post, I was flattered. I mean, her largest sampling of my writing has come from my (sometimes constant) rambling/ranting/storytelling posts on my personal Facebook page. I’m not even certain if she’s aware of what she got herself into. Wait… am I sure of what I have gotten into? At any rate, she asked me to write about Medicine and my experience with it from the past several years. More specifically in regards to my experience in its use for mental illness.
I suppose first things first: I was diagnosed with Bipolar II in the Spring of 2003 when I was a college student at Michigan State University (http://msu.edu/) in East Lansing, Michigan, USA. Yep – I’m an American. So, my “talk therapist” aka shrink aka psychologist referred me to the University psychiatrist to begin medication. I can’t say that I remember my exact doses, but I have the recollection of my meds. Depakote was the first thing. Depakote was to control my manic episodes. While taking it, I was completely exhausted and trying to sleep all the time and my depression was still hitting me hard. So the doctor added Lamictal, essentially an upper. Long story short, I got tired of feeling disconnected from the world around me. I felt like a zombie and I was tired of taking medication after a few months.
Now, let me add in here – I don’t understand the idea of giving “downers” but also giving “uppers”. Shouldn’t they be able to find an even balance with just one of the medications? No, no. I mean, I get most of the science behind selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and blah, blah, blah.
About a year later I was having so much anxiety that I just couldn’t tolerate it anymore. I was prescribed Xanax at the lowest prescription dose by a general medical doctor. It was prescribed for use on an “as needed basis” which I could mentally accept better than a routine maintenance drug such as the Depakote and Lamictal. Xanax was like the Russian Roulette of anxiety medications, as far as I was concerned. I used three doses. One time I took the pill and I was on cloud nine, happy and fine and loving life. The second time I took the pill I fell asleep for 30 minutes, so deeply that a friend could not wake me even by punching me in the arm. When I woke up that time, I was disoriented and in the grumpiest mood. The third time I took a pill I went into this deep wallowing depression for three days straight and wished I had never taken a pill to begin with because I would have much rather dealt with some anxiety attacks than the “don’t-turn-on-a-light-or-open-a-curtain. Just-let-me-lay-here-and-wallow-in-misery” feeling.
Another year passed, and the anxiety was bothering me “too much” again so I went to a general family doctor in the city I had moved to by then. He prescribed Klonopin, an anti-anxiety medication. Again, I HATED this medication. It just brought me down to a point where I wanted to stay in bed all day. Who the heck wants to feel WORSE? You can picture an eye-roll here.
My final experience with mental health medications led me to a psychiatrist in yet another city, close to where I was living, with my bipolar type issues. This doctor prescribed Zoloft. Allow me to enter here that by the time I was at this point in treatment attempts, I was fairly well versed on the medicine options of the time, and had a basic layman’s working knowledge of the effects of various medications. Zoloft is an anti-depressant. Research had shown that a person who was either predisposed to, borderline, or diagnosed bipolar, should not take an antidepressant as the chemicals in these medications interacted with the brain chemistry and often compounded or inflated bipolar symptoms at various points in the spectrum. “All due respect, Sir, as I realize I have no medical degree and this is your specialty, but it was my understanding that bipolar people should not take antidepressants due to the interaction with the brain chemistry.” He replies with an agitated wave of the hand and “I’ll add Risperdal then.”
One month into this treatment combination the bottom fell out. I stayed up for three straight days (manic), could not even convince my eyelids to close despite my physical body screaming for the rest, my mind was in complete disorder, and when I finally was just about to go to sleep, I heard voices. I called the doctor’s office to let him know of this problem. He told me to take the Zoloft and double the Risperdal. I hung up the phone completely concerned with where all this medication was taking me and I decided, right then and there, I was “never” taking medication again for these problems. I couldn’t tolerate this “lab rat” feeling. No two doctors ever seemed to agree on the correct treatment protocol for me. No doctor had found a mix that really worked without me having to sacrifice some major part of my livelihood.
From November of 2004 until January of 2013, I did not touch another medication. What changed in 2013? I endured four (almost) solid months of migraines. My doctor in Kentucky prescribed 50mg of Topomax, an anti-seizure medication with multiple uses, and migraine treatment being one of them. A little research on my part found that it had also been used in the treatment of bipolar. This doctor had no inkling to my past mental health yo-yo. After 4 weeks, he doubled my dose to 100mg as I was still having migraines. A few weeks later he added a build up to 30mg of Amitryptilene – a first generation antidepressant also used for migraines, but effective for a different group of migraine problems (hence the double down on meds).
I hated the side effects of Topomax (neurological in nature, I was stuttering, couldn’t focus, getting tremors, and dealing with tingling/numbness in my fingers and toes). As I was dropping myself off the Topomax in dose steps (down to 50mg for a while, then down to 25mg for a while, to avoid serious potential body failures from abrupt discontinuing) I had floods of emotions. I realized that during the months I was taking both medications at full prescription dose, I had not had to deal with many negative emotions. In fact, I had essentially “forgotten” how to deal with those emotions because the medicine had masked it all. It was such a battle to regain that control. Actually, it often still is. I didn’t realize what an emotional basket case I really was until the past few months.
Now? Now I’m down to just 10mg Amitryptilene. I found a different doctor who did thorough blood work which lead to the discovery that I have Lyme Disease and Babesiosis. That last bit is something for a completely different post. However, my migraines are at bay.
It’s tempting… tempting to go back to that place where life was calm with the aid of my medications. I won’t say I’ll never take medication for that emotional relief, but I will say that for now, I’d rather battle the Lyme Disease and Babesiosis without a medication (Topomax) that inflates my neurological problems.
Jennifer Henley, aka Momma Jen Hen, lives in a rural community in Murray, Kentucky, USA. A stay at home mother of three
life zappers lovely boys, ages 13, 6, and 2, and college student who can’t seem to finish her first degree before a second decade passes, Jennifer has her own history of seasonal dissociative disorder, depression, anxiety, panic, and Bipolar II (rapid cycling manic depression). Sounds like a nut case, eh? With three boys, who could blame her? No, but seriously, she has been through psychological talk therapy as well as psychiatric care along with an long list of medicines, but has managed to gain control over her mental well-being medication free. Most days. Most days she has control. However, she still recognizes the importance that medication plays in so many lives for a better quality of life and even the slightest taste of normalcy for individuals. Each individual has their own journey. She’s here to speak (er, write) just a little about what she has taken from firsthand experience.