When Medications Go Wrong

For years, I’ve pretty much been medicating myself.  I take my scripts home and medicate how I see fit for my situation.  I realize that makes me medication non-compliant.  The trouble I come to is my trust in doctors.  I have been burned so badly before that I find I have a lack of faith in them to know how they are really treating me.

When I was in my teens, and being treated for Major Depressive Disorder (misdiagnosis – strike one), I was put on high doses over a slew of medications for years with little result (overmedication – strike two).  I suffered extreme side effects, with little done to relieve them.  I took Zoloft in increasing doses over a three year period.  I continued to complain of extreme fatigue, anxiety, motion sickness, and periods of flu-like symptoms.

The doctor’s answer?  More medication.  It came to a head when I found that if I sat still for too long, I would drift off to sleep.  Sitting in school became impossible, and I was sleeping fourteen to sixteen hours a day.  Eventually, I was put on 300 mg of Zoloft with Provigil to combat narcoleptic symptoms.

It was at the doctor’s suggestion that I continue to exceed maximum dose and go to 350 mg that my mother finally put her foot down.  “Put her on something else.  We’ve put three years into this, and it clearly isn’t working.”  And much to my doctor’s chagrin, I was switched to Lexapro.

Wrong answer.

Immediately, I started to have dissociative symptoms.  I recall laying in my room, laying on the floor, and staring at my ceiling in the dark.  My mother stood in my doorway, just observing me.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I answered blankly.

Yes, I was finally awake.  But, every moment was torturous.  I lost my sense of self, and started to drift away.  My memory began to fragment, and I sunk into a deep, desperate depression.  I was frantic and crazed, while feeling numb and blank at the same time.  I became paranoid, and started to assert that everyone was doing things against me.  They were intending to harm me, and I started to give meaning to harmless comments and phrases.

I attempted suicide several times in the first month.  The cutting became so bad that I was doing it in rather public places.  I was caught one time at my boyfriend’s house, and I had a dull exacto set ripped off of me and immediately chucked into the local creek.

We were unaware of all of the side effects at the time, because all of the medications I was placed on were brand new.  When a pharmaceutical representative left her office prior to my visit one day, it became clear that I had become an experiment to brand new medications.  I was taking expensive, largely untested medications for her financial benefit.  Strike three.

I had gained thirty-five pounds over a six month period.  I was 4’11” and 165lbs.  That put me at a BMI of 33.3, and in the obese range.  And despite all of my best, and even worst, and unhealthy efforts, I still couldn’t manage to get my weight below 145lbs.  I was starving myself on 900 calories a day, and I still hovered around obesity.

I couldn’t afford my medication once I was kicked off of my parent’s insurance, and I just decided that since it failed to ease my symptoms, I would stop taking the medication entirely.  They failed to mention that if I attempted to stop the medication cold, then I would be stricken with the worst withdrawal I had ever known.  It was a good thing my parents had been through this before with my father, because they knew how to ween me off.

It took me years to get the rest of that weight off.  But, by then, the medication had already done long lasting damage far worse than just weight.  I had begun to develop a drinking problem.  I had engaged in risky sexual behavior due to hypomania.  And it sent me walking with bad eating habits.

After that, I distrusted doctors and medication entirely.  I had lost faith in mental health treatment.  I was left with a feeling that I didn’t have a disorder at all, and instead, it was just me.  I was convinced that I wasn’t treatable.

It took a lot to make me realize that I was in desperate need of treatment.  I had taken psychology courses and was suggested by several psychologists in my college to have bipolar disorder.  I knew my behavior wasn’t “normal”, just as I had always suspected.  It took the my marriage, my depleting mental health of my husband, and the birth of my son to encourage me to start treatment again.

Three years, four doctors, and a another slew of medications later, and here I am, again the victim of overmedication and bad medication choices.

Recently, I stopped my Abilify.  Admittedly, it was because I noticed an interaction between the Abilify and my weekend consumption of alcohol.  I started to find that I would fall asleep soon after taking it on Friday’s while we drank.  I decided that I would just stop over the weekend, and continue during the weekdays as normal.  But, eventually, I just forgot to take it at all.  And soon, I started to notice an improvement in my worsening condition.

Suddenly, I was able to think again.  I started to feel more like myself.  I became more aware of what I was thinking and feeling, and I finally started actually living in the world around me.  It actually felt like living again.  And that’s when I noticed the weight I had put on.  I had fell victim to Abilify’s weight gain, among other things.

I can blame the dissociative symptoms on Abilify.  It had created an emotional flattening, and I started to dissociate from myself and my world.  It had robbed me of my ability to write and care for my family appropriately.  I wasn’t feeling, so I wasn’t caring.

The anxiety?  Well, I recently started to run out of a supply of Wellbutrin I can’t really afford right now.  I started to cut back to make ends meet, and I discovered that was starting to subside.  Other than rebound depressive symptoms, I was feeling better.  It didn’t matter to me anyway.  I was still going through crying jags, whether I was taking the Wellbutrin or not.  The difference was between whether they were loaded with distressful urgency to cut or not.  I decided that I would prefer to keep my near streak of four months without cutting.

I don’t blame my doctor.  He’s an old school doctor who works off of the biological model and treats symptoms.  I have declined therapy several times, though my requests to be seen since have not been honored.  All of my symptoms point to mild psychosis in general, aggravated by extreme life stressors.

I blame myself for not listening to myself and taking action sooner.  Treatment happens on both ends, and I have not been holding up my end of the bargain.  I have not been mood charting, and I have not been notating subtle symptoms.  It has become abundantly clear to me since my extreme meltdown and psychotic break during the summer that I had been probably Bipolar 1.5 all along.

Though I don’t experience full on mania, I do experience mild psychosis, practically all of the time.  I have not been pressing the issue about invasive thoughts, paranoia, “The Voice”, or any of the mild hallucinations that I experience.  Only when I had my break did I bring it to my doctor’s full attention.  And I was met with extreme medication.

Personally, I’m at a loss as to what to do.  I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t.  I noticed last night that “The Voice” has returned, even if it’s benign (right now).  I don’t want to be overmedicated, and I can’t risk gaining anymore weight.  The weight is worse for my mental health than anything else.

And it completely screws up my bodily function.  Now, I’m experiencing weight related problems again.  My knees and back hurt.  I have acid reflux near to the point of anorexia again.  Sexual dysfunction is destroying my sex life, my self-esteem, and hurting my marriage.  And I’m back to full on social anxiety, because I’m too self-conscious to function.

But, at the same time, I’m aware that I need some kind of medication.  While, for now, I’m better off without it, the day will come where I am asked to step up, and perform at a higher function.  My family, including Finn, has been very great about my general lower function and picking up a lot of the slack for me.  However, this won’t last forever.

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Vitamin L : Medication Adventures

Lamictal.  The one drug that I can say that we’ve all been on at one point or another in our adventures with medication.

Pardon me, my aphasia is showing with a little dash of emotional flattening.

I’m having difficultly remembering how to spell things.  You wouldn’t know it, because there is a such thing as spell check just for this purpose (but not solely).  My emotions are at such a level that I don’t actually feel.  It’s closer to a favorite pair of jeans where the dye has just completely washed out.  The jeans still look good, but they are faded and muted.  That’s me.  Faded and muted.

I can’t write intelligently like I did before.  Everything just comes pouring out like word vomit, because I can’t hang on to a thought for longer than a moment.  It’s a miracle that I can put anything coherent together.

The landscape of my technicolor world washed away into an old movie reel.  It’s so surreal.  Once, I was the flowing turquoise waters of the seas, ever changing, always in motion.  Now, I am the cracked earth, immobile and silent.  And ever so slowly, I am drying up and eroding, existing without life rooted in me.  Only the empty air whistles in my mind, catching a faint tune here and there, only to carry it away.

Moments come in flashes.  I am engrossed and deeply engaged for just a few seconds before I am distracted by something nonsensical.

Stop.  Sip of coffee.  What was I doing again?  I reread my last passage, and I am stumped, because it seems futile to even continue.  What is the point I am trying to convey with such vague and poorly worded imagery?

That was my world for the last month, prior to the last couple of weeks.  That is my life today, a translucent figure shrouded by shadows, discontent with such a shackled self.

That was not my life over the past couple of days.  That is how I narrowed down what medicine was doing this to me.  I was starting to run out of Lamictal, my Vitamin L as it’s commonly called in the mental health community (not to be confused with the Vitamin L of Lithium).  I lowered my dose from 300 mg to 200 mg in order to make it through successfully.

Except, there was no success to be had.  I went straight back into the same mixed episode I’ve been a slave to for more than nine months.  It was almost as bad as before, sans the psychosis.  I referred to it as Energetically Sad.  The story of my life.  I went into several crying fits a day, panicked and shouting the same phrase again and again,

“I can’t do this!!!  I can’t do this!!!”

Not again.  Not again.  Not again.

I can’t do this again.

Ultimately, I grabbed my precious medicine and dosed. The distress was immeasurable. I needed relief from that hell, the one I had endured for far too long.

But, I realized I’m not experiencing relief. I’m experiencing escape. My mind goes into a state of partial shutdown, leaving me no real clarity in any aspect. My consciousness is jagged, disjointed, and blurry, at best.

I experience slow motion waves of hollow, but shallow depression. Futility is found at every turn. The shadows seem deeper and more defined, like menacing sillouttes in the distance. I can’t shake them, but they can’t seem to touch me. They nip at my heels, and send ripples of darkness through me, infecting every molecule. And in a few moments, it passes, the poison having been purged.

At first, I thought it was just me. It felt like a new state altogether, like anxiety masked by a tight cloth, rustling, deperately seeking an outlet. It had the face of depression, leaving me dispondent and uninspired. But no true symptoms existed. Not in the desperate, deep dark places I’ve been. I stood in a parellel existence unlike anything I’ve ever known.

And then I thought, “Is this what it’s like to be better?” Dullness and mild discontent.

It’s not.

It’s the medication.

So, that leaves me with two very undesirable states. Perpetual distress or muted depression and anxiety. One zaps my everything, making me too medicated to function. The other disrupts my life with meltdowns, only making me partially functional.

One little pill is what makes the world of difference. My vitamin L.

Buyer Beware: Medicating Children with Psychiatric and Behavioral Disorder

 I wrote this in college in a course.

BUYER BEWARE: MEDICATING

Buyer Beware:

Medicating Children with

Psychiatric and Behavioral Disorder

Tiffany M.

CM220-17

        If you discovered that your child had a disorder, you’d do anything to fix it, right?  Some parents are going to great lengths to “fix” their children, including extensive pharmacological therapy.  In fact, the incidence of children using prescription medication has more than tripled in the last twenty years.    However, it does not statistically make sense that an epidemic of psychiatric illnesses and behavioral disorders would present so suddenly.   This is cause for great concern when it comes to unnecessarily medicating our children.  Therefore, many children with behavioral and emotional disorder do not require pharmacological treatment, because of the questionable existence of disorder, risky and sometimes unknown side effects of medication, and serious ethical concerns surrounding the topic.

Disorder is a term used frequently in the field of Psychology and in Psychiatric practice.  Merriam-Websters defines disorder as “to disturb the normal functions of” (Merriam-Webster Online.  2010.)  A childhood psychiatric disorder or behavioral disorder would, in this vague terminology, cause dysfunction in certain aspects of their life, if not globally.  However, being met with challenges and discomfort is a recognized part of the natural process of maturing into an adult.  The way in which each individual handles these challenges and expresses themselves uniquely is part of their innate personality.  When we begin naming personality traits as being dysfunctional or part of a disorder, then we begin classifying unique behaviors as distinctly acceptable and unacceptable.  For example, there is a new birth control medication on the market named Yaz, that has been named the only oral contraceptive that will reduce mood swings during a menstrual cycle.  Many teen girls have been prescribed Yaz for a naturally occurring ailment!  Yet, many will not hesitate to classify “mood swings”, however small or brief, as symptomatic of a disorder, when it is really just a part of the regulation of hormones in the newly developing sexual system; thus, it is a part of a maturing woman’s life.  Then it will become a question of whether an active, extraverted child has symptoms of ADHD, a shy, sensitive child has Major Depressive Disorder, or a socially awkward child has Pervasive Development Disorder.  Even the DSM-IV states that “neither deviant behavior nor conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society are mental disorders” (DSM-IV. 1997.)  It is a subjective point of view of what is “normal” and “abnormal” childhood behavior that makes the diagnosis.  The point is, children are still in the process of developing and their expressive symptoms are not necessarily resulting from a suspected disorder and may better be explained by environmental or physical stressors.  It may be better to take into consideration that this may just be the child’s response to their environment, provoked by their unique personality instead of haphazardly slapping on a label and pumping the child full of medication to make them comply with society’s idea of normality.

It is these reasons and more that there is a suspected epidemic of over-diagnosis and therefore over-medicating children in our country.  Labels such as ADHD, behavioral disorder, and emotional disorder are leading parents searching for answers and doctors and pharmaceutical companies to provide them in the form a pill to answer their prayers.  “American children are taking four times as much psychiatric medications as any other country in the world” (Frontline, 1999) although the rest of the western world has the same medical technology and advancements.  One of the reasons may lie with the legislation of free education and related services for those with disabilities, known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act being passed into law in 1990.  Many parents and educators saw the advantages of additional assistance, services, and educational grants.  The average number of children taking medication in two to three in each classroom (Frontline, 1999).  “About ten percent of ten-year-old American boys are taking such medicine” (Washington Post, 2006).

There are a great deal of often overlooked or negotiated risks for taking prescription medications, including cardiac arrest and suicide.  In October 2004, the Food and Drug Administration released a list of psychiatric medications suspected to increase the risk of suicide in children and young adults (National Institute of Mental Health. 2010).  The National Institute of Mental Health sought to investigate this claim further.  They discovered in a 2006 study that there were no completed suicides by a vast increase of suicidal thoughts and behaviors (National Institute of Mental Health, 2010).  However, many of these medications are fairly new, such as Abilify and Yaz, and have not had been thoroughly tested.  Yaz, an oral contraceptive used to treat mood swings associated with menstrual cycles, is now showing a higher incidence of women developing life threatening blood clots.  Even medications that are much older are starting to show new effects when prescribed to a larger population.  The Washington Post reported in 2006 that ADHD medications, including Ritilin, first created in 1955, were about to carry their own “black box” warning concerning the risk of sudden cardiac arrest.  Many medications of all varieties, including Yaz and Lamictal, have warnings about Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.  Stevens-Johnson syndrome is a life threatening skin rash resulting in an allergic reaction to a medication, therefore it is possible that it can happen with all medications, including over-the-counter pain relievers.  Plainly said, there is no safe medication.

Long term side effects and consequences of many medications are still very much unknown.  However, researchers are starting to have an inkling and the prognosis is bleak.  Anti-depressants are found to cause neurogenesis, or new brain cell growth, but the implications for children are unclear (Homes, 2005.)  Evidence from research concludes “that the use of neuroleptic and psychotropic medication makes long-term, if not permenant changes in the brain structure” (Sparks and Duncan, 2004.)  Unfortunately, there is no research available for lifelong usage effects since prescribing these psychiatric medications to children is a fairly new trend.  In fact, it is advised that long-term treatment of adults on the same medication must be reviewed, such is the case in Lamictal.  Lamictal is the only FDA approved medication for treating Bipolar Disorder, besides Lithium.  Research on the Lamictal website is provided but only for as long as 18 months.

Medications also have side effects that are not life threatening but carry huge consequences.  Many anti-depressants and benzodiazapines, prescribed for anxiety, cause weight gain and drowsiness.  This may adversely affect their already damaged self-esteem and their overall functioning, both in the academic and social area.  Oppositely, medications for ADHD may cause patients to lose weight and while that may be desirable for females, it may not be for males, who are the typical patients.  Many mood stabilizers cause hair loss, irregular and painful menstrual cycles, and acne.  Sometimes, in the cases of sleep and appetite changes, doctors will prescribe another medication to combat the side effects.  (Breggin, 2010).  Although psychiatric medications have been proven to be effective in a number of cases to treat a disorder, they may have unwanted side effects when it comes to an aspect of their personality.  Many patients with Bipolar disorder report feeling “emotional deadening” when using mood stabilizers.  Others who are prescribed these medications, particularly those who are the more creative type, feel less like themselves and the medication “completely took your inspiration away” (Smith, 2010).  This leads us back into the original argument that some dysfunctional traits associated with disorder may be an integral part of one’s fully functioning personality.

Then, there is the concern of misdiagnosis.  Often, mood disorders can be misdiagnosed (DSM-IV, 1997.)  Major Depressive Disorder may be a result of an environmental cause, such as a bad home or school experience.  Bipolar Disorder is often misdiagnosed as Major Depressive Disorder, Schizophrenia or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder when either the depressive or manic episode is more prevalent.  Most of the symptoms that occur in childhood Bipolar Disorder are atypical (Weller, 2002.)  A single misdiagnosis can cause years of agony for the child and delay the psychological help that is desperately needed.  Not only are these children still plagued by a disorder, but they are treated with potentially toxic medications that do nothing to ease their symptoms, often reaching a disturbingly high dosage.  The illusion that is created when a host of medications do not work is that these children are damaged beyond repair.  Many teens may seek to start self-medicating by using illicit drugs and alcohol.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse examples comorbid mental illness by stating that “people addicted to drugs are roughly twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders” than the general population (NIDA, 2009.)  All of these issues combined can generate the potential for more serious problems like delinquency, promiscuity, delayed development in the cognitive and social areas, poor academic performance, and dropping out of school altogether.  Worse, misdiagnosis can lead to death.  One family had both of their daughter’s lives taken, one by overmedication and the other by misdiagnosis.  Two daughters in the Hall family were both diagnosed with ADHD.  One, Stephanie, died the very same day her medication was increased.  The other, Jenny, began to have seizures and was later found to have brain tumors that mimicked ADHD.  It is wise to have a second opinion and have all of the other factors checked into before settling into a diagnosis.  According to Janet Hall, “Don’t trust your doctor. Question him over and over. If you are not happy with what he says, if you have an intuitive feeling that something doesn’t seem right, it’s not. Get second and third opinions. It may not seem reasonable to have to go to that extent, but if it’s at the price of your child, it is” (Null, 2001.)

These concerns raise a great deal of ethical issues revolving around the issue of medicating children.  Children certainly have rights, but those rights are being violated when they are forced to take medication.  One mother, Robin, went as far as getting a court order to force her son back on medication (Frontline, 1999).  Children in psychiatric wards are being dosed through “chemical restraint”. (The Columbus Dispatch, 2005.)  Children should have a voice.  Some would say that highly medicating a child borders on abuse.  Forcing children to take medicine when they refuse violates their rights.  After all, it is their bodies and their minds.  The long term consequences are their own to bear.   It should be their decision ultimately, because we cannot “discount the accuracy of the youngest voices to tell us what is working and what might help” (Sparks and Duncan, 2004.)  Honestly, professionals and parents alike only rely on circumstantial evidence, colored by personal emotion and investment.  If a parent puts faith in a medication to solve the problem, then the slightest progress can be magnified.  However, the only person who really knows is the child.

Contrary to popular belief, many children who remain unmedicated or are only medicated for a short period of time have a great prognosis.  In one of the longest research studies done on the performance of Ritilin versus Behavioral Therapy for ADHD, Ritilin patients only slightly outperformed the BT group.  After a six month follow-up, the BT group was maintained throughout the 14 month study.  More impressive, the BT group was the only intact group after the 24 month follow up!  Most parents see the best results through at the very least combined therapy, and the medication is often short-term when it is felt necessary.  That is why “nonmedical intervention particularly important because effects of stimulant medication, though beneficial in the short term, do not last beyond medication termination” (Sparks and Duncan, 2004.)  The same goes for any medication.  Once the medication is terminated, the noticeable changes and advancements seem to disintegrate.  In many cases, Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Thearpy are a better route to go.  Although they may not produce the instantly gratifying results that American’s are so accustomed to, the long term benefit outweighs everything.  As we’ve previously discussed, no medication is safe and therefore cannot be expected to be maintained for life.  Therefore, if we build the skills within the child to manage their condition, then they can live medication free and have full, happy lives.

In the end, it’s all about the happiness and health of the children.  Many parents are desperate for the quick fix to the problem, due largely in part of parental anxiety.  The other part is most likely the strain that disorder brings into the family and their lives.  Yes, medication will provide the relief that parents and children may be looking for, but will it in the long run?  Many times, we’re used to focusing in on the smaller picture, the point of the problem, rather than standing back to examine the bigger picture.  Parents and doctors do not stop to think seriously about the dire consequences that medicating their children and patients may have.  Children have needlessly died, been brutally tortured without having a hand laid on them, and suffered at the hands of medical science.  Parents beware; fight for your children’s lives, protect your children’s rights, question everything and get as many opinions as you need before taking the leap into medicating your precious babies.

References

Antidepressant Medications for Children and Adolescents: Information for Parents and Caregivers. (2010, March 16). NIMH. Retrieved March 16, 2010, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/child-and-adolescent-mental-health/antidepressant-medications-for-children-and-adolescents-information-for-parents-and-caregivers.shtml#Bridge-JAMA

Antidepressant Use in Children, Adolescents, and Adults. (2010, March 2). U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/InformationbyDrugClass/UCM096273

Antidepressant Use in Children, Adolescents, and Adults. (2010, March 2). U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/InformationbyDrugClass/UCM096273

Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Disorders – InfoFacts – NIDA. (n.d.). National Institute on Drug Abuse – The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.drugabuse.gov/infofacts/comorbidity.html

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV). (2004, May 15). Psychology Classroom at AllPsych Online. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://allpsych.com/disorders/dsm.html

Gaviria, M. (Director). (2001). FRONTLINE: Medicating Kids [Documentary]. USA: Pbs (Direct).

Holmes, L. (2004, June 16). Should Children Take Antidepressants?. Mental Health – Information on Mental Health. Retrieved March 16, 2010, from http://mentalhealth.about.com/cs/psychopharmacology/a/kidzoloft.htm

Lanham, T. (2010, January 14). Mindy Smith on the rebound. San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.sfexaminer.com/entertainment/Mindy-Smith-on-the-rebound-81337537.html

McEvoy, V. (2008, August 11). Go slow on medicating children. Boston.com. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.boston.com/news/health/articles/2008/08/11/go_slow_on_medicating_children/

Mercola. (2000, August 13). US Courts Forcing Parents to Medicate Children. Natural Health Articles – Latest and Current Health News and Information by Dr. Mercola. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2000/08/13/courts-adhd.aspx

NIMH · Mental Health Medications . (2010, February 24). NIMH · Home. Retrieved March 16, 2010, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/mental-health-medications/complete-index.shtml

Null  , G. (n.d.). The Drugging of Our Children. American Family Rights Association :: The Voice of America’s Families©. Retrieved March 17, 2010, from http://www.familyrightsassociation.com/bin/white_papers-articles/drugging_our_children/#1

Pyle, E. (2005, April 25). Forced medication straitjackets kids. The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved March 17, 2010, from http://www.dispatch.com/live/contentbe/dispatch/2005/04/24/20050424-A1-00.html

Sparks, J., & Duncan, B. (2004). The Ethics and Science of Medicating Children. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 6(1). Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://psychrights.org/research/digest/ADHD/MedicatingKids.pdf

Stevens-Johnson syndrome: Causes – MayoClinic.com. (2009, April 10). Mayo Clinic medical information and tools for healthy living – MayoClinic.com. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stevens-johnson-syndrome/DS00940/DSECTION=causes

Vedantam, S. (2006, February 10). Warning Urged for ADHD Drugs. washingtonpost.com. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/09/AR2006020902325.html

Your Legal Right To Refuse Medication. (n.d.). Advocacy, Inc. – Home Page. Retrieved March 17, 2010, from http://www.advocacyinc.org/IR8.cfm

Zimmer, G. (n.d.). DSM-IV, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Mental Illness, Disease, Health. Say No To Psychiatry – The Danger and Harm of the Sham Pseudoscience Known As Psychiatry. Retrieved March 17, 2010, from http://www.sntp.net/references/dsm_definition.htm


Liquid Courage and Tablet Saviors : 30 Days of Truth

Day 20 : Your views on drugs and alcohol.

“Drugs are bad, m’kay?”

Or are they?

There is this long, Nancy Reagan-induced diatribe about the dangers and evil of illegal drugsSay no to drugs.  This is your brain on drugs.  The war on drugs.  Above the influence.  Don’t drink and drive.  Prom promise.  Those of us that are Reagan babies and older, through the boomers, are well aware of the presence and negative consequences of drugs and alcohol.   And despite the heavy dialogue, many people have personally experienced their own battle with substance abuse and dependence.

Alcohol had torn my life apart at the seams.  As with any addiction, it starts off as a recreational activity.  It’s a part of popular culture, especially in the younger age groups.  In my youth, drinking was cool.  Truthfully, it was a fun escape from the drudgery of daily life.  That was at seventeen.  Within a year, I started to find solace at the bottom of a bottle.  Coincidentally, that was the same year Smile Empty Soul sang:

I do it for the drugs.

I do it just to feel alive.

I do it for the love that I get from the bottom of a bottle.

Bottom of a Bottle – Smile Empty Soul

By the time I was in college, I was seeking out opportunities and excuses to drink.  A set of rules existed which meant to separate alcoholics, the loathsome bunch that we perceived people like our own parents to be, and recreational drinkers.

  1. Never drink before 5PM.
  2. Never drink alone.
  3. Never drink without occasion.
  4. Don’t drink before or during work or school.

As I gained my own freedom with my own apartment, the rules started to change.  In private, I could do what I liked.  I could deny everything and anything when I failed to be under the limelight of public scrutiny.  I began to use alcohol as more than a crutch; I started to abuse it completely as a coping mechanism.  That’s when alcohol and I started our sordid love affair.

The environment in my private life began to change.  I have spoken about it many times in various posts like Decent into Hell where I described my addiction as:

The last days of that relationship are blurry; my memories are obscured by the drugs and alcohol intoxicating my mind.  The days blended together in a ritualistic, self-medicated loop, work.drink.sleep.work.drink.sleep.sleep.drink.sleep… suspended in agonizing slow motion.  The silence was deafening in the deep, dark hours of night, still, cold, indifferent.

I had become a functional alcoholic.  I never drank before 5PM.  There was always an occasion, even if it was a day ending in “Y”.  And I certainly was not without company to share in my intoxicated merriment.  But there is a solid difference.  Every waking moment I did not spend at work was with a glass or a bottle in my fist.  I had gone far beyond the point of mixers, and mostly beyond the need for glasses.  It was me, a bottle of Bacardi 151 sans the filter, and a bottle of Gatorade to chase.

I wrote in Love the Way You Lie:

At that point, the seeds of alcoholism were taking root.  I violated my own rules of drinking.  It’s 5 o’clock somewhere!  I’m not drinking alone if I’m drinking with my boyfriend.  Hair of the dog, best way to cure a hangover.  If I’m still managing to get to school and hold an honor’s average, I’m not drinking too much.

Liquid courage and comfortingly numb.

It has always been my vice, and holds the looming, unending threat to assume control and ruin my life. In another 30 Days of Truth piece entitled, Control, or Lack Thereof, I went into a full exploration of recent recreational alcohol use and the negative impact it created in my life.

Flip that coin.

Drugs have revolutionized my life.

People neglect to realize that they are consuming legal drugs daily.  It becomes painfully obvious when you sigh over exorbitant copays at the pharmacy counter, like many people with mental health disorders often do.  But, instead of calling them “drugs”, we call them “medications”.  Did you know that Wellbutrin technically has the same chemical composition of a methamphetamine?  And that benzodiazepines work on the same receptors in the brain as alcohol?

So here I am, with my uppers to wake me in the morning, and my downers to put me to bed at night.  It would be illegal and detestable if I were using meth and boozing away.  Instead, it’s under the supervision of a doctor, as a controlled substance, in a convenient little pill.  Don’t get the wrong idea.  I am only likening the effects.  The supervision of the doctor is safer, and the medications are regulated by the FDA.  And as a result, I have most of my functioning back.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

With or Without You : 30 Days of Truth

Day 15 : Something or someone you couldn’t live without, because you’ve tried living without it.

Most people would prefer to choose a certain special someone or an object to contain all of their affections.  Though my relationship with this is troubled, I have found it to be impossible to live without it.  Even if it’s so hard to live with it.

Medication.

I have made the attempt several times in my life to live without psychiatric medication.  My first was a psychiatric evaluation when I was thirteen, and I refused treatment.  What thirteen year old has the intense desire for repeated therapy visits and pesky medicine?  As a direct result, my symptoms progressed, and I wound up my own cutting board.  When it became concerning, no one was willing to take me back for actual treatment.  Instead, I unnecessarily suffered until I humiliatingly revealed myself and my wounds to an outsider.

The next time was in my late teens.  After being medicated for nearly five years with no result, I was ready to give up on $60 co-pays for a medication that just gave me heroin-like withdrawal symptoms when I forgot to take it.  (That was also the first time I became strongly inclined to start carrying medication on me in clever, cute containers).  I spent a gratuitous amount of time on weekends in a different county, an hour away from my home.  The bus services were shoddy at best, and if I forgot to take my medicine on Friday, then by Sunday morning, I was violently shaking and vomiting in front of my relatively new boyfriend.

This new boyfriend, Avi, convinced me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me.  The medication was doing more damage to me than good.  It was a waste of time and money.  Psychiatry was a joke and a con for cash.  It would be in my best interest to get off of the medication.

The funniest thing about that was the fact that I became irreconcilably depressed when I weaned myself from the Lexapro, an SSRI.  I required way more than my typical six hours of sleep.  I could no longer party until dawn.  And mostly, my only desire was to scream and cry my eyes out.  After you’ve been hypomanic for so many years, having a crash like that was epic.  Coincidentally, it coincided with the very first cliff fall in our torturous relationship.

And resulting in that choice, I developed functional alcoholism prior to the legal drinking age in the United States.  It took several abusers, victimization, abject poverty, and becoming an abuser to take me down into the depths of a bottle.

I found that I had even given up on self-medication.  When Xan and I got together, it became obvious that he suspected I suffered from addiction.  Though our relationship was certainly not new, our courtship was brand new.  In order to not put him off, and make a show of my own self-control, I slowly ditched the bottle.  I was so addicted that I found I had to be intoxicated to make love to him.  At least a little.

A few years later, I started treatment.  I had managed to remain sober, however, I had completely lost control of myself.  Several months into treatment, I ran into every medicated person’s greatest fear.  My medical coverage was eliminated.  Every pharmacy reported the same thing; Lamictal costs a fortune, and if I can’t afford COBRA, then I sure as hell cannot pay for it from pocket.  I found myself soliciting every pharmacy within a 10 mile radius for assistance.  Finally, one came through for me.  But, not before I suffered cruel withdrawal symptoms.

A similar withdrawal happened over a holiday.  I was unable to see my Pdoc before Christmas, and he had taken vacation through the New Year.  The office had a policy not to call in medications, so I had to make an appointment to go in.  Catch 22.  For four days, I laid there writhing in bed.  Xan took charge, and I had a refill that same day.

The very last time was one of my own poor choices.  That is exactly what mania does – it gets your hooks into you and tells you dirty little lies.  I had decided to attempt to wean myself from medication slowly so that I could prepare to attempt pregnancy.  I did so alone.  Instead of consulting a doctor, I went ahead.  And instead of getting off of medications, I had psychotic breaks the likes of which I have never been remotely acquainted with.  The result was more medication and a lesser likelihood of having a second child.

I have been without by force, by accident, by coercion, and of my own volition.  Like it or not, I cannot live without medication.

Up For Some Blog Tag?

I don’t know about some of you guys, but I’ve been coming up short in the writing arena lately.  Not because I don’t have anything to complain about (I don’t), but the Abilify is making my head unusually empty.  So, I’d like to toss around a game of tag!  Enjoy!

Da Rules:

Write ten facts about yourself, all true, and then pass it on to ten people.

Da Facts:

  1. I don’t like red meat.  I really don’t.  I am not a big fan of meat in general.  Except cheeseburgers.  I love cheeseburgers.  They are my downfall every time I attempt vegetarianism.
  2. I sleep in my contacts.  I’m so vain.  No, just kidding.  I just really love waking up and not fishing for a pair of glasses.  There’s something beautiful about waking up and being able to see the world without some plastic foreign object on your face.
  3. I live in Pittsburgh.  For those of you that might not know, I live in the City of Champions.  Most livable city in the US.  Six Superbowl Rings.  Four Stanley Cups (that I know of).  Jaywalking is a birthright.  The most disgusting rivers you will ever see, all three of them.  So bad that Bruce Willis said he will never, ever go in them again.  Most cloudy days of any major US city.  And more sets of stairs than San Francisco, believe that or not.  This city is the best.
  4. I was not born in Pittsburgh.  Unlike the rest of the natives, I was not born at Magee Women’s Hospital.  I wasn’t even born in this city.  I was actually born in a little town outside of Atlanta, GA.  I was raised there for several years and then hauled to Pittsburgh.
  5. I occasionally have a southern accent.  If I am drunk enough, surrounded by southerners, or actually in the south, I will slip into a southern accent.  The more time I spend in the south, the harder it is for me to get rid of.  I went down for a week for my honeymoon, and couldn’t get rid of it for three weeks, much to my husband’s disgust.  He’s one to talk; he has a mix of a Pittsburgh accent and a Brooklyn accent.
  6. I speak three languages.  Good English.  Bad English.  And Pittsburghese.  Look it up, it’s a real thing.
  7. I play more than one instruments.  I play most instruments in the woodwind family, and some in the percussion family.  I do not play any strings or brass.  It’s just not in me.
  8. My hair is naturally blonde.  Just not as blonde as I dye it!
  9. My son has Autism Spectrum Disorder.  I know I don’t talk about it often, but my son was diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified in May 2011.  My brother has classical autism, so it was a hard diagnosis to take in.  I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Not again, God, I can’t handle this my whole life.”  The good news is that he’s coming along just fine, though he’s still delayed.
  10. I am on five psychiatric medications.  Lamictal, Abilify, Xanax, Wellbutrin, and Temazepam.  I hear that’s actually pretty tame in comparison.

Now, here’s the tagging.  If you come upon this, then TAG, YOU’RE IT!  I mean, if you really want.  I’m just not going out of my way to tag others today.

I Am Not God : 30 Days of Truth

Day 05: Something you hope you never have to do.

Decisiveness is not my strong point. I realize that certain choices can have long lasting effects. One choice can start a major chain reaction, cascading through many aspects of life, for better or worse. I have difficulty evaluating which decision will yield the best results, or do the least amount of damage. In fact, I’m sometimes so indecisive that mundane, daily selections become a challenge. What to eat? What to wear?

I hope that I will never have to be faced with a life or death decision.

I am not God. Nor can I ever pretend to be any spiritual deity that would be remotely qualified to render that judgment. I do not even have the capacity to make that choice for myself.

As a woman on a slew of medication and also of child-bearing age, this is a hot topic that remains fixed in the peripherals. I’m sure it’s something many women using pharmaceutical treatment for mental health think about. These are black box medications. What would I do if I got knocked up?

I’d love to have a definitive answer. In all fairness, this is a lot more complicated than your average abortion debate.

Yes, I’d keep the baby.
Taking a life is wrong. It’s not up to me to decide. If I took every precaution, and I still managed to conceive, then it was really meant to happen. I couldn’t imagine the heartbreak of losing a child, and the resentment toward myself for doing it purposefully. It would be an impossible decision to live with. Every life deserves a chance. Every child is a blessing.

No, I would abort the baby.
Sometimes, a woman has to do what is best for herself, the child in question, and her family. It would not be right to bring a child into this world that may likely have extraordinary special needs. It would be wrong for the potential child, cursing them to a life of physical and / or mental disability. It would be criminal to drain precious few resources from the rest of the family, such as time, money, and energy. And it may be extremely dangerous, if not fatal to both fetus and mother if I were to quit medication cold turkey.

This could turn to a very heated dialog. I have to cut it off at some point. We’ll cross that bridge if we get there.

That’s the only definitive life-and-death decision I can produce. There are thousands of scenarios.

I’m holding my husband by one arm and my son by the other from a ledge where they both slipped. I only have enough strength with both of my arms to save one. Who do I choose?

Life and death. It’s too big of a moral dilemma for me to ever want to handle. There are some moments where I could make a hard and fast decision. Giving my life to protect my loved ones? Yes. Taking a life to protect my loved ones? Only if absolutely necessary. Taking a life for vengeance? No.

Otherwise, leave me out of it.