Medication is often a crucial part of stabilizing a mentally ill person’s world. But somehow, around three-quarters of people prescribed psych medications will give up on them. Studies show that the causes are diverse, ranging from not realising how important the medications are, to not having access to them. What studies don’t often show is the lived experience of psych medication.
I’m a young white woman, with good access to the medications I need and a good support network. I’m the ideal candidate for medication compliance. But it’s complicated.
The psychological factors that affect me are twofold. First, there is the outside pressure to not be on long-term meds. “Are you sure you need those?” “Have you tried natural remedies?” “What about meditation/relaxation/going for a walk?” “You know those drugs are dangerous, right?” are all phrases I hear a lot, from the most well-meaning people. It gets very hard to stand up and say “I have explored many options, and this is what is best for me” – and even harder when I’m not sure it’s really is. The second factor that I struggle with is my horror of being an addict. I’ve watched people spiral down into the depths of addiction, and it’s not pretty. I know that this is different, that it’s no more addiction than a diabetic’s need for insulin is an addiction, but the idea that I’ll be dependent on medication for the rest of my life is more than a little uncomfortable.
Bigger than the psychological reasons I struggle are the physical reasons. In the simplest terms possible, my body does not tolerate medications well. If there’s a nasty side effect that exists, I’m more likely than most to suffer it. That means, in the last six months while I’ve been playing medication roulette, I’ve started sleeping 12-15 hour stretches, and if I’m forced awake I’ll be a zombie for hours. It means that I’m constantly nauseous, and need industrial-strength medications to keep that in check. It means that I’ve been constantly painfully hungry, wanting to eat obscene amounts of food. It means that my vision is blurred, that my hands shake all the time. It means I’m an emotional wreck – I react far too strongly to emotional stimuli, resulting in inappropriate responses to very small things. It means splitting headaches that never let up. It means feeling as though my feet are sinking into the ground, or that I’m floating an inch above it. It means side effect hell.
It’s been hard on me. I feel like my body has gone through the wringer. That up there was only a sampler of what I’ve been going through – the full list gets too depressing to write. I feel battered.
The hardest bit is that the current medication set is helping. I don’t sit on the couch all day reading, unable to do anything else. I can get up, I can get things done, I have some motivation. So when I complain about the side effects, I feel guilty. Guilty that I’m not just appreciative for the good the meds are doing.
The blunt truth is that I can’t cope with what they’re doing to my body. I would rather not function than keep going like this. I would rather passively feel like I want to die, and not have the energy or the motivation to act on it, than actively feel like I can’t live like this any more, and have enough strength and willpower to do something about it.
This is the world of psych meds for this one patient. I need them, or I can’t function. I can’t keep taking them, because it’s putting me through too much hell. I’m trapped in a catch-22.