Psychiatric Medications 101: An Introduction

One of the most prevailing (and damning) myths about mental illness has to do with psychiatric medications and the notion that taking them will somehow either turn you into a robot or make you even more crazy than you already are. Unfortunately, like most myths, there is some truth hidden behind the hyperbole, and that’s the point of this series of posts: to present that truth and to give you the tools to make up your own mind about it.

I feel I should confess right up front that I am a supporter of psychiatric medications. When I started taking Geodon after my bipolar diagnosis during my first year of college, I experienced such a turnaround in terms of outlook and behavior that everyone who had accused me of “making it up” my whole life now had no choice but to believe there had really been something wrong with me before the medication. Also, there is no way in hell I would have made it through grad school without Adderall. I honestly feel that if someone had given me Adderall in the seventh grade, I might actually be good at math and know where Pakistan is on a map. (Or, you know… any of the countries that aren’t the one in which I live…. Seriously, where is Serbia?)

That being said, I have tried around 15 or 20 different medications since that diagnosis, and some of them were about as much fun as sitting through The Human Centipede. I have been on medications that made me inappropriately weepy, that made me irrationally angry about 95% of the time, that made everything taste really funny (and not in a good way), and, yes, that turned me into an android (albeit a fully functional one). Being deprived of basically all emotion was wonderful at first; before, I had experienced near-constant emotional anguish, and having that sensation finally cut off felt kind of like sticking my arm under a cold faucet after burning it on the stove. After the initial wave of relief passed, though, I became aware that the medication had not just eradicated my “lows” – it had also caused me to flatline, preventing my brain from registering the “ups” that normal people experience after hearing their favorite song on the radio or going outside on a beautiful day. So you know what I did? I lived the rest of my life that way, and to this day I have yet to experience a single moment of happiness.

Just kidding. I told my doctor, who put me on a new medication, and about six weeks later I was once again able to give a flying flip whenever the local radio station played “Paralyzer” by Finger Eleven (what? it was 2008). All told, I “lost” about four months of my life to that medication, which seems like a lot unless you measure it in new episodes of The Walking Dead.

The worst experiences I’ve had with medication didn’t happen when I was on them, but rather when I was coming off of them. Some psychiatric drugs have terrible withdrawal symptoms, which is why you should never abruptly stop taking them. One day about seven years ago I decided I wanted to stop taking Effexor because of some stupid reason I’m sure made sense at the time, so when my prescription ran out I just never got it refilled. What followed that decision were the worst 48 hours of my life. I spent literally the whole time either writhing on the floor or crawling to the bathroom. I’m going to say it once more, because I really don’t want you to go through the same thing: Do not abruptly stop taking any psychiatric medication. Let your doctor give you directions for weaning yourself off of it.

There’s one last thing I want to do in this introductory post, and that is to tell you to avoid these idiots (http://www.cchrint.org/). The Citizens [sic] Commission on Human Rights, or CCHR, (http://www.cchr.org/) touts itself as a “mental health watchdog” organization and sure does a good job masquerading as a legitimate activist group, but in reality they’re funded and manned by the Church of Scientology, which is a crazy-ass cult whose religious beliefs include the belief that people have the souls of ancient space aliens who reincarnate themselves over and over. No, I’m being 100% serious. And their #1 goal is to discredit both people who treat mental illness and people who live with it. That’s right, folks, the same group of people who believe aliens traveled to Earth under the leadership of the great Xenu and created human beings by dropping atom bombs into active volcanoes wants to convince everyone there’s no such thing as being crazy. Any time you’re browsing the Internet for information on mental illness you’re bound to run into some of these people’s ignorant diatribes about how mental illness isn’t real and psychiatrists are trying to take over the world by over-prescribing medications. I don’t like to belittle anyone’s beliefs, because we all march to the beat of a different drummer, but here’s the thing: If real life was an 80’s movie, the CCHR would be the overly competitive douchebag who deliberately kicks the hero’s bad knee at the karate tournament.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me tell you what my next few posts will be about:

How psychiatric medications work

Different kinds of psychiatric medications

Hanging in there until the medication kicks in

Coping with side effects and withdrawal symptoms

Counterarguments to the CCHR (just to put your mind at ease)

Keep checking back – I’ll have more information for you as soon as possible. Oh, and have a good day!

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