I don’t like to think of my medications this way but, honestly, I am tethered to them, chained, cinched. If I don’t take them I get sick, like an addict. It’s the getting sick part that makes me wonder why so many of us stop taking them. I’m a chicken when it comes to getting sick. I wash my hands when I get home from shopping and this one habit, I think, keeps me from picking up germs. I must add here that I don’t wash my hands obsessively but was instructed by my dad, who was a doctor, to not kiss, hug or shake hands during flu season. I do think that’s a bit obsessive. The washing hands advice is good though. See? It’s so very difficult to keep me on track when discussing medications.
The difference between an addict who uses street drugs, even if they originate via a pharmaceutical company, and those of us who use prescribed psychiatric medications, is that the psychiatric drugs make it possible to live in this world while the addict using street drugs is taken away from the world. One is about self-care, the other about self-harm. One is about learning to manage life, the other about mis-managing it. I know this because I’m a recovering alcoholic who used to pop many different types of drugs. Now, everything I do is to keep myself alive and free of the wrong drugs and alcohol. I don’t take kindly to people telling me I shouldn’t use psychiatric drugs. Street drugs allowed me to either slow down or speed up. I regulated my changing moods, but not with the needed medications. It’s a miracle I’m alive. Aside from seasonal depression, I’m a pretty steady person now and the right kind of drugs have made a difference.
Mental illness is not for the faint-hearted! If you’re afraid in the beginning, if you persist with your medication, you will earn bravery by taking care of yourself. It takes courage and organization to manage your medications even, unfortunately, when all you feel like doing is lying on the couch and giving up. I have my own system for my medications. Not a month goes by that I don’t think that keeping track of my supply is a major pain in the ass. I hate re-ordering, hate figuring out when I need to re-order. The worst is when I’ll get near the bottom of a prescription and see that there are no refills left. Inevitably, I’ve put off reading the label for as long as possible, not wanting to read CALL YOUR DOCTOR.
My brain goes blank when I have to deal with my medications. I want to lie on the floor and kick and scream but expressing those feelings that way never works! Unless I want to stop the medication – and I don’t – I have to pull myself together and order refills. I would recommend giving this responsibility, temporarily, to a family member or friend who lives nearby if you are too sick to deal with it.
The side effects of medications can also be challenging. I have battle scars from taking them. – two of my medications had to be stopped because of adverse reactions. One of those medications left an itchy rash on my skin; I scratched them and now have scars to show it. Calamine and seeing a dermatologist would have been a better route. Again, it is learning self-care that is important. I am fortunate now to have found the right mix of meds that helps me with my recovery and stability and is safe for me to use.
Perhaps not drawing that line between psychiatric drugs and drugs taken to get high is a sticking point with some people. Or perhaps they would rather use drugs that get them high. I don’t know. I do know that finally being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and finding the right medications has transformed my life. My doctor and I monitor my psychiatric drugs. I tell him when I’m feeling off and he makes adjustments. When my medications are working well, I don’t feel them in the least. I feel good, have energy and can think without getting too confused. They will remain an important part of my life, creating balance and supporting my wellbeing.
I wish all of you a very happy holiday. I pray that we all pull together to make 2012 an even better year for all of us. Be good to yourselves and reach out to others if and when you need to. Remember, we are not alone!