Monday, October 2, 2017

The Hit And Miss of Pharmceuticals

Unless I am passionate about something, I am generally the “quiet one”, especially in group situations. Writing has always been my release, my way to get the trapped emotions and silenced words out;  my way to turn my traumas and tragedies into something tangible that others can relate to and know they are not alone in their thoughts.  Yet I have been staring at this blank sheet for days now, feeling more and more frustrated as each failed attempt to write passes by.

All writers get writer's block now and then, and there are numerous ways to cope with that.  However, this is not writer's block.  For me, this is a case of “meds brain” or “brain fog”, a term you may be unfamiliar with if you have had the luxury of not having to take medicine to help control your illness, but if you have, many of you may understand the frustration of it all.

The first time I tried an anti-depressant was about 15 years ago, and aside from the numerous side effects, the pills themselves turned me into a walking zombie. So after quite a few months, I decided that they were not for me. I weaned myself off and decided that would be the last time I tried any medications that would change the hormones in my brain.

After all, who wants to take a pill which comes with a two-page, small print insert containing the possible risks and side effects, running the gamut from dry mouth and headache to brain zaps and body twitches? The best irony is that it may increase suicidal thoughts, which was the reason I went on medication in the first place. We don’t give people with cancer a pill that may increase their cancer, but after six to eight weeks it may help it to get better.

About two and a half years ago I found myself in crisis and at the emergency room at my local hospital. After being briefly assessed by a social worker and a psychiatrist, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and major depression and anxiety.  It was deemed that I was not enough of a risk to harm myself, so I was given a prescription and sent on my merry way with a follow-up appointment three weeks later.

So now I have a predicament because I have sworn off anti-depressants and this doctor wants to give me both an anti-depression and a mood stabilizer, neither idea I am particularly fond of.  The option is staying in this deep depression or trying a different approach to get out of it. So I fill the prescription and start taking the pills and within five days the side effects start to sneak up quietly.…the headaches, nausea, the lack of energy and the worst of all, for me anyway, is the feeling of brain fog.

For me, brain fog feels like having half of your brain hijacked. It takes twice the amount of mental energy to be able to focus, concentrate, or make the simplest of decisions. I mean really, how I stand in the cereal aisle for ten minutes, glancing over the 50 types and brands, feeling overwhelmed and frustrated that I can’t make a simple choice, so I leave with muffins instead simply because there were only six types to choose from.

It feels like my brain is surrounded by a constant dark cloud, making it more difficult to see things clearly. It almost feels like minor dissociation, where I am aware and conscious of my words and actions, but part of me feels like I am somewhat detached from them and the emotions surrounding them. As a writer, I feel I cannot connect with my readers if I am coming from a non-emotional mind, and the words fail to flow as freely as they once used to.  That is beyond frustrating.

I have had to change medications 12 times. Some were from the severe side-effects I was experiencing, and others were simply making me progressively worse, sinking me further into the hole I was so desperate to climb out of.  I have tried anti-depressants of all types, mood stabilizers, anxiety medications and numerous combinations of all three, but have yet to find the mix that is right for me.

At present, I am on one of each of the above and was just given another anti-depressant to add to the cocktail, leaving me struggling once again with side effects that may or may not last from a pill that may or may not work in six to eight weeks.  I am willing to try just about anything to further my healing, so if that means being a human guinea pig, so be it.

Due to the lack of research and funding in the area of mental health, pharmaceuticals are given to us on a hit or miss basis. There has been no PET scan or any other type of test done to determine exactly which hormone needs increasing or decreasing, and so, often we are given the latest and greatest on the market or the one recommended by the last pharmaceutical representative that dropped off samples at the doctor’s office. The pen goes straight to the prescription pad, upon which time you are told to fill the prescription, take the pills as directed and come back in six to eight weeks if they aren’t helping, and “we will try something else”.

What is truly misunderstood by the prescribers of these drugs is the true side effects people feel, not the ones written on the back of the box. One wonders if they had to take them themselves, would they be so quick to hand them out with so frivolously with so little knowledge?

I am by no means an expert on medications. I am, however, well read and well informed about the medications I am taking, and I would recommend that everyone be their own advocate for medicine when it comes to their mental health. Despite the position of power and authority a doctor holds, don’t allow yourself to be intimidated, for it is you that is actually in the driver's seat.
Be an advocate.

- Jody (Jody's Blog)

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