In this day and age, when you diagnosed with a mental illness, the first step is typically to find the proper medication regimen. Within a couple weeks of my diagnosis, I started a twice-daily routine of Trileptal, a common mood stabilizer. A month later, my doctor added in a daily dose of Zoloft.
It seems so simple. You have an illness. You take medication. However, there are tons of emotions wrapped up in it. As much as I wanted to feel better, I was terrified at how the medicine would change me. Most people have heard about the small percentage of those who take anti-depressants and become suicidal afterwards. I was terrified I would start taking this medication and get worse. More than that, I was scared I was going to lose my identity. Even though I would wake up every day and not know what emotions my brain was going to throw at me, I at least knew that I was going to have some sort of reaction to everything. In my mind, I was The Girl Who Has Crazy Mood Swings. The medication was going to take away everything I knew about myself. I was scared of the unknown. I didn’t know how I was going to react to anything anymore.
When you start taking psychiatric medication, there is no end date. With antibiotics, you take it for a specific amount of time and then the infection is cleared up. Once I committed to this medication, I would likely be taking it for the rest of my life. I have a chemical imbalance in my brain. That’s something that doesn’t just go away. I’ve been on the same dosage of Trileptal from the very beginning. I had to switch from Zoloft to Celexa my freshman year of college and had to increase the dosage once in my senior year of college.
Both of the anti-depressants make me extremely tired. People make fun of me for sleeping so long or napping so often. It got slightly better when I switched to the Celexa. Instead of having to take a nap every single day, I got by with one every couple of days. Of course, based the intense schedule I typically kept with school, I did not actually have the time to nap that often. To compensate for the tiring effect, I had to develop a caffeine addiction. Most days of school, I had to start the day off with a soda if I wanted to stay awake through lunch. My aide periods during my senior year became nap time. When I got home from school, I had to sleep for an hour to an hour and a half. In college, between classes, I had to go back to my dorm and nap. When I lived off campus, I would go to the student union and nap in a quiet place. Once it got to the point where I had to stay awake for an entire day, I had to switch to energy drinks. Eventually, my soda intake increased because one soda wasn’t enough. I started getting withdrawal symptoms when I didn’t have enough caffeine. I’m also pretty sure the twitch I have is an effect of the medication.
My parents would ask me how long I thought I needed to be on my meds. I think it eventually got through to them that it’s not going to be something I eventually stop. If I get irregular in taking my medication, I feel the mood fluctuations and loss of control coming back.
A common misconception is that medication completely takes away all symptoms of mental illnesses. I still have plenty of days where I don’t feel all with it. I still have mood swings and I still get depressed at times. The medication is there to make it easier for me in day-to-day life. I used to be incredibly high strung, to the point that I could not stop looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was there. Now, I don’t constantly look over my shoulder. I have fewer anxiety attacks now. I don’t think every bad thing is the end of the world. If I got a B on an assignment, it used to send me into hysterics. After my medication, I would still be upset, but it wouldn’t cause panic attacks anymore. I still have tons of emotions, but they’re a little more muted now. I’m never going to be cured. I accept that. Medication just makes it a little easier to live.