Talk About Your Medicines With ShoutOut! JMU

So, my fellow feminists, I’m going to take you on a different road with this post, we are going to talk about medicine. When there is dialogue about mental illness, we often discuss the behavior patterns or we get bombarded by stereotypes presented in the media. When I told my father that I had bipolar disorder, he said that that’s something crazy people have and I was just depressed. It has taken him sometime to understand my disorder and how I go through my life differently than others.

I will say that more discussion has surfaced around mental illness and I think that’s great, but we hardly ever talk about medications. I think as a feminist it is important to understand many different communities, and I want to take it one step further, by informing you about medications and the feelings that come when we swallow that pill.

I will give you my perspective by answering these questions:

Why do you take medicine?

What side effects have you experienced?

How do you remember to take your medicines?

Where do you go for medical support?

When I was 19 years old, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At first, I didn’t really know how to handle the news, to say the least I was confused. I just remember being asked a ton of questions, saying yes to everyone and before I knew it, I was, I am bipolar. Now that I am 22, I am finally starting to understand the different intricate parts of my mental illness. One of the intricate parts is the constant battle with medication. My doctor at first prescribed to me, Lithium. The problem with Lithium is that it has a lot of salt, so you have to get your blood taken a lot and I was not about that life. I went off of Lithium and then stopped taking medicine all together. I thought that if I stopped taking medicine, I could pretend I no longer had the disorder, but alas, this pretending can only last so long.

Why I take medicine now, is because I realized I couldn’t deal with my disorder on my own. I now take Geodon, and the only side effect I face is a bit of sleepiness. It is different with everyone though, I am just one of the fortunate ones who suffers a minute side effect. I  have heard many people talk about how certain medications make them feel more suicidal, this is especially true in antidepressants. That’s why it is important to have constant communication with your doctor, so you have the ability to switch your medicine, if that’s the route you want to take.

Sometimes, I forget to take my medicine, it’s life, it happens. I often have to set alarms, or I try to take it during dinner time. That’s another problem with medications; keeping up with taking the pill. I know this may seem like not a big problem, but when you’re already apprehensive about taking the medicine and forget to take it one day, that one day can turn to weeks and then months. I have my friend remind to the take the medicine nightly.

I go to an outpatient facility to receive medical help, in which I meet with a nurse practitioner, monthly to discuss my mental health and to also have refills on my medication. It is nice to have these check ups to keep my self in line with my mental disorder.

With these questions answered, I hope you have gained more perspective on medications as it relates to mental illness. If you have any medical stories you would like to share, please feel free to comment on this post!


2 thoughts on “Talk About Your Medicines With ShoutOut! JMU

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I wanted to add a slightly different perspective as a faculty member (choosing to remain confidential) who’s lived with major depressive disorder since age 22.

    I grew up in a family with a fair bit of undiagnosed MI, including a dad who didn’t talk to us for two months out of the year (seasonal affective disorder), a mom who drank heavily and was generally unpredictable, and aunts on both sides with “nervous exhaustion.” While I was generally deemed an “overly sensitive” child, it wasn’t until my 20s that I actually was treated through therapy and with meds.

    Meds are great when they work. Unfortunately, I went through roughly ten years of them not working, or, more often, working for a few months and crapping out. I was hospitalized twice. I made two separate suicide attempts, one just a few weeks after starting an antidepressant. (As the author notes, this is not an uncommon experience, particularly in folks in their teens and twenties.) In the first case, it’s only sheer dumb luck that I’m still alive, in the second I hesitated enough that it would not have been successful.

    Unfortunately, the message that we often get about meds is that they are an immediate fix, or that once you get to the “right” dose and combination, you’ll be okay. For some folks, that’s not true. You don’t find the right drugs, or you find them and something changes. I’ve had a huge range of side effects, from the alarming to the hilarious. I took Ambien and woke up to find my house carpeted in peanut butter sandwiches I’d made in my sleep. I took Geodon* and my speech became so slurred in lectures that students thought I was drunk. I took Abilify* and spent 24 hours in my boyfriend’s closet because I thought people were coming to arrest me for the pot I smoked three years previously. I took Topomax and misconjugated verbs in writing, resulting in some of the strangest job application letters ever seen.

    I think that my depression is a product both of my upbringing and my wonky brain chemistry. But, I’ve been able to use these to my advantage to a certain extent. As a nerdy daughter-of-a-teacher — the sort who becomes a college professor — I’ve made it a project to learn everything I can about depression and its treatments. I’ve been able to find doctors who treat me as an intellectual equal and are willing to listen to my concerns. They also support my efforts to use sleep, diet, and exercise to help cope with the depression. (If I don’t exercise or I eat too much sugar, all of the meds in the world aren’t going to make me feel better.)

    The other thing I’ve done is realize that my intellectual and professional path isn’t going to look like that of my peers. It’s taking me forever to finish my PhD, for instance, and I’ve chosen to focus more on the teaching I feel is a calling rather than struggling constantly for (and beating myself up about) research funding. My personal life looks more like that of a Buddhist monk (routine, routine, routine, meditation) than what might be normal for a person my age.

    I think that the illness has made me more compassionate towards others who struggle with a variety of challenges. I also think that it has made me truly value my students. Teaching, sharing my discipline, is the one thing that has consistently given shape and meaning to my life. At the end of the semester, I often share my experience (briefly!) with students and emphasize the importance of getting help when you are struggling. I do it in no small part to honor the role that they play in my life — the enterprise of teaching only works if you have students to teach. People living with mental illness need relationships — and not to be isolated with their disease. We live in compassionate relationship with others, and I wish that for all of my fellow people living with MI.

    Thank you again for sharing your story.

    *Both Geodon and Abilify are atypical antipsychotics, and lately it’s been very much in fashion to treat otherwise drug-resistant depression with AAPs. I don’t do well with them, but some people have great luck. Others include Zyprexa (never took it) and Seroquel (made me so tired I drooled on myself.)


    1. I am sorry that it has taken so long to respond to your comment. I want to thank you so much for sharing your story. Your point of how medicine is set up to make people think its a quick fix, I completely agree with that. When I was in the hospital, it became more about medicine and less about therapy. I think people need to realize managing your mental health is way more complicated then swallowing a pill each day. It sucks that some of your medicine was well, lethal, and I wish there would be more investigation into antidepressants. Once again, I appreciate your post.


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