Before I start this piece, I would like to state that the following account is representative of my personal experiences ONLY. In no way should you take it as serious medical advice. The exact drugs I mention won’t necessarily affect you the same way as I have responded and I do not mean to glorify nor condemn any of them.
The point of this article is to demonstrate that even after years of apparent failure, medication should not be abandoned as a potential treatment option.
I started recognizing that something wasn’t quite “right” with my mental health extremely early in my life, perhaps even as early as elementary school, but like most people I put off seeking treatment for a long time. To be fair, the symptoms didn’t really begin to disrupt my life until college, and I (as well as most people around me) was under the impression that a bit of emotional turbulence is to be expected in childhood/adolescence (true to a degree, but dangerous to assume the level that is considered “healthy”).
Anyway, that is another story for another time, but the point is that my issues were somewhat advanced by the time I received treatment, and I urge anyone who is “iffy” about their psychological health to confer with a professional (psychiatrist, doctor, psychologist, counselor, etc.) as soon as possible. It could make a world of difference.
I started taking Paxil in 2001 after being diagnosed with major depressive disorder by the head college counselor, and thus began a six-year battle that would have (and has) turned many people completely against psychopharmacology. The underlying issue was a combination of misdiagnosis and the resultant prescription of an inappropriate (and ultimately harmful) medication.
Bipolar disorder of any type does not mix well with anti-depressants when they are taken alone. The combination can result in a number of complications, most notably an increase in the frequency and intensity of mixed states (some of them being arguably psychotic). I know I did not consciously recognize a connection between the increased symptoms and Paxil at the time, but after several serious incidents between starting the medication and 2004, something within me was compelled to end the treatment.
As I came to learn, ending any treatment without a doctor’s consultation is a horrible idea.
The withdrawal from Paxil was horrifying; there is really no other way to explain it. Disrupted sleep, hallucinations, delusions, feelings of electricity shooting throughout my head, uncontrollable shaking, and constant discomfort are just a few of the symptoms that I can remember. This is another good reason to have a doctor guide any medication changes; they can provide you with a researched weaning method that is likely to reduce or eliminate most symptoms.
The withdrawal lasted about two weeks, but it was not the end of my history with Paxil. Over the next three years I was on and off the drug several times, cycling between drug-induced mixed states, intense withdrawal, and the hypomania/depression that eventually re-surged without being treated.
In 2007, after several months without medication, I switched to Cipralex. The results were promising at first, but the drug eventually proved to be not much better than Paxil. However, this time I was finally smart enough to stay on the treatment until I could change it with the help of a professional.
It wasn’t until September of 2010 that I finally sought the help of a psychiatrist, and after a re-diagnosis of bipolar type II disorder and a couple of months tweaking my medication, I finally started to feel the symptoms receding. I am currently taking four different types of medication; two anti-depressants and two mood stabilizers (one is optional or “take it when you need it”). I’m happy to report that I’m currently symptom-free and operating similar to a “normal” person, or whatever the benchmark is supposed to be, and I am confident that the altered treatment is a large contributor to my new found balance.
Of course, the knowledge of a proper diagnosis as well as many other life factors also played a significant role in my recovery. Medication is not a magic fix, but it is certainly a valid component in the multifaceted treatment plans that are implemented for many psychological disorders.
Lots of you have experienced the hell that can result from unsuccessful treatment with drugs just as I have, and scores of others may be putting off treatment all together because of the stories, but it’s crucial to remember that you’ll never know if there is something out there to help you if you don’t try and keep trying.
If you’re considering stopping treatment then please speak with a professional and let them know your concerns, they can at least help you with a withdrawal plan.
Good vibes all,