This reader’s story presents an interesting perspective, because he took antidepressants 30 years ago, before many of the current psychotropics were on the market, before psychiatric drugs were as commonly prescribed as they are now and, especially, before they were prescribed as often to children and teens.
It’s also interesting because he was hospitalized fairly soon after his symptoms showed up. He’s agreed to take questions in the comments section.
Again, I invite readers to share any aspect of their experience taking medication by emailing me at kaitlin.b.barnett [at] gmail.com. You don’t have to respond to my prompts – you can discuss any aspects of taking medication as it pertains to growing up, childhood, adolescence, forming an identity, etc.
1) How did you start taking medication in the first place? At the time, did you think you needed medication?
At age 17, I woke up one morning with my face wet, and my pillow soaked. I was very confused, but focused on getting ready for school, and didn’t give it any thought. Into the bathroom, get ready, and tears start coursing down my face. I wasn’t thinking anything upsetting, wasn’t feeling upset. I realized I had cried in my sleep….apparently a lot, based on how wet my pillow was.
With consci[ous] effort, I could stop the tears – but the minute I stopped trying, they were back. After several days of sitting in the nurse’s office at school (as my constant tears were distracting other students)….my mother was called, over my objections. The school personnel had tried talking to me, to find out what was wrong…but I had no explanation. Everything had actually been calm in my life at that point, and I didn’t understand the tears either.
After several conversations between my mother and the school, it was decided that I should be hospitalized in a local county hospital, in their psychiatric ward, for evaluation. I was placed under the care of a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Many tests were run on me, from psych tests, IQ tests, to blood tests.
The psychiatrist came back with a diagnosis of “borderline manic depression” (as it was referred to then) as well as clinical depression. I was placed on various tri-cyclic anti-depressants. As this was 30 years ago, I no longer remember the names. I was tried first on one, and when I felt no better, was changed to another. I believe I was placed on three different ones.
I didn’t really think about it at all. I didn’t care. I hadn’t been happy for a very long time, and was willing to “experiment” if there was any chance at all that those meds would help.
2) If a doctor or parent provided an explanation of why you were being prescribed psychiatric drugs, how did they explain it? Did they ever explain it as a “chemical imbalance?” What was your reaction to their explanation?
The psychiatrist who prescribed the meds said my thyroid and pituitary glands were not functioning as they should be – one was “low” and the other “high”…I don’t remember which was which. He further told me that the amount they were “off” was marginal….not totally out of whack, but not where they should be. He said this was causing a chemical imbalance, which was affecting my moods, and that the meds would help. My reaction was oh, ok. Well, fine. Good to know there’s something out of whack that can be fixed….yay.
3) Did medication feel like what you expected? Why or why not?
I never detected any difference on the meds. I didn’t notice any side effects, nor experience any change in feelings, thoughts, or emotions, that I was able to detect. Friends reported that I seemed to be sleeping a lot. I did attempt suicide twice while on them.
4) Did you experience any troubling side effects? What was it about the side effects that was so troubling? Did you experience any unexpected benefits?
Benefits? No. Side effects? Well, as I reported above, I attempted suicide twice while on the meds. I don’t know if this was due to the meds, or due to my depression, or a combination there-of. I did come across studies done much later on, that indicated some “bi-polars” could become suicidal when placed on tri-cyclic meds. Given that I haven’t attempted suicide since being OFF the meds, I have to think there might be a correlation. However, I remember that I was having suicidal thoughts before
medication, and have continued to contemplate it my entire life. I often think back to when I attempted it, and wish that I had succeeded then, as I feel I have no courage to do it now.
5) Did you talk to friends or family members about your disorder or the fact that you took medication? If you still take medication, are you more open about it now?
I feel I was probably mis-diagnosed. Or, not fully diagnosed. After the second suicide attempt, the psychiatrist told me that if I was going to act THAT way, he wouldn’t GIVE me any more antidepressants. Yeah, really. From time to time, I’ve sought counseling over the years, when I’ve felt a need. I’m not currently on any meds. As for talking to friends, etc. – if the subject comes up, I share my experiences and thoughts….but I don’t broadcast it to everyone all the time.
6) What kind of relationship did you have with the doctor who prescribed your medication? Did you also see a therapist or experiment with other therapeutic methods to treat your symptoms?
The relationship with the psychiatrist, at first, was good, as I was very interested in being cooperative, and learning what I could do to make my life “happier.” The relationship quickly deteriorated…and became very antagonistic. Much of my treatment, both in hospital and afterwards, was directed by a psychologist who co-treated me while in the hospital. I couldn’t say now what methods he used in treating me. It was good just to have someone to talk to.
7) Did you – or do you – see medications as a temporary solution, or a long-term commitment?
I feel medications can be both….it depends on the person, the meds, and the circumstances / illness.
8 ) Did medication itself – or just knowing that you took medication – change the way you thought about yourself?
Not that I could tell.
9) Did you ever stop taking a medication or change a dosage without telling your doctor? Why?
The second over dose was with the tri-cyclics. 😉
10) Did a medication ever stop working for you? What was that like?
I never felt it was working for me.
11) Do you wish you’d begun taking medication earlier or later in your life? Is there anything else you’d change about the circumstances under which you began taking it?
No response to this, really.
12) Has taking medication from a young age had any other lasting impact on you?
My taking medication was a short-lived experiment, as I stated in detail, above. And as I’ve also explained….it may have been the cause behind my suicide attempts. As for lasting impact….it’s impossible for me to separate my unhappiness with being alive, from what I experienced when I was medicated, and even before I was medicated.
I don’t KNOW that the meds made me suicidal. Without knowing that, I can’t say that my life long desire to NOT be alive is because of my past attempts..because of the meds. All I do know is, sometimes life is ok, most of the times it sucks, and far too often, it’s REALLY hard.
Any happiness I’ve experienced has often been fleeting, and far too short lived. In total, I don’t feel as though the “pluses” have out-weighed the “minuses”….and nothing I’ve experienced in the past 30 years has made me happy that I didn’t succeed in ending my life 30 years ago. As I sit here, typing this, I can say that in a sense, I mourn my failure at ending my life.
I often wish I were dead, so that “all of this” would be over. I’m tired of the struggle. And yet, despite feeling that way, I don’t “feel” depressed. And I don’t feel compelled to take my own life. I guess, I don’t understand why I DON’T kill myself, just as much as I don’t understand why I tried todo so, so long ago. If I have any way of summing up my feelings about my life, I guess it is this: I will die when I am “supposed” to die, and until then, I must live. And I don’t understand that, either.