Many people – most, I would venture to say – don’t have simple, uncomplicated relationships with their medication. One reader who has generously shared her story of taking medication demonstrates how conflicted one can be about long-term drug treatment, and yet how one can feel unready or unable to end it.
Among many interesting issues Kristy touches on, I’m struck by how little the doctor explained to her at the outset. In interviewing other young people who began medication as children or teens, I have found this substantially complicates their relationship with medication, often creating confusion, resentment and a lack of commitment to long-term treatment.
Their reaction is understandable. Would you want to continue taking a drug if you didn’t perceive a major positive change, and if you received very little feedback and guidance from the adults in your life as to what to expect and how to interpret what you experienced?
Note that Kristy also wishes she had been more open about her medication use with friends earlier on, because she thinks she could have gotten more support. In general, I think people, no matter their larger opinions about whether taking psychiatric meds is “good” or “bad” do want to be supportive for the people they love, and that, the net yield of openness will be increased sympathy and support.
If Kristy is willing to elaborate a bit on her responses, I personally would like to hear more about 1) how old she was when she started the meds 2) what type of drugs she was prescribed, whether she switched medications at any point and why, and 3) what kind of involvement her parents had in that decision. Also, I’m very intrigued by her answer to the last question, where she talks about no longer feeling like herself on meds.
Kristy, could you explain to us a little what you mean by that? How, exactly, did medication alter you – what characteristics did it change, take away, or add to your personality? Psychiatric medications’ impact on identity is, I think, one of the more fascinating aspects of people’s experiences.
Readers, feel free to ask your own questions in the comments section. And again, if you’d like to share your own story, email me at kaitlin.b.barnett [@] gmail.com. Don’t feel restricted to the questions I asked – you can talk about any aspect of your experience. But if possible, try to be clear about what medications you took, starting at what age, and for what problems/symptoms/diagnosis.
And now from Kristy in her own words.
1)How did you start taking medication in the first place? At the time, did you think you needed medication?
I started taking medication because I was feeling quite depressed and anxious. I saw my GP who suggested taking medication to help with these feelings. At the time I believed I did need the medication.
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?
Nothing was explained to me when I started taking medications. I felt very alone in this decision and didn’t know what to expect.
3) Did medication feel like what you expected? Why or why not?
The medication didn’t feel like what I expected it to. I think this was because I was not given any information about what to expect.
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?
Troubling side effects included a dry mouth and weight gain. I was very upset by this, especially the weight gain as I had always been a normal weight and then to put on weight felt very strange and disheartening. I wouldn’t say I felt any benefit at this stage.
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 never mentioned taking medication to friends as I feared their response. Now, I am much more open and honest with this and I have found my friends to be very supportive. I wish I was more honest from the beginning as I believe I may have gotten more support.
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?
I had virtually no relationship with the doctor who prescribed my medication. I found him to be too clinical and didn’t talk to me about side effects and other issues regarding the medication he was prescribing me. I saw a psychologist who was great to talk to and listened to my concerns.
7) Did you – or do you – see medications as a temporary solution, or a long-term commitment?
At the time I saw medication as a temporary solution, but now understand that it may be a long term commitment. This is hard to accept but if it keeps me stable, I am willing to take medications for the rest of my life.
8 ) Did medication itself – or just knowing that you took medication – change the way you thought about yourself?
Taking medication made me feel weak. I always considered myself a strong person but now I had rely on something else to keep me going.
9) Did you ever stop taking a medication or change a dosage without telling
your doctor? Why?
I never stopped medication or changed the dosage without telling my doctor, however I sometimes forgot to take the medication daily.
10) Did a medication ever stop working for you? What was that like?
Yes, the medication stopped working for me which was disappointing. I felt like I was a failure because of this. However, now I realize that it is normal for a medication to stop working, and that it is a trial and error process.
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?
I think I began taking medication at the right time, however I wish I had found a better doctor that was willing to talk more about the decision. I felt as though I was sort of forced into taking them and wasn’t consulted about the decision.
12) Has taking medication from a young age had any other lasting impact on you?
The main impact taking from me taking medication from a young age is that I have put on a lot of weight and can’t seem to lose it. I also don’t feel like my old self; I feel as though I am someone different now that I’m on medication. I feel in a daze most of the time due to the medication and wish I could get back to my ‘old self’.