Refusing Medication: “I Thought I Deserved This Abyss”
This reader’s story about her experience with medication seems especially timely, given the recent analysis of studies analyzing suicidal ideation and antidepressants. She says she experienced such suicidal thoughts in the initial weeks of treatment, but that the thoughts passed.
For patients, especially young people, who do experience this kind of suicidal ideation after beginning an antidepressant, it is usually early in the course of treatment. The reader, who didn’t want to use her name, doesn’t elaborate on her response to this suicidal ideation, or whether a doctor told her to expect it.
However, if she’d be willing to take questions in the comments section, I, for one, would be very curious to hear more about how she interpreted these thoughts, whether they scared her, whether she was able to brush them off because she knew they were “drug-induced,” etc.
I’d also like to hear why she was so resistant to taking meds in the first place and whether there was going on in her life that was particularly stressful and that she thinks helped set off her depression at that particular time.
Her initial resistance is interesting to me, because it seemed to surface again during the time she she either forgot to take her medications or decided to go off it and concluded that she “deserved” her misery. From interviews I’ve conducted and research I’ve done, that seems a very common attitude in others, especially in depressives. I don’t think it’s necessarily unique to being young, but I would be curious to hear readers’ thoughts about why this mindset is so persistent.
Incidentally, on the topic of suicidal ideation, I’d like to point readers to a very thoughtful critique of the Archives of General Psychiatry study by Dr. David Healy, a psychopharmacologist and one of the most prominent and earliest crusaders seeking to draw attention to the link between antidepressants and suicidal behaviors and thoughts. I’m not sure I understand everything he says in the column, but it’s an interesting read, nonetheless.
And now, the reader’s account of her experience with meds, in her own words. I invite further personal stories about medication, in any format you like and on any aspect of your experience – don’t feel bound by the prompts I gave. Email me at kaitlin.b.barnett [at] gmail.com. Try to include your diagnoses and what medications you took.
1) How did you start taking medication in the first place? At the time, did you think you needed medication?
I fought against taking medication for years. I was in my 2nd year of university with one of the biggest workloads I’ve ever seen, and I couldn’t balance my anhedonia and feeling to give up with my strive for my academic accomplishments. I silently trodded back and forth as my counselor kept suggesting it, and I kept denying that it was necessary. For months I agonized over it; side effects vs. overall improvement; I never thought I needed it. In retrospect, how wrong I was! After one breakdown after another, I sought 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?
I did the research on my own…
3) Did medication feel like what you expected? Why or why not?
Initially, my medication worked- then it didn’t… After 3 months, the relative improvement was negligible — it didn’t seem to work for me. So another med was added. Since then, hey, it’s worked ok so far. Some days are harder to manage, but I get by.
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?
Honestly, I went into this regiment [sic] not expecting anything. I thought, “Hey, this messed up creature is actually me; my personality; my character. I’m going to prove it this way.” There was a bit of concern for the first few weeks; appetite changes and suicidal ideation, but they passed.
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?
A couple of my friends found out, because I was hesitant about taking something that could potentially make me worse. Yes, I’m much more open about it now, as I’m intent on battling stigma…
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 saw a therapist on and off prior to being prescribed. I actually went to the doctor that was recommended me. I’d tried a lot; exercise, reflection, action, friendships… nothing worked really.
7) Did you – or do you – see medications as a temporary solution, or a long-term commitment?
I see it as a long term commitment, until I can figure out a way to deal with my life on my own.
8 ) Did medication itself – or just knowing that you took medication – change the way you thought about yourself?
It’s an ongoing process. I can’t say that I think of myself for the better, or worse… The opinion I have of myself did not change going into it.
9) Did you ever stop taking a medication or change a dosage without telling your doctor? Why?
I’ve done everything under medical supervision- but there were days when I thought I should give up and refused to take my meds-> result? A very steep decline into depression. There were days where I plain and simple forgot to take it. The end result was the same. The days I refused were beacuse [sic] I thought I deserved this abyss I fought so hard to keep staring into.
10) Did a medication ever stop working for you? What was that like?
It wasn’t dramatic- It just no longer worked. My anxiety attacks restarted, my life started feeling grey again…
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 do wish I started taking it a bit earlier. Then maybe, I would’ve been able to save a few relationships I relished.
12) Has taking medication from a young age had any other lasting impact on you?
I’ll let you know when I get old 😛 I’m 21.
Bell Barnett, K. (2012). Refusing Medication: “I Thought I Deserved This Abyss”. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 28, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/my-meds/2012/02/refusing-medication-i-thought-i-deserved-this-abyss/