Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicidal ideation, self-harm
When you’re prescribed antibiotics, they tell you to take the entire prescription even if you start feeling better after one or two pills. It’s a fact of life. It’s how it’s supposed to go.
But with psychoactive drugs? When can you stop? Can you actually stop if you think you’re feeling better?
I tried to. I had been on mood stabilizers and antidepressants for almost four years. I’d felt okay. I’d gone off for bits of time, but never completely. I felt okay, never totally great, but I’d find myself going back.
I had been on mood stabilizers and antidepressants for almost four years. I’d felt okay. I’d gone off for bits of time, but never completely. I felt okay, never totally great, but I’d find myself going back.
I was done this time.
I went off my meds completely for a few months. Four, I believe. My psychiatrist had left the office I was accustomed to visiting after work; he’d kept evening appointments there and the commute from the office wasn’t impossible. I liked that office. Suddenly things had changed. He wasn’t there. I didn’t know where his other locations were and I didn’t want to be a burden to my wife or to my job in trying to get to one of the other ones he keeps.
There were a few different reasons, but the biggest was that my psychiatrist had left the office I was accustomed to visiting after work. While there, he’d kept evening appointments there and the commute from the office wasn’t impossible. I liked that office. Suddenly things had changed. He wasn’t there. I didn’t know where his other locations were and I didn’t want to be a burden to my wife or to my job in trying to get to one of the other ones he keeps.
Suddenly, things had changed. He wasn’t there. I didn’t know where his other locations were and I didn’t want to be a burden to my wife or to my job in trying to get to one of the other ones he keeps.
And so, I gave being med-free a try. (It was also partly because I was tired of being dependent on pharmaceuticals; I wanted to be normal, to be able to live life without little chalky white pills each and every morning promptly at 10:05 am.)
At first, it was fine. I was stable, able to function normally. It was like nothing had changed.
But the tides soon changed. My rapid-cycling got faster. My anxiety got worse. I stopped being able to go to work or the days I went to work were accompanied by panic attacks on trains and about finding desks. I gave up three years being free of self-harm during a moment of weakness.
My passive suicidal ideation came back with a vengeance. I became perfectly fine with the idea of someone bumping into me on a crowded Metro platform and plummeting into the electrified tracks below or falling off my balcony in some kind of freak accident. It wasn’t pretty. None of this is.
But none of that was the worst part. The worst part? I stopped being able to write regularly.
My ideas weren’t gone, they were there, buzzing around like hornets in their cozy nest. I’d get an outline down on paper and once I put pencil to paper or fingers to keys trying to write it, I couldn’t do it. It would disappear. I would perseverate over single words, erasing, deleting, backspacing until there was nothing left but a blank screen or smudged pages.
I am nothing if I’m not a writer; it’s my full-time profession and my favorite hobby. Being unable to do it was humbling and discouraging. I shed many a tear over the fact I couldn’t do it. It was more than writer’s block, worse than writer’s block. The worst I’d seen since I started my job and since I picked up writing more than just journal entries. I had to do something about it.
In an effort to save myself from having to go back on my meds, I started therapy. I thought that having a therapist again might help me keep being med-free. I didn’t disclose to him right away that I was unmedicated; I was ashamed of that fact. I wasn’t comfortable enough with him. Therapy is like dating. Just like how many people don’t fuck on the first date, you don’t disclose your biggest fears, your most shameful attributes on the first few dates. It’s just not how it works.
Two months into our appointments, I told him. He was understanding, kind, and supportive when I told him why I’d gotten off them. He didn’t scold me. He didn’t judge me. And over the following few weeks he helped me make the difficult decision to return to them.
And so I did. I returned to them thirty-four days ago, on April 17th. It’s been thirty-four long days.
It humbled me to go back to them. It really did. I wanted to believe I was stronger than this illness. That it couldn’t beat me and only me. But it turns out, I was wrong.
And I paid the price for my pride. For the first two weeks, I vomited nearly every morning right after waking up. I started budgeting time in my morning routine for it so I could still make it to work on time. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat.
Still, over a month later, I jitter, I forget words or thoughts in the middle of saying them. I forget things I’m doing in the middle of them.
I have to keep multiple copies of my to-do list at work now. Two written, one digital: my planner, a Post-it note on my computer, and in my sent email folder.
I am perpetually apologizing for forgetting.
If I’m taking repetitive notes, I need a Post-it to remind me of format. It’s broken my facade of perpetually being “okay” in the office.
I’m still nauseous 90 percent of the time. I’ve had to give up my favorite thing in the world: coffee. The thing I lived on for over three years. I can no longer have it because if I do, I will throw up. I now live on iced tea and Coke.
Things got worse before they got better. They always do. I knew they would. I warned my therapist and he stuck right by me. I kept going to therapy. As a notoriously flaky patient, I have yet to skip an appointment with him. I took days off of work when things got too bad. I talked to my wife.
However, things also did get better.
I have a normal range of emotions again and my rapid-cycling has slowed down to an acceptable speed, where my moods don’t feel like they’re on a two-hundred-mile per hour rollercoaster anymore. They’re going the speed limit on the freeway again–a pace I can handle.
I’ve lost a few things as well: my sex drive, my appetite, my coffee habit, but these are the things I could probably live without anyway.
There is no true “better” and there’s no true end of the prescription. Just prescription slips with no refills and Saturday mornings in psychiatrist waiting rooms. And for now, it’ll be me and these little white pills, just trying to get through this life together.