The Side Effects of Side Effects


Side effects definition: “Problems that occur when treatment goes beyond the desired effect. Or problems that occur in addition to the desired therapeutic effect.”

Um, sure. That’s the pretty way to put it.

I’m not making fun, but I have to chuckle when those commercials for medications come on TV and the list of side effects they read out at the end is longer than the commercial itself. The reason I laugh is because I know firsthand that it’s often true. Medication side effects are real, like really real! Anyone taking medication for any condition knows the battle of side effects vs. the desired effects all too well. When all you want is to be well, it’s amazing how long and how far you will push yourself to tolerate the side effects from any given treatment. It can be heartbreaking when the side effects become too much and you must give up any of the desired effect you may have been receiving. It’s so cruel that they can get in the way of your ultimate goal of simply being well.

I have resigned myself to the fact that medications along with their side effects will always be a part of my life as I continue to strive for a better one. However, I still sometimes feel the need to, well, bitch about what seems to be the side effects of the side effects.

Most of my meds are for bipolar disorder. These are some of the common side effects I have experienced:

1. Increased appetite

Yes! This would be great if I was 90 pounds to start out with, but I am not. And what can an increased appetite lead to? Weight gain! Trust me, being overweight does not help your state of mind when you’re trying your best to crawl out of a depressive episode. I battle with this one to this day. Not a helper at all on your quest for wellness.

2. Drowsiness

If this side effect hits you at the right time, more power to you. But for me, it was pretty unpredictable. I had one med that kicked in mid-morning despite trying to take it at different times. I once fell asleep, sitting up while I was waiting for an appointment. I woke myself up with a gasping snore as I fell off my chair and had drool running from my mouth. And no, I wasn’t the only one waiting for an appointment. Real classy.

3. Acne

I don’t care who you are, how old you are or what your story is, no one feels good about themselves with a face full of blemishes. I was well into my 30s when I developed severe acne. I have to admit that despite trying my best, it really upset me, especially because at the time my med cocktail was working so well in treating my symptoms. I can remember my dermatologist not understanding why I wouldn’t just quit my psych meds. It took a year and a half to get control of it. I feel for anyone who has ever dealt with acne at any point in their lives, especially if digging out of the hole of depression.

4. Constipation/Diarrhea

I’m not really sure if I need to go into a great deal of detail for you on this one. I can just tell you that I have been on both ends of the spectrum. I had so many issues at one point that I was oh so fortunate to have to get a couple of colonoscopies done. Let’s face it, the whole colonoscopy experience is extremely inconvenient at the very least. Humbling indeed.

5. Excessive Sweating

This one may be the worst. I only experience it on my face and head, but it is so obvious. Heat obviously brings it on but so does anxiety. It is embarrassing, and people often ask if I’m OK. It makes me feel disgusting and dirty. I find myself worrying about it all the time before I go to do an activity. It adds to existing anxiety issues.

6. Restless Legs

OK, for this one I have tried just about every trick in the book. Rub lotion on your legs, put a bar of soap between the sheets, take two Advil before you go to bed. I have yet to find the perfect trick. I usually just end up kicking the s#!t out of my covers until it wears off and I can finally fall asleep. However, I am careful with my kicking after one night I accidentally inadvertently launched my cat off the bed. Oops. See, even others experience side effects from the side effects.

7. Dry mouth

So dry mouth is also known as cotton mouth. When I was working, this whole dry mouth thing was really an issue. I had a job where I spoke with people all day. One busy day I had no time to fill up my water bottle, get some gum, nothing, and as I was talking to a customer my mouth was so dry that my lips curled under on my teeth. I had to excuse myself. And I was asked so many times if I was OK because of the number of trips I took to the washroom due to all of the water I drank. It wasn’t long before the rumors spread that I was pregnant.

8. Nausea/Vomiting

And finally, another one that doesn’t really need too much explaining. When you get it, it stops you in your tracks. Heaven forbid you’re driving or doing something like speaking in a meeting. This is a side effect I have experienced often. I don’t exactly have a great amount of built-in warning time, and I’ve had a few too many close calls. And if you are constantly being sick, odds are you’re not keeping your meds down and that obviously just defeats the whole purpose of taking them in the first place. If you’re working it can be horrible, and it’s difficult when you don’t want to explain to the whole world why you’re not feeling well. Again, the rumors fly.

I really don’t like to complain. I am thankful for the meds that have provided me with desired effects that help me get through my days. I just sometimes find it a little unfair and sometimes cruel that the medications made to help us move closer to wellness can cause such horrible roadblocks on that very journey.

Editor’s note: Please see a medical professional before starting or stopping a medication.

Image via Thinkstock.

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