What Nobody Told Me About Taking Medication to Manage a Mental Illness


When I was 15 I started counting pills. I had a bottle of them in my bedside drawer. I’d shake them out and lay them in rows on my bed; roll their smooth oblong shapes between my fingers, feel their weightlessness in my palm, wonder how such small things could do such great damage. Counting them several times a day for confidence, company, possibility.

The access has always been there. I’ve been on medication — antidepressants, antipsychotics, anti-anxieties, mood stabilizers, sleepers  — since the beginning. Eight a.m., 8 p.m., 2 o’clocks, 10 o’clock’s, p.r.n., at some point in the day, every day, I’m swallowing little round pills with the begging hope that they might take this all away.

Sometimes, however, they haven’t. There isn’t a little white cure-all pill that gives you bounds of energy and gets you up in the morning. Most of them do help, they ease your ruminating brain, quieten the racing of your heart, lift the apathy cloud, quiet the voices that beg you to do it, let you sleep at night… They help and you function and gradually you learn how to cope.

Some of them, though, they make it worse. They squeeze your brain into a ball, wringing out all the hope and possibility you can muster. They tangle up the threads of thought until all paths lead to point zero. A dead end. A one-way rail track headed straight off the edge of a cliff. The first antidepressant medication I was prescribed did exactly that; it fair near chucked me in the deep end and left me there to drown. That, combined with a contraceptive pill, and I broke through the veil of psychosis — deluded, volatile and an extreme risk to myself.

You see, nobody ever told me that some medications don’t work for some people. It’s not like a painkiller, there isn’t some standard remedy that keys into all the right chemicals and brain receivers, you and your clinician have to almost experiment with different things to find what type of medication, and what dosage suits you best.

When things started to go down hill for me, I finally looked my doctor in the eye and said: “these don’t work.” So, she upped the dose. Sometimes, occasionally, for some people, this works. In this instance, it just made things so much worse. Eventually, I refused to take them. It took hospitalization and seeing a psychiatrist to finally put me back on the right path, and start “popping pills’” that did help what I was going through.

Across these five to six years, I’ve been on multiple different meds. The more severe the situation the higher the dose or the more types. A different situation, a different set of circumstances in my life, sometimes changes the choice of medication we use. And of course, as I continue to grow and change and live my life, the likelihood is that what I use to help me function will change again.

I guess the message to take away from me here, is that medication helps. It doesn’t change your personality, it brings you back to the neutral stable ground where you can resume being who you are. But, there are some risks outside the standard pamphlet of side effects: This drug might not work, this drug might make things worse. It is therefore so so so important you get onto the medication that helps you best, that you don’t suddenly stop taking it, that you discuss any side effects you experience however small, that you take it as prescribed and that if you are concerned, and that if you feel worse or no better, you speak up about it.

This daily ritual of mine could be something I go on to do for the rest of my life, but with medications that work, that make me, me, I’m willing to do that — if it makes this illness even one percent easier to deal with.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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