Sometimes, my son experiences tremors or other side effects from his medications. These can be debilitating to the point where he needs to come home and rest. Then, I’ll often hear the comment, “Well, it’s hard to tell which medication caused it. He takes so many medications.”
This comment is not usually made with a sympathetic tone of voice. My husband dismisses it as “just an observation.”
But to my ears, and from the tone, it sounds judgmental. And of course, as one of his parents, I feel judged.
My son was diagnosed with a mood disorder at 9 and bipolar disorder at 10. He is now 17 years old.
We’ve been through dozens of medications. I say “we” because in our house, medication changes are a family effort. Everyone works together to help because it’s never easy.
He currently takes five different medicines for his illness. He takes a lower dose of each one than is generally prescribed because he cannot tolerate higher doses of any of them.
I know this sounds like a lot; and it is. But each of these pharmaceuticals has a role in balancing his mood and helping him live as normal a life as possible.
If we stopped giving him even one of these, he would be tearful and depressed all day, or his thoughts would be racing so fast that he couldn’t function. He definitely wouldn’t make it to school.
There was a distinct reason we added each one. My son was going through a great deal of crisis and pain. His brain was, as he says, “mixed up.”
Then, each time he had to decide which side effects he could put up with because all of these psychotropic drugs have a host of those. It’s a balancing act of side effects and benefits. If life is more tolerable for him, the medication is worthwhile.
He constantly needs adjustments as he grows and his body and brain change.
Some of the staggering side effects listed for these drugs include: vomiting, fast heartbeat, high blood pressure, trouble breathing, loss of memory, suicidal thoughts, tremor, hair loss, changes in vision, dizziness.
Other side effects are: liver dysfunction, changes in blood cells and platelets, confusion, coma. These are the ones I wake my son up in the middle of the night to check for, poking him to make sure he responds.
Everyone’s body reacts to these medicines in a different way, so what works wonders for one may throw another into a horrible cycle and make the current symptoms even worse.
Then, there are the results. The process is similar to playing Russian Roulette. For him, sometimes it goes this way: “There is no god because if there was, he wouldn’t let me feel like this. No god would ever do this to someone.” These are signals to stop that medication immediately and go back to square one. We know that one isn’t a keeper.
Or sometimes the new medication provides a much-needed adjustment. Wow, he’s not as depressed. He’s happy. He sang in the shower. He relaxed and took a bath. He did some homework.
Things we thought would never get better. The reason we took that big risk.
Then, the lift in my own mood occurs. That heavy load feels so much lighter. My husband and I can go out and leave him at home. He wants to go places with us. We sleep at night. Our house is a happy place to be.
Therefore, when someone comments that he takes so many medications….
Please don’t tell me something I already know. I’m not sure if you understand why he’s on all these medications. I know how hard it is for anyone who hasn’t experienced it to even comprehend.
You couldn’t know we tried half a dozen antipsychotics before we found the right one for him. That meant a trial of at least a couple weeks for each and a host of side effects to deal with before throwing in the towel.
You couldn’t even imagine the blood, sweat, and tears my son experienced with each medication change or his pain that led up to it. You couldn’t know how my husband and I agonized every time or the heart-wrenching decisions we have to make because our son has a mental illness. You couldn’t know the sleepless nights, the turmoil in our house, or the long nightly car rides to help him calm down so he can sleep.
You wouldn’t know what we watch him go through.
Then, there is the feeling of elation when a medication actually works, when we see him feel better.
That is why we will never give up on trying to help him and to make things better. Medication, therapy, all the tools he needs.
I hope after reading this, you can understand a little bit more about what he’s had to endure with the addition of each of these “many” medications. I hope you understand that he, and his family, never really chose to add any of these at all. It wasn’t a decision; it was a necessity due to his illness.
You probably would be less likely to comment about the number of medications someone with a less stigmatized illness takes, so please don’t make a remark about the number of medications he takes for his brain illness.
I also hope you understand what a strong and incredible person he is for carrying this load every single day.
Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.
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