Why Taking Antipsychotics to Survive Is the Hardest Pill to Swallow
You’ve tried jogging in the park, yoga and clean eating. You’ve tried meditation, bought books on mindfulness and trialed every herbal supplement you’ve heard might be a miracle drug.
But every day, you’re still on edge. You’re not sleeping, but somehow it’s getting harder to get out of bed. You don’t want to surrender, but every time you try to make things better, it all seems to get worse. You’re clinging on by a thread, life slipping through your fingers, all your experiments worn up and fruitless.
It’s time for the medication.
Despite overwhelming evidence and the growing frequency of using pharmaceutical methods in the treatment of mental health, the idea of taking medication is still rife with stigma and met with resistance for some good reasons.
My own wrestle with the dilemma of medication was a struggle.
I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 when I was 15 years old. It wasn’t until I was 25 I had my first major manic and psychotic episode. I was agitated, vulnerable and ended up for some time in the hospital.
When my bipolar disorder turned psychotic, in my heart, I knew something else: It was time for antipsychotics.
Antipsychotics were the dark shadow that had hung over me for a long time and one I tried to ignore. It was something I felt doctors threatening me with rather than a treatment. I couldn’t ignore the tales of severe weight gain, drowsiness, numb feelings and severe constipation. The idea it may shorten my life span or gift me a host of other interesting side effects.
There has been a long running myth, which I believe to be true, that mania fuels creativity. You may not be more talented, but you certainly feel like a genius. A mind running at top speed, sustained by dopamine and endlessly creative. At the age of 25, a hopeful creative writer and ex-art student, the idea of my imagination being drained felt like a death sentence. I thought If my imagination and art made me who I was, was the only way I coped, then who would I be without it? Would I lose who I was? Would life be worth it?
I was so terrified I stopped taking them. Not long after, I became sick again.
For the next five years I was very unstable and getting worse with each year. Stress! That’s what I told myself! It’s stress! As I slowly spiraled down into disaster. Mania had driven me into debt. Depression had destroyed my work and relationships and I felt like my bipolar disorder had me by the neck, ever pressing and consuming me whole. One day the pain became unbearable and I ended up in the hospital, once more with my life in tatters, the police intervening in a deeply psychotic episode.
On arrival to the hospital, a little white pill had been popped into my cup of medication, it was an atypical antipsychotic.
I am going to be honest, it was tough at first. It took only a few hours before everything started to blur. I lay on the bed feeling like I was in another body. The only way I can describe it is the feeling of static electricity. The fatigue and sickness lasted a few days and after sleeping through the most of it, I started brightening up. The world coming back into focus became the start of my recovery.
In a couple of weeks, I left the hospital and returned home. I noticed the mess in my flat and started to tidy, something so small, yet something I had not achieved in a long time.
Having a mental illness is a curse I would not wish on my worst enemy or the subsequent struggles that follow. Although the medication has dulled my mind, I think clearer and I am no longer unstable. I may not feel as creative, but I am more successful due to my logical thinking. Before this medication, I believed taking a pill would be a sacrifice of my character when I have found it to be more freeing by banishing the badness.
It is by no means a cure. I still have to manage my stress and use the coping skills I learnt in therapy. I feel less interesting and at the same time less interested. I sleep a bit too much, I have to exercise a little harder and eat a little bit better, but it’s still better than battling the demons I was fighting before.
I still hate my illness. I still resent I have to take this medication every day, but I know without it I’d be dead.
My wings may be clipped, but for me, it’s the lesser evil — a sentiment echoed by those closest to me.
However, the knowledge I need antipsychotics to survive will always be the hardest pill to swallow.
Getty image by nadia_bormotova