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The One Thing I Wish People Knew About Finding the Right Psychiatric Medication

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Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

You know, I talk a lot about God and the healing He has brought me over the years. I also talk a lot about how real my struggle is. I talk about therapy a fair bit, too. Something that doesn’t come up much though is the topic of medication. Well, I think it’s time to switch that up a bit.

I think psychiatric medication is a topic worth discussing partly because it’s taboo and partly because it came up in a recent conversation I had with someone who has played an important role in my life. We’ll call this person Logan. I was frustrated with him because I felt like he didn’t support my need for medication. He was frustrated with me because I never explained it in a way that gave him that capability. Throughout our relationship, I had told I needed him to support my need for medication, even when I didn’t believe in it myself. But from his point of view… well… looking back, from his point of view, who could blame him for not being able to do so?

Most people just don’t get it.

A while ago, I convinced my psychiatrist to start tapering me off one of my medications. I had an idea of the med I wanted to come off of, but he had a different idea. He won. He usually does. He’s usually right. About everything.

So I’d been tapering off one of my psychiatric medications, I went on vacation, and about halfway through the week, I realized I had left that medication at home. Since I was coming off it anyway, I figured it’d be fine to stop taking it cold turkey. I guess I figured I knew better than my doctor with years and years of medical school and clinical experience. Not exactly my most genius move, but I’ve made worse, so cut me some slack.

Well to make a long story short, things have never been the same. I experienced some mania, then plunged into depression. The depression began to lift, then the anxiety snuck in and began stealing more and more from me.

What Logan didn’t understand is something I didn’t explain. Something you wouldn’t get unless you’ve walked through this painful process yourself. Finding the right psychiatric medication is a marathon, not a sprint. There’s rarely a magical pill that takes away your symptoms overnight, or even over a few weeks. We have the media and marketing material to blame for that illusion. Getting worse after starting a new medication doesn’t mean it’s not working, and your symptoms might not be relieved by any single med. More often than not, it takes a combination of medications to bring balance back into your life.

From the outside looking in, it doesn’t make any sense. The doctor starts me on a new med. My symptoms start getting worse. My doctor increases the dose. I don’t get any better. My doctor increases the dose again. From the outside looking in, it doesn’t make any sense: The medication isn’t working. You should be stopping it, not increasing it. Right?

The doctor sees my anxiety increasing. He adds a different med. “Another med?” Logan says. And who could blame him? When the other medications seem to do little to improve my symptoms, why would my doctor add another? It doesn’t make any sense.

From the outside looking in, it all must appear ludicrous. And I take my understanding of the process for granted. I hate it, but I understand it.

Your life is quickly falling to pieces around you and the best your doctor can do is say, “Give it some time, Brittany. We don’t know if it’s working yet.” So I give it some time. I up the dose. I wait.

Wait for what? For him to tell me, “I guess that just isn’t the meds for you; let’s try a different one.” Or, “Let’s try adding this one in and see how it works.”

See how it works? Subtract? Add? How does he decide? Sometimes, I feel like my psychiatrist is more of a weatherman than a medical doctor. To me, it seems like a guessing game. I have no idea what is running through his mind when he makes these decisions. What variables he’s factoring in when he comes up with his master plan. I can only assume he’s as frustrated as I am with the intricacies of the process.

But still, I trust him. He’s been with me at my worst and he’s seen me at my best. He has nothing but my best interests at heart. He knows the long list of medications I’ve tried. He knows what’s worked and what has nearly killed me. He often reads me better than I read myself. He knows what I need before I realize I need it. I trust him.

From the outside looking in, it makes no sense. And up until now, I’ve done a crappy job of explaining it. How can I expect someone to support me without providing the tools needed to explain it? This stuff is messy and frustrating and ugly and senseless… even to me, at times. To expect a level of understanding above that which I possess is both unrealistic and unfair. That one’s on me.

To those of you who do not understand… I don’t blame you. I don’t hold it against you. I do not know what it must feel like to watch me go through this process. To feel so out of control. To sit and see nothing but absurdity and experience pure frustration. And for that, I sincerely apologize.

What I will say is this: I trust my psychiatrist, sometimes more than I trust myself. I trust the ugly trial-and-error process that is painfully slow and frequently devastating. I realize that just because a new medication isn’t making me better, it doesn’t mean it’s not working. It might be stopping me from getting worse. I believe in what I cannot see and I trust the science behind it.

Mental illnesses are caused by chemical imbalances. Psychiatric medications work to correct these imbalances. And the process is an experiment. There aren’t any hard and fast rules. There’s not a specific scientific equation that will cure me. I have seen advances in science that can improve and quicken the process. And I believe there are more to come. But this is my present reality and it is a reality I share with countless others.

The truth is, I don’t know what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. And I don’t know that I’ve done a good job of cracking the window open a bit today. But I hope I’ve at least opened the blinds. Medication is a mystery to those on both the outside and inside — a frustratingly painful mystery, but one that can restore and bring life back into the eyes of those who struggle with mental illness.

Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean you can’t be understanding of it. That is a choice for you to make.

Originally published on

Photo by Ryan Whitlow on Unsplash

Originally published: June 20, 2018
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