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Are the Side Effects of Antipsychotics Worth the Relief?

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Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

I have been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder that is controlled by taking antipsychotic medication. Currently, I take two antipsychotics, and with that help, I often have symptom-free days. On a symptom-free day, I do not hear voices, I do not get paranoid about my neighbors and I do not experience delusions. I have been told by my doctors that, although I benefit from taking two antipsychotics, there is a chance for double the side effects.

My antipsychotics can have several side effects. Three of the most common are weight gain, constipation and lightheadedness. I know weight gain can contribute to diabetes. Constipation can feel uncomfortable and being lightheaded can stop me in my tracks. For me, these side effects can be powerful, and I ask myself if it is worth the discomfort I sometimes experience to be symptom-free from my schizophrenia.

Is it worth the discomfort of antipsychotics making my mind less schizophrenic or would I rather be closer to the recommended weight of someone my height? Would I trade the uncertainty of knowing where the bathroom is located to having a delusion? Is the inconvenience of having to sit down because I feel slightly lightheaded enough to make me want to give up my antipsychotics? These are questions I ask myself when I wonder about my mental health versus my physical health.

I have found some ways to combat the most common side effects of the antipsychotics that I take on a regular basis. I try to combat the side effect of weight gain by maintaining a proper diet and with regular exercise. I exercise most days, and I do my best to not eat chips and sweets. On some days, I wish I could get rid of my belly and have six-pack abs, but even when I was in the Army, I did not have six-pack abs. So, why do I expect that would happen now? I see muscularly defined people and wish I could be the stereotypical strong muscular man. However, I have two things working against me, weight gain from being on two antipsychotics. But, it never hurts to dream about being like the Hulk!

Constipation can be a difficult and uncomfortable subject to discuss. Knowing and accepting this can be a side effect is the best way to confront this subject. I try to combat my constipation by drinking fluids, especially water. Coffee helps, too. I do my best to go to the bathroom as often as possible before I begin a workout. Because I have a strong faith, I sometimes pray to my higher power to help me not have an accident. It has worked so far, but still I can be paranoid about whether there is a bathroom close by. Through honest discussions with my doctor, I have also been prescribed medication that helps with this problem.

Sometimes, I can feel lightheaded as if my brain is floating in the air. It is a sensation I cannot ignore. I immediately grab hold of something or sit down. This happens when I get up too fast or when I am working out. This sensation has been thoroughly investigated by my doctors through multiple tests with no positive results, so we are left to believe this is a side effect of my antipsychotics. This feeling goes away when I pause whatever I am doing for a few moments and maybe take a few sips of water.

Despite the side effects I experience from taking my antipsychotics, I have concluded I can manage these side effects, and by doing so, I can have many symptom-free days. The trade-off is worth it. Without antipsychotics, I would be dead or in jail. Without antipsychotics, I would not be as close to my parents, my support system, as I am. These are good enough reasons to have a belly, to feel the need to have another cup of coffee or to just sit down and breathe. With antipsychotics, I can beat this tortured mind and feel free mentally.

I have come to think of my antipsychotics as friends. As in friendships, sometimes we do not agree with each other about everything. Sometimes, we may have arguments, but a friend is there to help, and the benefits of friendship outweigh not having them in my life. My antipsychotics can have negative effects, but there are ways to compromise and keep them a valuable part of my life.

Getty image by LightFieldStudios

Originally published: December 29, 2020
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