I am so thrilled today to have Amy Marlow as my guest. Amy is someone who I have a huge amount of respect for. When she writes, she inspires so much hope and faith. Today Amy is telling us how she really feels about taking antidepressants. There is no sugar-coating, just total honesty. It is also completely relatable. Psych meds can be life altering in both good ways and bad. Here are some of the bad.
Dear Antidepressants: Five Things I Hate About You
Taking medication for my depression and anxiety is a necessary evil. I know that mental illnesses are real illnesses and that it’s ok to take medication to treat them. I know that medication stabilizes my moods and contains my anxiety. I know that it keeps me from bottoming out when I feel bad. I also know that with all the help they give me they also bring along some nasty side effects. I don’t usually talk about how hard it is to take psych meds because the good outweighs the bad. I know I have to take them so I choose to just suck it up and not complain. Well today I feel like complaining. Because I know I’m not the only one whose life has been impacted by antidepressants, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics or any other psychotropic medication. So if you’ve lived through side effect hell, raise your glass of water in commiseration. Here are the top five things I hate about my meds.
1. I gained a ton of weight. While I had always heard that certain medications could cause weight gain, I was not prepared for the havoc that one medication would wreak on my body. In the past I had a moderate appetite, rarely snacked and had a high metabolism. Once I started this med, I became hungry all. the. time. So I started eating and eating and eating to try and fill the hunger. Pretty soon I had gained 5 pounds, then 10 pounds, then 20 pounds. But I was also stabilizing emotionally – this was the most successful medication I had tried to date, and I wasn’t about to stop it and go back down the rabbit hole just because I had put on some weight. As I felt better I have become better able to control my appetite, exercise and make healthier nutritional choices, but it’s also harder to lose weight on this medication. It takes a lot of positive self talk and even more discipline to deal with how my body has changed due to my meds.
2. I lost hair and I broke out. After being hospitalized, I was put on so many different medications it would make your head spin. It was hard to tell which one caused which side effect. At one point, I noticed my hair falling out in big clumps after I would shower. I asked my psychiatrist and sure enough—one medication caused hair loss. I had to cut my hair short because it looked so dull and thin. This was around the same time that I started breaking out all over my body and especially on my face. I thought I had left pimples behind in high school but I was wrong. Add these two side effects to the weight gain and it’s no surprise that my self confidence took a nose dive. Thankfully, my skin cleared up and I stopped losing hair after about six months on the medications.
3. I can’t drink any alcohol. While you really aren’t supposed to drink on any psychotropic meds, many people still do. I did for a long time, but after getting really sick and increasing the number of medications I was taking it became unsafe to consume any alcohol. It’s been over two years since I’ve had an alcoholic beverage and man do I miss it. When I go out to dinner with friends or come home after a long day, there is nothing I would love more than to have a nice glass of red wine or an ice-cold beer. It’s hard to see other people drinking socially and it takes a ton of self control to stick with water or diet Coke. But I do what I have to do – I know my wellbeing is more important than having a couple of drinks.
4. I have the bedtime routine of a fifth grader. I have to take my meds at very specific times of the day, especially at night. If I push it later, I either won’t be able to sleep or I will be groggy throughout the morning. Messing up my schedule or forgetting to take my meds can result in several difficult days with physical and emotional symptoms. So I have a set bedtime routine that I follow every single day. If I am going out to a social event that will go past 9:30pm I have to decide if I’m willing to feel worse for a few days because I want to stay out later and go off-schedule. The days of meeting my girlfriends for drinks after dinner or going out for some late-night dancing are long gone. My lights are out by 10:30pm whether it’s a weekday or the weekend.
5. I can’t get pregnant while taking my medications. This one is by far the most painful and difficult result of being on certain meds. I would gladly take overweight, bald and broken out if it meant I could have kids. I spent nearly two years trying to go off of certain meds (under the supervision of a doctor) to be able to get pregnant and then had a complete breakdown that took two more years to recover from. Now I’m back on those original meds plus several more – all of which are totally dangerous for an unborn child. I know I am not alone in feeling frustrated that having children will be so much more challenging, if not impossible, because of my medications. When I see pregnant women or families with little kids I feel devastated inside—I am almost overcome with jealousy, sadness and anger. I try to take this one day at a time and remind myself that there are many different ways to have a family if it turns out that pregnancy just isn’t an option for me.
Gratitude for where I am today helps me cope with how much the side effects of my medications suck. I hope that I never feel as hopeless and as dark as I did when I was in the midst of my depression. I wouldn’t go back there for anything in the world. Recovering and rebuilding a healthier life feels like nothing short of a miracle. And I recognize that medication has helped me to get where I am today, along with my other coping tools – therapy, exercise, yoga, meditation and talking to friends and family. I can live with all five of these things I hate about medication because my number one priority is being safe and healthy. It isn’t always easy and it isn’t always pretty but I choose wellness every day. It’s damn hard work and I know I’m worth it.
BIO: Amy Marlow is a survivor of suicide loss and lives with Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and C-PTSD. She is proud to be a peer facilitator of the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) “Peer-to-Peer” recovery education program. She writes about mental health, falling apart and starting over at http://bluelightblue.com. You can find her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/_bluelightblue_.