Sunday, April 17, 2016

Why I Take My Meds

Every day I take seven pills.

My life does not depend on these pills in any physical way. My heart won't stop, my blood pressure won't increase, they're not keeping my cholesterol down or my blood thin or thick, or stomach acid calm. They're not even adding vitamins to my system for healthy bones and longevity.

Worse than not keeping me alive, they make me fat, tired, compromise my liver, dilate my pupils numb my feet, shake my hands, zap my head if I forget them and shorten my life expectancy.

These are psychiatric medicines. This is polypharmacy. This is the trade-off for many of us living with mentally ill health.

It took perhaps 30 medications, and more combinations of those to find this combination. Believe it or not, the side effect list above is a good one. I can get through a short shift at work. I can concentrate on reading for a short while. I can clean my house, cook dinner,garden, sleep regularly, rather than all day or not at all.

I have dropped a medication for any number of reasons, headaches, drooling, suicidal ideation, lactation, because I didn't feel like taking my pills any more. Some medicines you can't go back to, because their efficacy drops with each time you return to taking them and nobody takes their pills properly, most people can't even complete a 7 day course of antibiotics, let alone forever take an antipsychotic that makes them sleep 18 hours a day and means they can never have a beer again. And when medication cessation is built in to many mental illnesses and alcohol and drug problems are co-morbid in many patients, the impact of the drugs on liver and kidney function surely has to be taken into consideration. There is only one antidepressant on the market which is not processed by the liver. So many of the drugs on the market are simply unsuitable for the clients they are produced for.

Certainly, there is no magic bullet, one pill wonder for any of us, and definitely, for those of us with complex mental illnesses, therapy and lifestyle changes alone are not going to change our brain chemistry. You cannot sun salutation your way out of a manic episode, and while routine helps enormously, you need help before you can establish a routine because most of us begin from the kind of chaos seen in the very worst of teenage bedrooms, or from the kind of life where we stay in bed needing to pee until we also need to eat because we are conserving energy, and those three metres may as well be Katherine Gorge.

These seven pills I take don't even stop my mental illness in its tracks, like you would think pills are supposed to do. Mental illnesses are progressive illnesses, and they can get progressively better or worse or both, over time, in waves. At the moment, I am getting better. I have a team of extremely supportive professionals who I have known and loved to work with for over ten years (note how I say with, they are my doctors, but I feel a partnership with them, and this is extremely important if mental health clients are to become well) .

Every year, spring comes and I pick up a packet of antispychotics, and my pill count rises to 9 because my brain is suspicious of seasonal change and daylight savings time, and as my thoughts begin to swirl faster than all the eddies in the river and the flowers on the trees shine just for me, and I dance naked in the rain in my courtyard in my apartment block, I know it is, begrudgingly swallow those antipsychotics, because the next step in this process is seeking out strangers to sleep with, and calling the bank to extend my credit limit and buying tutus and $400 worth of glitter glue and painting the town footbridge, while talking to the wind, and singing loudly, drinking whiskey and probably not wearing underwear or shoes, before getting distracted from my painting, and the voice of the wind tells me to go up to the local radio station and pass on its message.

This is why we need medication. Because once we learn to recognise and accept the symptoms of our illness, it gives us power to control some of them, and in that way we have some control over our lives.

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