I have something to confess, and it’s not going to be easy. I’m sure once I’m done writing this, I won’t even have the guts to re-read it.
It’s something that needs to be said, a story that needs to be told.
Lately, I’ve seen a lot of article about heavy medications being FDA approved for off label use in children. I’ll be honest, every time I read one of those articles, my heart constricts. Because I remember what it was like to be a medicated child. I remember the numbness, the cloudiness, the out of body feeling every time I woke up. I remember it all and the thought of another child going through it without having any idea of what it would be like, it scares the hell out of me.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes medications are the answer, but a lot of the articles I’ve been reading have been the use of strong, heavy for adults, medications for behavior issues. Not mental illness, not autism, not an actual condition, but to get them to sit still while in school or to not throw temper tantrums like children do. And that, God, that kills me.
I want nothing more than to shout it from the roof tops that this idea of medications being the answer for everything in this life is so incredibly wrong. But I’m just one voice, one tiny tiny voice shouting against thousands of louder ones. There’s not much I can do about that, but I can tell my story. And that’s what I plan on doing, at least a part of it.
I was only twelve when I was put on my first medication. It seemed like the best solution. I was showing signs of severe depression, severe anxiety, among other issues. Now, the issue wasn’t just that I had more severe symptoms than the average child going into adolescence. Of course, that played a part, but there was something a lot more important and that was that my biological Dad is a drug addict and we knew that his addiction stemmed from something just as serious, and that was a mental disorder. Bipolar, most likely. I showed signs of being like him, mentally, with an imbalance, and the thought alone scared the shit out of my parents, and out of me. I was young, but I knew his story, and I knew that was not how I wanted to turn out. Medication for us was the best choice, at the time at least, because there was such a large possibility that I could get worse, that I could go down the road that he went, and that’s something we wanted to avoid. I don’t regret it, not completely anyway, because at the time, my parents and i did what we felt was right, what we felt would keep me safe. It’s hard, you know, not knowing how to prevent something that could very well be hereditary. So, we ventured into the world of medication in hopes of a fix, in hopes that it could solve my issues, solve the fear we all had that my life wasn’t going to be as bright if I didn’t get some help. We had no idea what we were getting into, but I don’t regret it, because for a little while, it helped. It gave us some peace of mind. My grades improved, my mood improved, and I was doing well, until I wasn’t, until I built up a tolerance, until I became my illness.
I remember being so terrified to take these pills and I remember feeling stupid that I was so scared of them. They were just pills. Tiny little pills. All I had to do was swallow them. Drink them down with a glass of water, and I would be okay. I would be normal. I would be like my peers, I would be less like my father, I would be happy. But, I think somewhere in my mind, I knew that they could be dangerous, even if I didn’t really know the ramifications of them.
I cried a lot the first few weeks. I felt so foreign, like my body didn’t belong to me. I had a really hard time adjusting, thinking, keeping myself awake. I was in school walking around like a zombie. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, didn’t want to see anyone. I was so hopeful in the beginning, but that hope started to fade.
My doctor assured me that it could take four to six weeks until I felt normal, whatever that word really meant. I nodded, said okay, and continued to struggle with how I felt. It’s hard for me to remember everything from that time period, in fact, I have an extremely difficult time remembering a lot from my ten year walk with medications. Some parts are blurry, hard for me to even picture. I remember how I felt, but I can’t remember how I looked or sounded when I talked to other people. I can’t remember if, in those first few weeks, I snapped at my mom or gave her attitude like I had been known to do. But I do remember how I felt, and I felt…desolate.
Before the medications, I didn’t even feel that depressed or hopeless. I just thought that was normal, and to me, it was my normal. But after the medications, in that adjustment period, everything just felt bleak, and I constantly contemplated if it was worth it, if living this way was worth it.
But, like clock work, the fifth or six week came and I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I wasn’t so exhausted and I didn’t feel so alone. I was getting better. I can’t even begin to explain the relief that came from it, from going from thinking suicidal thoughts to smiling and laughing. I think that first bout of medications lasted the longest than all the others I had taken. I was starting to act like a normal kid, even though I still struggled with the side effects, my mood was better and that’s what I was happy about. Of course though, the other shoe had to drop at some point.
At some point, the side effects became more apparent and they came out of no where. Headaches, exhaustion, my eyes were dilated to the point where my sister constantly asked if I was using drugs. They never went down, you never saw the greens and yellows that encircled my eyes, all you saw was black. It wasn’t just the eyes though, I was starting to get sick. At some point, I was constantly feeling sick to my stomach. I couldn’t eat, which made me lose more weight. I was already 110 lbs, soaking wet, I didn’t have much more to lose. And once the side effects showed their faces, the medications stopped working as well, if at all.
This is where I went down the long road of changing medications, desperately seeking that relief I once felt from my thoughts, and failing miserably as more and more medications were piled on and more and more medications made it worse. The more they added, the more dark I went. I was an eight grader having to be watched by my school counselor because I was afraid that I would give in, that I would hurt myself. And I did, a lot.
I could explain how it felt every time I changed a medication, but it would be repetitive, I guess all you need to know is that I never felt settled. I hurt, mentally and physically. I felt heavy, and dragged on because these pills made it hard for me to move my body. The medications either made it so I couldn’t sleep, or made it so I only wanted to sleep for eighteen hours at a time. I never felt like myself. I felt trapped in my own foggy brain, trying to claw out an escape.
As I got older, I accepted that it was my norm. As I got older, I accepted that this would be my life. As I got older, the side effects got worse, as did the disorders.
Part of the issue will always be with the doctors. There’s this standard where throwing medications in their patients way, without talking to them, discussing things with them, happens all too often. I’ve seen dozens of doctors over the years, and they were all the same. Some were worse than others, but for the most part, it seemed that they were all too focused on meditating, and not focused enough on fixing the issue at hand. I had a lot of issues that I needed to face, but didn’t until I had already made mistakes, burned bridges that I still wish I hadn’t, and until I was able to see and think clearly. Not all doctors are bad, but the norm these days seem to be solving side effects with medications, which forms more side effects that are treated with more medications. The cycle is vicious, and it’s hard to escape. But that’s a story for another time.
I tried, many times, to get off of the medications. I would be successful for a couple weeks, maybe a month or two, and then would relapse, hard. And those withdrawals from the meds, in those first few days after not taking those magically evil pills, they were almost worse than the relapse. Some days, I couldn’t stand, hell, I couldn’t even lay down, without feeling the world spin. The pain, the nausea, the misfiring in my brain because I didn’t have those extra chemicals running through my body, it was killer. I felt alone, and afraid, a common theme when dealing with this stuff. And the relapses, they got worse every time. I think at some point, my brain, my body, it had no idea how to function without added chemicals.
I pushed through though, always finding a small relief in the brief months that the medications would work. I would add more and more until I was taking seven different types a day just to function. But those last couple years, when I was well out of my childhood years, married and supposed to be living a sane adult life, the side effects really took a toll. I gained weight fast, especially when my husband left for basic training. My anxiety was crippling, I hated leaving the house, but the withdrawals from the clonapin or xanax never felt worth it. I had a seizure, I was constantly sick, and I developed a twitch that only .5% of patients would get. At some point, I was just tired. Sick and fucking tired, of being sick, of not being able to just get better because if it wasn’t my mental stability, it was my physical health. I was done. So incredibly done.
The withdrawal from all seven of those pills was pretty grueling, but I had enough experience in it that I knew what I needed. I needed at least three days of posting up on a couch so I could battle the headaches and the dizziness and the sickness. And I needed something to keep me busy because the chemicals would leave me, and I would be left in shock. And I needed a backup plan in case it all went down hill. It never occurred to me how sad it was that I had developed that kind of program for withdrawals since I was a kid.
But, I got through it. And I promised myself, if I could just make it a month without the medications, I would be proud. I wanted so badly to just be better, because my quality of life wasn’t just ruining me, it was hurting my husband as well. I had to man up, grow up, and take this medication free life by the horns. I did, it wasn’t easy, but I did. I found myself wishing I had a xanax or my anti-psychs just to make it through the day, but I never took them, reminding myself of how bad it was.
In that time of heeling, repairing years of destruction done, I had a lot of time to think and I realized a lot.
I realized that I couldn’t remember a lot of things I did in those ten years. I remembered the highs, the mental highs, the memory highs, but when I was low, when the meds weren’t working or I was withdrawing or on a new one, it was all too fuzzy to remember.
I realized that I spent a lot of time feeling sick when that wasn’t normal.
I realized that had I been stronger, sooner, I could have improved my life.
But most of all, I realized that medications aren’t for kids, not the ones that aren’t needed.
Because as a kid, I had no idea the ramifications. I had no idea what was normal, what wasn’t normal, what this all meant for me. As a kid, I had no idea that I was going to have a different childhood. I had a family, with a roof over my head, a pool in my backyard, food to eat, a dog to play with, a Step Dad to watch DVD’s with, but that along with those things came so much more. It meant medications, dosing, gauging my moods, gauging my side effects, plans to help myself when shit hit the fan. It meant growing up in one way, while missing my childhood in others. It meant trying to fit in with the other kids in school, while battling depression, medications, doctors. It meant feeling alone because I was sure no one understood. It meant having to try and understand things that a child shouldn’t have to, like looking out for signs of crashing, or maintaining suicidal thoughts. And it meant keeping quiet about the way these medications hurt me, because I didn’t know any better, because I was embarrassed, because I was tired of being a burden, because I thought that was what my life was supposed to be.
It wasn’t all the medications, I know that. A lot of it was the disorder, but the medications, the switching, the increasing doses, the chemicals in my body from such a young age, that crippled me in a lot of ways I didn’t realize until I was done. And sometimes, I have a hard time looking people in the eye from my past, talking to certain people, knowing that in my illness induced mind, I hurt them, that when I was struggling with these medications and was too overwhelmed to function, I hurt them. I want to be able to take it back, to apologize, but using these things as an excuse for my actions seems…wrong somehow.
And I have a hard time seeing these articles where they’re prescribing heavy medications to get kids to sit still, to behave better, to be different, because I know the path they’re going to go down. And I know the way it’s going to hurt. I know the way it’s going to feel as if you’re yelling, screaming, as loud as you can to tell someone, anyone that these things are hurting you, but nothing comes out, you’re silent, and no improvements come. I hope that in this extremely personal post that someone can read it and think twice about medications, or relate in some way. I know that some medications are necessary, and I fully support those, but some need to be thought about twice, three times, maybe more. Because unless you’re the one taking them, unless you’ve been there, you’re going to have no idea what it feels like. It’s not talked about nearly enough. That needs to change, and that starts here.
I’m now twenty-five years old. I’m coming up on three years un-medicated. And I’m seeing things so clearly. Instead of medication being the first step, there needs to be more people teaching coping mechanisms, ways to think positively and healthily, ways to fix your issues or make them easier to handle. That’s what’s important, that’s what made my quality of life improve in wa way I never imagined. If i hadn’t changed or gotten off of the medications, I wouldn’t have had the life everyone told me I would never have. It was hard, and sometimes i wanted to give up, but it was worth it.
Feel free to share your stories, or to ask questions, I want nothing more than to help make a change.