My Medicated Life

The lack of sleep shapes me into a bent blade dulled along the once-serrated edges. It is 6:00 a.m.. I place my hands on either side of the porcelain bathroom sink and drop my head until the cold mirrored glass makes contact with the bald spot atop my crown, so to speak. My doctor says I’m on the mend; so long as I don’t have thoughts of “doing myself in,” there’s reason to be positive. Doing myself — in.

The charade hinges upon the two amber bottles hidden behind the bathroom mirror. As I brush my teeth and wash my face, I’m thinking dont forget the pills, dont forget the pills and while I trim my beard and apply deodorant, I’m thinking dont forget the pills, don’t forget the pills because to forget them is to ruin the charade. How can I possibly feign good health if I’m suffering from withdrawal symptoms, the price I pay if I miss daily dosages? I remind myself to not forget; the refrain dont forget the pills is not, however, a sign of faith in modern medicine.

There is the half capsule, the whole capsule, and the oval blue pill in my hand. The cocktail is meant to boost my dopamine and serotonin (my energy and “happy feelings,” respectively). This is important, my doctor says because I can’t stay in bed for the rest of my life, nor should I meander through the world feeling down — feeling sad, but not hopeless — so I pop the pills into my mouth.

Here is where, in the name of mental well-being, I hand myself over to side effects. I think to myself during sex the slight decrease in sensation is worth not wanting to hang myself and this is true since, thank God, I’ve escaped the more brutal sexual side effects, namely impotence and ejaculation failure which, frankly, sounds painful. Besides, there are benefits to slight decrease in sensation which, for the purposes of this essay, don’t require further analysis. Although — although — I will say, in this context, I am grateful for the antidepressants. Let’s leave it at that.

The spasms annoy me the most. My muscles twitch at random — small, painless twitches — and I never know where they’ll hit. For some patients, the spasms are centralized or contained within one area of the body — legs or arms, for example. I, on the other hand, experience them throughout my body. A spasm in my right leg while driving 80 MPH on a four-lane highway is, if nothing else, disquieting, but I manage to keep the car on the road. At my desk, I sometimes feel them in my hands and on occasion, it’s difficult to grip a pen without it falling from my grasp. There are moments, however, when the spasms stretch beyond the small, painless twitches and become more severe, usually as I try to sleep. My torso randomly contorts as if I’m turning around to see who’s calling my name.

The medication represents a tipping point of sorts in the ongoing awkwardness between myself and my family. My father was the only one who, up to a point, knew the severity of my depression; my mother and brothers and sister knew nothing, or very little, so I can imagine their shock when I told them about my depression in detail. The medical term, its definition, how long I’ve been in (and out of) therapy, what medication I took and the dosages and what they, the meds, will do for me should they work as prescribed. I told them all of this as a means to push them away, to say Im sick and I dont want you hovering over me, so respect my privacy.

They’ve done so, as has my extended family, who I haven’t seen in almost two years. What is there to say? How can I hold up my head and present myself as myself, a depressed, once-divorced man now free-falling toward divorce number two? I don’t want to hear their questions or worse, their pity. Love and pity aren’t distant relatives; take them at face value and one begins to look like the other.

I want my family to care, but I don’t want them to care, so when they play their part and stay away, I am both relaxed and lonely. I don’t have to answer questions; I don’t have to make small talk or pretend as if I’m okay — really, I’m okay. There are no questions, no small talk, when you’ve jettisoned all the voices out of your life and only the spectral bellow reverberating somewhere deep within your brain remains.

There is no end in sight. Neither my doctor nor my therapist can tell me when, exactly, I can ween myself off the medication. It is to my benefit to feel better, they say — I agree — but I never wanted to become dependent on antidepressants. I wanted to feel better on my own by changing habits, by altering my behavior just enough so I could stop feeling so abandoned by everyone, and feeling as if I deserve nothing good, and feeling so trapped in life: not wanting to die, not wanting to live. TC Mark

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  • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2012/08/my-medicated-life/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

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  • Megan

    Big hug to you <3 itll get better!

    • ice box

      sometimes it never gets better
      i hate when people say that to me cause it’s not true

  • rubz

    This is amazing. You are astonishingly eloquent and you have a way of capturing the moment. I almost feel like I am watching this as a movie.

  • i dont care what your doctor says

    Do yourself a favor and throw those pills in the garbage, wake up tomorrow and put on your running shoes. Run until you convince yourself that you can get through whatever your going through on your own. Find will power within yourself because that’s the only way you’re gonna make progress. BAM! And that didn’t cost you $400.00 and 3 million brain cells.

    • paintthinnr

      I really understand and respect where you are coming from, but you have never experienced clinical depression. I will absolutely agree with you that exercise is incredibly helpful. But when your brain is not doing what it is supposed to do, you could run a marathon and still want to die. Been there, done that. It IS incredibly important not to rely just on medication but also to exercise and attempt to be social, change your cognitive processes etc., but please realize that at a certain point, it is a medical issue.

      I don’t think you just pop a pill and leave it at that. Therapy and changing behavior is incredibly important. But saying just to go running… that belittles something very serious. Something where someone wants to die. To tell a person who literally can’t get out of bed (and if you haven’t experienced this, it truly is physical) to go running… it’s just not possible.

      I agree that yes, exercise makes a HUGE difference. But if you are experiencing true medical depression, it doesn’t make a dent. If this were the case, exercise addicts and anorectics (most of whom exercise compulsively) would get better, as depression and anxiety are the root of their behavior.

      Popping a pill in itself doesn’t tend to do it. Exercise is definitely an important part of plain old sanity. We’re not meant to be so still. But without appropriate medication, someone who truly has a medical problem that affects their mood so badly cannot just jump to the point of running to make it better.

      • x

        PAINTTHINNR, agreed.

    • Danielle

      antidepressants don’t kill 3 million of your brain cells. nor do they cost $400. in fact, i pay $20/month so that i don’t kill myself, or spend every day wanting to. most people would probably say that’s worth it. you clearly have never experienced depression, because if you had you would understand how belittling that “advice” was as well as how completely unrealistic it is.

    • MandaLeeK

      Bullshit.

      I’m glad others are responding with respect and well constructed arguments. It leaves me feeling much more free to call this what it is.

      Bullshit. Bullshit of the most privileged and ignorant variety.
      Bullshit that stigmatizes mental illness and treatment.
      Bullshit that exacerbates the problem(s) for both individuals and the communities we all live in.
      Bullshit that can even lead to more pain, more illness, and more death.

      Exercise can be a valuable tool in combating almost any form of illness.
      There is no doctor or therapist out there who won’t suggest it.

      But, you know what else can be a valuable tool for the sick? Drugs.
      Drugs that point out the path to ‘normal’ when a person is completely emotionally and mentally disoriented. Drugs that hit a pause button on a downward cycle. Drugs that make the idea of putting on those running shoes thinkable at all, instead of leaving the house being even more terrifying than the idea of swallowing a bullet.

      This man sounds like he will make progress. Each year a greater number of suffering people are going to make progress. Actual progress towards mental and physical health, with the help of doctors and therapists, friends and family, exercise, diet AND drugs.

      And this hopefully keep on happening in spite of moronic, scientifically illiterate assholes like yourself.

    • Emily

      …you’re not, by any chance, a Scientologist, right?

  • http://gravatar.com/campoad campoad

    This is the most beautiful piece to ever grace TC. It takes an ridiculous amount of strength, to write something so eloquently painful and dangerously honest. I hope you find solace in your words, as I can guarantee you, many others have. You have a gift. Do not waste it.

  • Forget 'I DON'T CARE WHAT YOUR DOCTOR SAYS'

    Running?! You think the sole act of running is going to pull someone out of severe depression?!? What a poor and ignorant bit of advice! Why don’t you stop trying to make ‘educated’ guesses about something you have never once experienced. I have felt the pain that this person has – I am going through it and run daily – BUT without the help of medicine that corrects my severely imbalanced brain chemistry, I don’t always know if I can make it through. Sure exercise helps ‘some mildly depressed’ people, but that little boost of feel good chemicals from running will do nothing after they’ve warn off for the morning… A word of advice: Keep your opinions to yourself when you have NO idea what you’re talking about. It’s as if you’re attributing the fault of his mental ailments to him when clearly his brain chemistry (NOT BY HIS FAULT) is off…

    This article is beautifully written and truly resonates within me as something I go through but could never describe as eloquently as you. Bravo! And good luck! Stay strong and believe in your recovery! You can do it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mardoqueo Mardoqueo E. Sueldo

    This is so real.
    I bought a bike and left the pills, not that I feel any better
    but I’ve got a bike.

    • paintthinnr

      <3

  • http://gravatar.com/kitschamoe kitschamoe

    Although I certainly emphasize with the central message of this article, I can’t help but feel that the underlying premise is somewhat melodramatic. Perhaps the relatability of these symptoms make the piece pop with a certain pizazz befitting this blog, but for a person that is suffering through acute mental illness, resulting from a TBI that will in all likelihood render my career impossible and leaves me in agonizing pain, not to mention uncontrollable emotional angst, this piece is trite and sad for all the wrong reasons. You have no idea all of the things that you have to be grateful for right now.

    • paintthinnr

      I’m so sorry for what you are going through. I must respectfully disagree with you, in the sense that a TBI can absolutely cause severe depression as well as unbelievable pain, the depression (and mental anguish it causes) absolutely can come about on its own from genetic or other organic causes (i.e. drug/alcohol abuse/eating disorders, etc.) The fact is that most acute mental illness is not the result of a physical trauma. And there is something awful in the understanding that you just came this way – appearing normal, but your brain won’t let you react to the world like a “normal person”.

      Part of what you hate yourself for is that you have no “right” to feel this way. I agree that gratitude lists are incredibly helpful. When I was told to list five things I was grateful for before I went to bed, absolutely simple things like the weather, or that my bus wasn’t late, whatever, it focused me more on thinking of things I was glad of during the day. But at a certain point it’s just not enough.

      You are in pain in one way, and that is awful. Others are in pain in another way, and just as I admit I cannot imagine what it’s like to have a TBI, you don’t know what it’s like to just be this way, with no excuse other than there is something seriously wrong with you.

  • B lee

    Wow, Besides it being the male point of view..this is me, 100%. From the spasms ( I thought it was only me and honeslty was afraid I was getting Parkinson’s), to the family..”I want them to care, but I don’t want them to care”…again, wow. I know they know, and that’s fine..so leave it be. Great writing…you made me feel not alone in this sea of medication I take to be ‘happy’.

    • pocky

      you’re not alone. <3

      • B Lee

        And it is SO good to know, I’m not the only one! <3 Thank you!

  • http://gravatar.com/paintthinnr Rachel

    Sigh. I relate to this more than I care to admit.

    Not all meds are good. I tried, by my count, 8 different drugs in dizzying variations of strength and combination. Some did nothing. Some helped so much I still can’t believe it, but then stopped working years later. Some actually made me worse than ever.

    But I will say this; If the suicidal ideation is lessening, that is bigger than it may seem. It can be awful to still feel miserable, or still feel nothing, and lose that one thing that you consider your hope – that your pain could end. But it is a step and an important one. I didn’t realize how big a difference that made until I tried going off my meds, under doctor supervision. (My mother has huge issue with my taking them and keeps telling me they will give me cancer. This is oh so helpful…)

    But within three days I noticed that in a detached way, that wherever I was, I was thinking about how I could die right then. Not planning it, not intending it really, but images would flash way to vividly in my head. I’ve also had it much worse, trying to tell people, while insisting that I’m fine of course, that suicide isn’t selfish “theoretically”, it’s the people who expect you to go on day after day while feeling this way who are selfish. If you were a dog in this much pain you’d be put down.

    But once you get back on equal footing, you remember that there wouldn’t be any relief, really. As I read on a site that was helpful to me, “You have to be alive to feel relief.” When you’re depressed, being unconscious is very appealing, but it only feels like a break because we come back.

    There’s not just a chance it will get better and that you will be glad you survived this, there is a VERY strong likelihood. Being in a bad place right now, despite being medicated, it actually annoys me to believe that. Because it means that I don’t get an easy out. That I have to sit through this, which honestly is more than most people go through.

    Finding the right meds is a huge challenge and takes a great doctor and time. And unfortunately it can change over time. I don’t want to deal with the fact that my meds aren’t doing what they should because I don’t want to go through the trial and error period again, though I know I’ll have to. It’s like knowing you need a root canal. You stay in pain to put off the pain.

    I encourage you to bookmark this site in case it ever gets so bad that you really honestly consider dying:

    http://www.metanoia.org/suicide/

    I have no connection to it other than it has actually saved my life and I am grateful. It sounds stupid but just giving it 24 hours can make a huge difference. I always resisted talking to someone, but I learned through someone calling ME the next day, that without even really discussing it, talking to a friend, though far away, despite not discussing it, made me really glad I was still there to talk to her.

    I hope you find your perfect meds. More than that I hope that at some point you don’t need them, if that’s possible. There are people, and I believe I am one of them due to lovely genetics, that have to be on them for life, like insulin, in order to survive. It’s so easy to feel alone with this kind of thing. You aren’t. And it was brave to write about it.

    • only5cents

      Rachel, If you have tried different meds and didn’t get a great response, I recommend going to a Psychiatrist that does genetic testing. My daughter was the same way, not responding to medication. We have depression in our family and it turns out she has a genetic defect (most likely other family members have it also) where she doesn’t process well Folate (An important B vitamin) into Methylfolate (which crosses the blood brain barrier) very well. This apparently causes decreased neurological functioning. She began taking a prescription Methylfolate supplement called Deplin and her depression lifted pretty much overnight. It was remarkable. She is taking a small dose of Cymbalta and still has some anxiety and ADHD, but her depression is gone.

  • Stephanie

    I know exactly what you’re going through… I’d like to recommend this book to try and help you try and change your thoughts to feel better: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0380810336?tag=thougcatal0c-20
    I’m still working through it, but it’s been promising so far

  • http://thebriandonovan.wordpress.com Brian Donovan

    I feel ya, Mensah.

  • pocky

    I wake up everyday and my first thought: pills. It makes me more nauseous while on the subway to work.. but it’s worth it to feel better later in the day. you’re not alone and thank you for writing this article when noone in my life seem to understand the seriousness of it all.

  • tc comment

    I have been on my medication for two years. And I used to let thoughts much like the ones that you described dictate my life. The fear of what if I’m like this forever, what if I’m always dependent on my meds. I hated that I put on a little weight and how it made me feel different, left out of a non-medication realm. But I’ve finally realized that some people have conditions that can never be fixed. There are diseases with no cures with no hopes of one soon. How lucky am I that through modern medicine I can face a kitchen drawer and not think of all the ways I could use steak knives to kill myself? After about 6 months, I finally felt like I could enjoy life, not beat up on myself and could see a future. Before the medication, I could NEVER picture a future for myself. I still have a long way to go. Meds won’t fix my low self-esteem and I’m the only one who can focus on managing my panic attacks. However, I know I would not be here without meds and this was probably just a really long rambling thing but if it helps you or anyone at all or gives anyone some food for thought, I am happy. I wish you the best on your journey and hope the “stuck” feeling as I used to call it, leaves you soon.

  • http://www.mariellegaspar.tumblr.com Marielle

    Being on anti-depressants for 4 years (I’m 17 now), I’ve never read an article that has hit clinical depression right on the money. In fact, I started crying the most at the end:

    “I wanted to feel better on my own by changing habits, by altering my behavior just enough so I could stop feeling so abandoned by everyone, and feeling as if I deserve nothing good, and feeling so trapped in life: not wanting to die, not wanting to live.”

    Thank you for posting this, it reminds me that I’m not alone

    • only5cents

      Marielle,

      Make sure that you see a psychiatrist on an ongoing basis and keep trying to adjust meds if the need arises to do so. You may be already doing this. I just wanted to make sure that you are aware that during the teen years, hormone changes causes psychiatric changes. There are some psychiatrists who do not insist on seeing their patients on a regular basis. Make sure you have a very “hands on” psychiatrist during these bumpy years. Best of luck to you! I have a teenager as well and my heart goes out to you. You deserve EVERYTHING good and you’ll get it. You just might have to fight for it.

  • Sarah

    This is all well and good, but if medications makes you unsafe to drive, (and i realize that this was a minor part of the post) please do us all a favor and stay off the road.

  • lt

    well, this is my life. except for sexual side effects. mine hit me hard and it’s awful. it sucks it’s depressing and it’s frustrating…

  • http://gravatar.com/joycenancy joycenancy

    This article really succeeds in illustrating the questions and conflicts of taking psychotropic drugs… Do we have to be on them forever? What if I don’t want to kill myself but I still feel shitty? What if I experience very unpleasant side effects that I hate but don’t necessarily impede my life? Should I risk the shitstorm that comes with tapering myself off my current meds and slowly climbing up the dosage of new ones, with the possibility of even worse side effects? How do I figure out when it’s time to try not needing them anymore?

    I think therapy can do a lot that medicine can’t. Medicine can supplement therapy, and can create some stability in order to deal with difficult issues in therapy, but never underestimate what therapy can achieve in terms of learning how to change the patterns in your life that cause you to be unhappy, even if it takes a long time. Sometimes depressive episodes are just biological, and you can’t question that meds will help you. But there’s also the rest of your life to deal with — feeling trapped, abandoned, like you don’t deserve good things. Meds probably can’t fix those things, but in therapy you can very actively work on them.

  • http://musabee.wordpress.com musabee

    This is written beautifully, and I agree, almost cinematic. Reminds me of Requiem for a Dream, in a way?

  • Grizzle

    Depression is a bitch. No doubt. BUT, you don’t need to depend on medication your whole life!!! It’s not permanently going to heal you all of a sudden! You need a good diet, good gym routine, and meditation in your life. Some supplements, such as Kanna (herbal) and Kratom are extremely helpful and MUCH better than medications will ever be!!! Even weed helps more!
    I SELL KRATOM, and it’s the real thing, for a very affordable price, you’re free to e-mail me at: uzunaruto@sbcglobal.net – for more info.
    I have overcame anxiety and depression myself! Do not believe in medication!

  • nightshaye

    Grizzle, it’s 2012, nothing is wrong with medication. No one is expecting to be healed overnight. Plus, not a good place to hawk your Dr Feelgoods.

    That being said- Like a diabetic on insulin, I’ve gone from resenting the remedy- in my case antidepressants- to being so grateful I live in a time, where after we have existed for millions of years as a spieces, that effective remedies for depression actually exist. And only 30 or so years ago antidepressants had so-so results and the side effects were horrendous.

    Ignore the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” advice. Would those same people have the nerve to say that to someone feeling dizzy from high blood pressure?

    As Id said, this is 2012, depression has certainly been recognized as a chemical imbalance- not
    unlike many “conventional” conditions. The same could be said for hypo/hyperthyroidism, etc. And, just you wait, if these people are lucky to live long enough, they’ll likely be on some kind of pill before
    too long- and maybe an antidepressant.

    Finally, I’m grateful I’m not needing to inject insulin or such twice a day, be on serious painkillers for advanced arthritis or even have to be on something like chemo, like so many people are.

    Don’t let the remedy itself cause reason to stay stuck in depression, and never define yourself by it! Don’t buy into the stigma yourself.

    Depression is a medical condition, not a character issue. Many, many great people, of great resource and character, such as Winston Churchill suffered from debilitating depression. I’d like to know what the nay-saying klowns would know, that people like him didn’t.

    • Grizzle

      Obviously medication helps, and there’s nothing wrong with it… but there is! Why suffer side-effects when you don’t need to! I stand by what I said… I’m not trying to pitch anything, I try to help others find the NATURAL WAY, because they CAN. All it takes is some will power.

      • Rachel

        Whoa. I have to jump in again here because what you said in that reply is flat out DANGEROUS. Depression and willpower have NOTHING to do with one another. It’s not something you can will your way out of. Again, low grade dysthymia DOES respond to exercise, sunlight, sex, etc. Major depression does not. You are telling people who already have major self-doubt (and often self-hatred) that it is, in fact, their fault!

        And for me the word willpower has a special metallic zing on the tongue. I was/am anorexic. I’ve lived on 300 calories for almost a year at a time. Try that for two days. So yeah. I have willpower. I’ve also done a half marathon. It didn’t do s-t for my depression.

        Willpower. The willpower is that we are still here. I constantly have the wish that I could give my life to some poor woman dying of cancer who has children, because she would appreciate it, and I could just STOP all this. But it’s not an option. I am frequently in so much pain, that if I were a dog, you would put it down without question. But I don’t. The willpower is getting out of bed every day and slogging through.

        There is something about feeling wrong in your skin. That you came this way, just not suited to being human and everything you do is a f-k up and you only make the world a worse place with your negative energy. Now, I have found cognitive behavioral therapy to be helpful along with the meds at changing the THOUGHT patterns, which really are very destructive.

        I truly wish it were that simple, I really do.

  • only5cents

    Depression is indeed a medical condition and medication DOES help. What makes things complicated is that finding the right dose (s) of which medicine (s) work best for you is often more complex than it would seem and causes the patient to feel that maybe nothing will work or work right. Depression / Anxiety / OCD / ADHD / etc. are not one size fits all. There are many medications available today, but I believe the “art” of prescribing them is still very hit and miss for the most part. I think patients must be advocates for their own mental health, be very aware and keep a journal of symptoms, so they can help the Dr. sort out which medication may work the best.

    Also, there are now some psychiatrists that are doing some genomic / genetic testing (genomind is one genetic testing company) that helps the psychiatrist make better choices about which drugs will likely work best. Insurance doesn’t cover some of this, but it can be worth it to sort things out once and for all and to confirm the depression is genetic. My daughter did some genetic testing and found she had a defect in the way her body processed folate into methylfolate. She began taking a perscription methylfolate supplement and felt her depression lift literally overnight. I realize not everyone will have these kinds of results, but for us it was well worth paying for the genetic testing and using this physician that was “out of network”.

  • nightshaye

    I’ve learned so much from these comments and feel this is the most useful and intelligent exchange I’ve seen on this site.
    If it could help anyone in return, I had been treated for depression since I was 8, hospitalized twice, and tried a plethora of medications. (This was before people knew as much as they do now, and the trial-and-errors were more drawn out.)

    But finally found a good combination where I feel normal (not “happy”, I don’t think they should be for that) and have to say I’ve felt like a real person for years now. I feel like I’ve “beaten” this thing. So many times I never thought I would.
    Sure, it could return but there’s every hope an adjustment could work.

    I don’t focus as much on the side effects which is part of the lifting of depression.
    To those of you still struggling, don’t give up. In all likelihood you can come through.

  • Emily

    Thank you for writing this. It takes a courage to even acknowledge that one’s life is regulated by medication. Sustained by it, you’re told, and to accept this but never quite…Having had a history of abusing my medication, I’m never quite sure whether I really need it. But I guess the nature of being reliant on something, for any reason, is that you need it. I really have no idea, and I’m probably just waffling. Thanks again, I hope I get to read more of your work :)

  • Alice

    My past three relationships have been with men who during the relationship, confessed to me that they had been on and off antidepressants. The most recent one had gone off of them as soon as we started seeing each other, and went back on them right before we broke up. This article allowed me to have a much better understanding as to what each of them were going through. Thank you.

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