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Losing One’s Mind – When Medication Fails

Posted Aug 26 2011 12:10pm

Philosophy, Science, Bipolar I, and Life

Posted by on August 26, 2011

It would be impossible to talk about medication without talking about its failures. Especially since failure is more prevalent than success. I talked yesterday a bit about what I felt like before going on medication, so today I’ll talk about what it is like to have to stop medication.

In my opinion, medication is a real crap shoot at times. Over the past 9 months, I’ve been on a lot of drugs that do not work. There’s celexa (twice), atenolol, propanolol, seroquel, risperidone, xanax, and klonopin. Over this summer, I’ve tried three antipsychotics, with only one working, abilify. All the previous ones ended in horror shows. And at the end of each of the failures, I always had a similar thought, that I’m losing my mind.

One of the main ways that I’ve seen drugs fail is that they simply didn’t do anything. This was especially the case when I was given beta-blockers for my anxiety. Nothing happened. There weren’t any side effects either. I used to think that this wasn’t a horrible way for a drug to fail, but it still is. The beta blockers were supposed to control my heart rate and reaction to stressful situations so that I didn’t get a panic attack. And they seemed to work a little bit, but I couldn’t really test them out in any substantial form without really stressing myself out. So I marched right into an exam with high hopes that the drug of choice among performance artists for stage fright might work, and then promptly melted down. The failure of a drug to perform does two things as a result, first it is a waste of a lot of time in taking it, but the second is that it brings a great deal of uncertainty into planning my activities. Even when I was unstable, I knew my limits. I knew when I could or could not deal with something and planned accordingly. With the addition of a new drug, I need to find my barriers all over again. And if it does nothing, then I wind up in a lot of unpleasant circumstances that I could have avoided. Additionally, if it doesn’t work, then these situations might destabilize me without having the proper medication to bring me back. So I often find this failure to be the most exasperating way to fail since it’s just time and energy to do nothing.

Another bothersome way that drugs might fail is by having intolerable side effects. This personally happened to me when I was taking risperidone. I was planning on dumping it rather quickly, but then it started up with paranoid hallucinations (that’s for the next section). Sometimes, the drugs do help, but the cure is worse than the disease. The difficulty with this is that it’s hard to tell what’s worse. Sure, I had fatigue and lower sex drive and felt just rather apathetic, but is that better or worse than swinging around every 6 days from manic to depressed with a mixture of suicide and mixed states thrown in? Add in the fact that it’s hard to remember what I felt like 6 weeks ago, and there’s a recipe for a difficult decision. Our brains are not wired that well to handle such evaluations, it’s like deciding between a strudle that will make you nauseous and a bowl of ice cream that will make you constipated. The choice is neither! But that’s not always an option. The tug of war between these two options is enough to drive one mad in its own rights. My own experience has taught me to just choose the neither and try going for another option. But it took a long time to figure that one out.

Finally, the drug can cause a complete mental break. Seroquel caused a mixed state with paranoid hallucinations, and risperidone just caused the paranoid hallucinations. Sometimes the drugs really do drive me to be a little insane. It’s exhausting to go through this. Not only is it time and energy wasted, but the destabilization and trauma of the episodes is enough to leave me bed ridden or completely out of touch with reality for weeks. And the after effects do not necessarily go away. Seroquel disrupted my memory to a significant degree and caused me to restart 3 of my classes since I could barely remember anything from the previous few months. Failing in this way doesn’t just reset to normal, it makes things worse than before.

These three ways that drugs can fail are exhausting and an everyday reality of taking new drugs. What can be even more exhausting is that medications might fail at one point, but work at another time. So there is no final say in whether the drugs in fact do work. It can be maddening. But not all is despair and failure. Tomorrow I’ll talk about the two successes in my life, lamictal and abilify. The success is relatively new, and I’m not that used to it yet, but I’ll talk a little about the hopefulness that comes with finding what works.

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