Monday 4 April 2016

My Mental Health Treatment Journey Part 1: Medication

The other day I was talking to a friend about my experiences with medication for treating my mental illnesses. She was starting the same medicine that I’m on and wanted some guidelines on what to expect. After talking to her I realised that talking about what medication you’ve tried and what sort of therapy has helped you isn’t a common topic of conversation. 

When starting a new course of treatment it’s normal to have questions but other than talking to your doctor there’s nowhere to really turn to for these discussions. So I’ve decided to share with you my experiences with medication and therapy in the hopes of encouraging people to start having these conversations and also to hopefully shed some light on the different kinds of treatment out there. 

It wasn’t until I started writing this post that I realised that my story is a long one and so I’ve decided to split this into two parts, this first one is about medication and the second part which will be up later this month is on therapy. 

As a disclaimer it’s important to know that different medicines and therapy are used to treat different mental health problems and one set way doesn’t work for everyone. This is just my personal journey.

My first step in treating my mental health problems was with medication. My family noticed something wasn’t right with my mental health before I did, so when I was fourteen after a lot of coaxing (and the promise of a McDonalds after) my mum took me to see our family GP. I remember him speaking to her rather than me and them talking about my moods and how important it was for me to get through my GCSE’s. He prescribed me a low dose of Prozac and wrote off my moods as stress from school. The Prozac seemed to do the trick; it got me through the next few years although I did notice that I often felt happy or sad with nothing in between. When going for my medication reviews this was wrote off as typical teenage mood swings.

When I was sixteen my mental health got vastly worse and so I went back to my GP who put me on a higher dosage of Prozac. That’s when things went very bad. My moods were either very high or very low. I’d either spend my days constantly on the go or struggling to get out of bed and go to school. One morning I got out of bed and honestly felt the worst that I’ve ever felt in all of my years living with mental illness. In tears, I made it downstairs and collapsed on the living room floor hysterically crying. I was inconsolable and had no idea what I was crying about but I couldn’t stop. I felt deeply depressed and just wanted the dark cloud that seemed to be following me around, weighing heavy on my shoulders, to go away. I felt like I'd literally hit rock bottom lying on that floor. My mum couldn’t get me off the floor, never mind to the doctors, so she made an emergency phone call to him. He said I’d had a bad reaction to the Prozac and that I was to come off it immediately. Slowly, as the Prozac came out of my system, I started to feel better. My mental illness was still there but I didn’t feel as bad as I did on Prozac.

My doctor wanted to try me on a different medication but after my bad experience I was very reluctant to give anything else a go. Slowly my mental illness (which I didn’t have a name for back then) was steadily getting worse. My typical day consisted of waking up and feeling too anxious to leave my house so I’d stay in. Trying to make myself useful, I’d fight off the depression that was demanding that I stay in bed and force myself to shower, prepare meals and tidy up all of which required me to check certain objects or touch switches and door knobs repeatedly until the feelings of anxiety subsided - a ritual that could go on for hours. Then, mentally exhausted, I’d collapse into bed and sleep the rest of the day away. Something had to change but I was so scared of going back to my GP in case he wanted me to try medication again, which at this point I was really against. After much persuasion from my nearest and dearest I went to see a different doctor. Before doing anything he wanted me to get a proper diagnosis, something that other mental health professionals have since told me should have been done all along.

Two weeks later I had a one off appointment at the mental health branch of a local hospital and was asked some questions for about an hour by a psychiatrist. After the appointment finished she asked me “What do you think is wrong with you?” and I answered “Depression” it was the only mental illness that I’d heard of at that time that somewhat fit my symptoms. She diagnosed me with PTSD, Anxiety, OCD and Depression. I was confused, I said to her “I thought PTSD is what soldiers who’ve been to war have? And isn’t OCD when you need things to be clean and worry about germs?” She was brilliant and explained to me that the abusive relationship that I was in at that moment in time had created trauma in my brain and that OCD is more about the obsession behind the acts rather than what you actually do to stop the anxiety.

Having that diagnosis changed everything for me. My doctor now knew what was wrong with me, I could research the illnesses online and find people like me. It made me better understand my moods and  knowing what was wrong made it treatable. If you think you have a mental illness I’d strongly recommend asking your doctor for a referral to get properly diagnosed by a mental health professional so that you can get the right treatment. There are a wealth of mental illnesses and conditions out there that you may not have even heard of or considered. Knowing what you have and treating it correctly can make all the difference. It's like if you went to your doctor and were treated for eczema when you’ve actually got impetigo. Getting the right treatment for your condition is crucial.

When I went back to see my GP with my new diagnosis he then prescribed me Citalopram. I was very cautious about this but my doctor was really great asking me to keep in touch with him if it made me feel bad and saying that I could come off it or we could try something else. He told me that just because one medication didn’t work, doesn’t mean that none of them will. Those words were the real turning point for me and are something to keep in mind when going through treatment. Confident in my diagnosis and trusting my new GP I bit the bullet and tried Citalopram, because of the severity of my mental condition at that point I was put on a high dose of 60mg. At first it didn’t feel like the medication was doing much but a few weeks in and I started to feel very numb and a bit like a zombie. I hated feeling that way so in my medication review I was honest with my doctor who decreased it to 20mg which turned out to be the perfect amount for me.

Taking Citalopram certainly didn’t cure my mental illnesses but it did soften the sharp edges of my mind making the PTSD, Anxiety, OCD and Depression easier to live with. It also didn’t come without a trade; I put on weight, lost my sex drive and often felt lacking in energy. But to some extent I got my life back so guess who won that trade off? I’ve been on a 20mg dosage of Citalopram for the past ten years; it suits me and has improved my life so much.

I’m so glad that despite my bad experience with medication I tried again. There is so much negative stigma surrounding taking medication for mental illness and I was someone who, for a time, believed that stigma and refused treatment that could have made me better sooner. For the record, taking medication hasn’t changed my personality - if anything it's made room in my brain for my personality to shine through now that it’s not so cluttered with obsessive thoughts and all that darkness. It hasn't dulled my creativity (hello blogging!) and I still experience other feelings vividly and intensely. For the longest time I truly believed that medication was my enemy. That taking it was weak and wrong and would change who I was. Medication is not my enemy. It’s the shield I use to stop the mental illness from hitting me so hard. Deciding on whether you want to take medication or not is a personal choice, but know before you decide that there is no right or wrong option and that there is no shame in picking up that shield.

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  1. I'm glad that you found a medication that worked for you in the end.
    When I first went on my medication for anxiety (I don't remember the name of the first one), I was on 3 pills a day at 20mg each. They made me not want to eat and also made me diarrhoeic as well so I wasn't eating and whatever I did eat immediately left my system. I went from almost 11 stone to 9 1/2 in like a month and was really worried about it. Eventually I got put on Propanolol (80mg) once a day and it helped me so much. I stopped shaking when I went out and could actually GET out. I had a couple blips where I was pushed up to 160mg to help cope.
    I was on that daily medication for almost 6 years and I had the same kind of trades as you (weight gain, sex drive mostly) but I was able to wean myself off the tablets (with the help of my counsellor and GP) in March of 2015 and have been panic free since (I can't even remember the last time I had an anxiety or panic attack). I still get more than nervous when I have to go to a social gathering, but once the sick feeling leaves and I actually get out of the house to go, I'm fine.

    I think it's fantastic that we're able to talk about these kinds of things more openly, especially in a fantastic space like this where we're all here to help each other out.


    1. I'm so glad that you eventually found something that helped you too! I might be looking at reducing my tablets slightly in the summer so I'm really glad you've been panic attack free since coming off yours. Thank you for sharing your experiences!


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