I have heard a lot of people talk about someone “going off their meds.” I find this quite offensive, as it’s often said as a way to describe someone who is upset, acting silly or over-reacting…NOT someone who is actually ill and has been prescribed medication. So often I’ve bitten my tongue and said nothing, but if I do decide to educate these comedians who I meet with that “What is your problem?” look, or a flippant, “I’m only joking, geez!” It isn’t funny. I know that this [behaviour] comes out of ignorance, pop culture, and the media, but it isn’t any more acceptable than making sexist or racial “jokes.” I’m trying — in my own small way — to change this attitude, but this isn’t actually what my post today is about.
This blog is about medication, and the decision to take it or not. I understand why people “go off” their medication. I’ve done it in the past, and I contemplate it every day. There are many, many reasons that I keep taking it now, though. Even though it costs me a lot of money every month (I have no benefits or plan) and I can’t tell anyone, I keep taking it. It’s allowed me to understand what rational feels like. It allows me to not fly into terrifying rages and risky situations, or fall into an all consuming despair, or into the contemplation and planning of suicide somewhere in between the highs and lows. It keeps me from becoming obsessed over life’s little speed bumps that used to become insurmountable walls of ridiculousness.
I do not “come unglued” every time I think that someone doesn’t like me, is upset with me or has done something that I don’t agree with. It keeps me from debilitating panic attacks and full out hysteria. It allows me to think before I act, make decisions that are based on reality and not an emotionally skewed perception of it. It allows me to be more organized, remember things better, even to learn better. I am now a “balanced” person, after all, that’s what the medications do – balance one’s brain chemicals, right? I do not think that they do, not completely. There’s a large aspect of my mental/emotional person missing.
I used to sing and write songs. I wrote copious lyrics and melodies, and would play my guitar (not well, but enough to write with). I was always singing, whistling, or listening to music and singing along. I would sing/write songs in the shower or while I was driving, write them down at two in the morning and then play them, sometimes for others when I would sing with a band or at an open mic night, or as part of a duo. I would sing songs from all different genres, with passion and power and some skill. Music was a huge part of my life.
I used to draw and paint. I would hand paint custom T-shirts for people. I “doodled” continuously. I gave drawings, paintings and crafts away as gifts and they were really well received. I never thought they were good enough to sell, but I loved to do it. I was always busy making something. I would make things without a pattern and build crafts that no one had seen before. I would experiment with different media. I would spend hours trying to make something come out the way I envisioned it, and it often did.
I was creative. I loved that. It was the only part of me that made me unique, it made me content, excited, proud, fulfilled, whole!
I hardly sing at all anymore, not even in the shower or in the kitchen. I can’t write lyrics. I haven’t played my guitar seriously since 2008. The crafts I still make are few and far between and seem to be a lot more work that they used to be. I haven’t had an original idea in years. All my sketch books and painting supplies are gone or put away, dried up, lost. I think about things I would like to do sometimes, and I begin, but something is missing. I think about a theme for a song, get a few good lines going, but then I forget them. I can’t see any value in anything I do come up with and I lose interest. That indefinable, inexpiable magic drive that makes creativity happen is just not there anymore. I don’t burst into a sobbing mess of emotional overload anymore, but I don’t sing, either. I don’t do “crazy” things and go chasing some new and marvelous non-existent life anymore, but I also do not make beautiful things. I do not “come undone” and rant and scream and over-react anymore, but I can’t draw a landscape or a horse or paint a sunset.
The medication works – it does what it is supposed to do, but the side effects are not just physical. A lot of people talk about the loss of libido, flattened affect, lack of motivation as well. These are other reasons people stop taking their medication. Not taking your medication would be an irrational thing to do though, right?
But what do you do when the medication that makes you gain your sanity also makes you lose the only part of yourself that you ever actually liked?
About L. Song
L. Song is a middle aged professional who has been struggling with Bipolar Disorder II since her teens. After finally being properly diagnosed and prescribed the correct medication at forty-four, she has dedicated herself to helping others who suffer from the stigma of mental illness through her work. To try to make a difference, L. Song supports organizations such as Mood Disorders Society of Canada, CAMH, as well as HMC. As an avid “horse person,” she also follows and contributes to a Facebook page, Riders Against Mental Illness Stigma. She plans to someday work with people and horses in a therapeutic capacity and publish a book about her experiences living and recovering from the disorder. You can follow her story on HMC's Supportive Minds blog.