So as promised, my psychiatric history. This will be kind of long, I apologize in advance, but I think it’s crucial that I write this information down.
When I was 13 I got really sick. I had mono and pneumonia at the same time. The mono lasted for what seemed like forever. I basically dropped out of life. I stopped spending time with my friends and in turn they stopped asking me to do things. I spent most of my time in bed sleeping or just staring at the wall. By the time I was 14 things hadn’t gotten better. I was still spending the majority of time alone, and I was sad all the time.
My mom took me to see my doctor and the physician’s assistant who saw me there diagnosed me with depression and prescribed Paxil. While I was on Paxil I was angry all the time, at everyone. I was a very difficult person to live with. At that point I was the oldest of six kids (now eight) and living in a big family was more than I felt I could handle. I hated my siblings. I hated my mom. I hated everyone and everything.
I don’t quite remember why or when I went off Paxil. Honestly that part of my life is kind of a blur and I didn’t journal my decision to quit Paxil.
I continued unmedicated until I was 17. At that point I had what I like to call “baby’s first psychotic break.” I was working in the front end of a grocery store as a bagger, which was a really stressful environment for me. I’ve always been very highly tuned to sensory input, and the smells, fluorescent lights and constant buzz of noise was hard on me. I began hallucinating, seeing pools of blood in random places, having severe panic attacks, and creating an alter ego who was a space alien.
I was hospitalized in January of that year, diagnosed with “depression with psychotic features” and put on Abilify and Celexa. About two weeks after leaving the hospital my antidepressant was switched to Lexapro. I don’t remember why. Once again, I became a very angry person. Small things would set me off. I remember one time I got up to get something and when I came back, my six-year-old sister was sitting in the chair I’d vacated. I became so angry over this that I picked her up out of the chair and physically threw her onto the concrete floor. I was ashamed of my outbursts and since I hadn’t acted this way before going on the meds, I begged my parents to send me away so I could go off the meds without being a danger to my siblings.
They sent me to Bellingham, Washington for a couple weeks and I tapered off my drugs. When I came back I was still struggling with anxiety.
The year I turned 18 I decided to go to public high school (I’d been homeschooled up until this point). After having the opportunity to basically direct my own education from 8th grade on, needing to buckle down and do homework (and math!) was making me crazy. I started having panic attacks and mild delusions again. I was actually able to see a psychiatrist at this point, who suggested that I might have schizophrenia, but ultimately decided that that diagnosis would be incorrect. Still, he put me back on Abilify, and later switched me from Abilify to Geodon, I don’t remember why.
Geodon made me a zombie. I was sleeping through at least two classes a day and doing really poorly in school. I was so tired all the time that I didn’t have the energy to keep up on homework. I was failing most of my classes. I dropped out of high school and went on Prozac, and then went off the drugs when I started feeling suicidal over the summer. I continued to have panic attacks after that. Nothing was helping with the anxiety I was feeling.
I took a year off after high school and then went to a private liberal arts college. During that time, I started feeling depressed and anxious again and asked to be put on some kind of medication that wasn’t an SSRI because of my experiences with Paxil, Lexapro and Prozac. The psychiatrist I was seeing at the time prescribed Lamictal and Seroquel.
I give Seroquel a lot of credit for why my one semester at college failed. It absolutely killed my short-term memory. I take my pill and then everything would go black. I’d wake up thinking my homework would be done (it wouldn’t be) or I’d go to my classes and forget everything I’d learned and the assignments given. That time in my life has huge blank spaces where I just can’t remember what happened.
I went off the medications abruptly and moved to South Carolina on a whim and to escape life in Michigan. I was there for about six months and when I came back I was hospitalized, where I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and prescribed Lamictal and Topamax.
I actually liked taking Topamax. Suddenly I had more energy than I knew what to do with. I didn’t have any attention span, but I was going for runs, had given up all carbonated drinks (because Topamax makes them taste like cough syrup for some reason), was losing weight and was happy. Looking back I can recognize that I was in a hypomanic state for as long as I was on that combination of drugs. Then my insurance ran out and I couldn’t afford my meds, so I had to quit taking them.
After eight months or so of constant mania, intentionally doing things that would get me in trouble and creating as much chaos as possible as I could in my life, I moved to Massachusetts and attempted to get my shit together. What followed was an amazing time in my life – I was making music every day, doing a lot of walking and cooking and budgeting, and basically being as much of an adult as I could. Then the relationship I was in took a downward turn and I started having delusions again.
I moved back to Michigan in a state of crisis. I couldn’t make the smallest decisions. I was living with my family and had to ask my mom to decide what I’d eat for lunch. I was sleeping during the day and staying up all night. Eventually I got back into the mental health system (no easy feat when you don’t have insurance). I was admitted into a “crisis home” which was like a hospital-lite; groups were optional, the food wasn’t terrible, I could smoke outside, and best of all, I was allowed to bring in my guitar. I spent most of the time in my room writing songs. I was still on a creative high from living in Massachusetts.
I saw a psychiatrist for five minutes. He asked what my diagnosis was and what medications had worked for me in the past. Without questioning me any further, he put me back on Lamictal and Topamax, with Ativan for anxiety. Where I had loved Topamax before, I couldn’t stand it now. I was having nightmares and still hallucinating. Eventually I saw a nurse practitioner who diagnosed me with schizoaffective disorder, took me off those medications and put me on Geodon again.
What followed was a few months where I was switched on and off different medications until I couldn’t tell what was working and what was just the residual effects of the last medication I had been on. I was put back on Seroquel. I tried Pristiq. I was put back on Abilify. I was given Valium for anxiety. I was put on Risperdal, then taken off when it started messing with my hormones. Eventually after another stay in a different crisis home, I settled on Zyprexa, Cogentin and Trazodone. Both of these medications took away every bit of energy I had. Eventually I quit the Trazodone when I stopped having trouble sleeping (still during the day, of course). I stayed on Zyprexa alone for a while, and during that time I lived in bed, eating boatloads of sugary snack foods, candy and ice cream, which I craved like never before. I was addicted to sugar and sleep and couldn’t get enough of either.
I gained fifty pounds in about six months and lost all my self-confidence. I begged the nurse practitioner to take me off Zyprexa and put me back on Risperdal, which had worked really well for my symptoms but had caused me to begin lactating. She refused, and I sought out a doctor who would allow me to have more of a say in my own treatment. I went off Zyprexa and onto Risperdal. About a month after that, I began having anxiety attacks, and my doctor prescribed Ativan. Five months later I found myself depressed and unable to get out of bed, and the doctor gave me Wellbutrin.
That was the “winning combination” of drugs I was on until recently. Some of the timelines in this post might be a little muddled; recalling every drug I’ve been on in the last 12 years was a bit of a challenge but the outline is basically correct.
I find myself kind of angry when I look back over this post. Most of the time I wasn’t warned about potential side effects. In fact, the only side effects I can remember being told about was the possibility of “the rash” on Lamictal, weight gain on Zyprexa (which I expressed concern about and was basically told to suck it up – it wasn’t until later that I realized I could have been prescribed Metformin to counteract the weight gain) and tardive dyskinesia on the various antipsychotics I was prescribed (side note, tardive dyskinesia is scary stuff). But I wasn’t told about the risk of suicidal ideation on Prozac, or addiction to Valium and Ativan, or even that Risperdal might mess up my hormones (I haven’t had a real period since January).
How about you? What’s your drug history? I’d love to hear about your experiences with various psych meds.