mental health

We were too busy to shout “Happy New Year,” so the DJ calmly expressed his well-wishing as we clasped the arms of the people closest to us and pressed our bodies together. The second floor of the club, splattered with layer upon layer of graffiti that commemorated a thousand separate memories, crowded us together between several pillars on a flimsy dance floor that shuddered under our bouncing weight. Once midnight hit, our friend had been pounced by an old fling of hers whose eyes were wide and sparkling, rolling on molly, and they were entangled in the middle of the room in a kiss.


My partner and I had moved to this city inspired largely by her, but once we arrived her life fell apart. She lost her wife, she found someone new, and then she lost her too. The overwhelming density of her strife meant we had also lost her. She lived down the street but she was adrift in her endless preoccupations, not answering our messages and canceling plans. I was irritated, yet empathetic, and through my annoyance I continued to comment on all her photos and reach out to her, even if she didn’t respond.

And now, once she parted from her most recent lover and stumbled away, she came to our arms and we hugged her and told her we loved her and were inspired endlessly by her.

The three of us left the narrow old building that housed the club, standing on the sidewalk with goosebumps crawling up our arms and Uber vehicles crowding along the side of the road. Our friend’s tryst stood in the doorway, her body alight, her wild eyes trained on us, insisting we enter her vehicle and come downtown to Black Mass with her, dance away the rest of the night with her even though they would soon be unable to legally serve alcohol. We weren’t alive with uppers, however, and had multiple bottles worth of depressant drenching our organs, so we slid into a van to head back to our friend’s apartment.

Around the time I entered the Uber, my hair slick with sweat and my damp shirt slipping down over my shoulder, 200 miles away in another state, my father’s heart muscles struggled to receive a supply of oxygen. He laid down in bed, squeezing his eyes shut and thinking that if he died, at least the pain would stop.

But he woke up the next morning. He went to the hospital and they slithered a wire through his veins and put a stent into his heart with a balloon catheter.

My little brother contacted me the following morning, our lives so different yet his brain so much like mine, doing neurotic circles, a game show reel spun out of control and every prize actually a possible demise. He had recently had his first child and he held his newborn, contemplating worst case scenarios. When I called my father’s cell phone, my mother was a manic scribble as well.

My own neuroticism was firing off and so I recalled the progress I had made, the progress I had reflected on while drunk and silly in the graffiti’d club bathroom the night before, fluffing my hair in the mirror and staring into the drunken spiral of my eyes, observing the purple half-circles of perpetual illness standing out crass against my pale skin. I rubbed my face to bring some color and, as the New Year’s occasion called for, reflected on my personal progress of the past year.

I assume that others, during the whir of drama and chaos and inebriation, stare at themselves in the mirror and demand the truth. My soul procured what I most desired in that moment, which was pride — in myself. For what? What good had I done in this past year? I had barely made enough money to get by, many bills going unanswered and mostly unnoticed; I had worked pitifully small jobs and hardly lived up to my full potential, failing to inspire during job interviews; my relationship had completely fallen apart and I had managed to slap it back together with skill and grace. So much failure, but that last one — the latter conflict — had put me on a path of realization.

It hasn’t been that long since my last meltdown, my last time checking into a crisis service center and begging them to help me sleep. A year and a half, not even. Since then, I had put forth a considerable effort to help myself, or, to try to build up some defenses and thought patterns that would prevent myself from shutting down again. I read articles and books that were not necessarily always about self-help but had the sort of content I could use to infuse myself with good ways of thinking that I could practice.

I had practiced changing my thoughts. Swiveling away from the anxiety and neuroticism to more constructive ways of thinking. I flexed my brain cells, attempted to build a reflex toward reason. I read many articles on, simply, how to breathe. I felt silly reading them, but still — I caught myself not breathing when I stressed out. I found myself remembering to take good breaths.

I also found myself asking this question that had been repeated to me over and over again by therapists, who I had ignored: What can I take care of right now, in this moment? I began to seriously ask myself this. Often, the answer was nothing. Often, I found myself jotting down a time in which I would take action toward solving a problem, which wasn’t at that current moment. I had trained myself into a habit. This question had been meaningless to me for so long, until I managed to prescribe it with my own personal, intimate meaning of self-improvement. Maybe one day it will be meaningless again to me and I will need to find a new question to infuse with intimate personal power.

Standing in the club bathroom, surrounded by graffiti about hot, wet pussy and colorful tags, I stared myself down and acknowledged that a year had passed and the work I had put into myself was noteworthy and fruitful. Though continuously plagued with insecurity, I felt pride bubbling up in my chest. A sense that these thoughts, habits, friendships, myself… were not worthless.

I could hold my pettiness in my hand and then gently swat it away, just like any normal, pained human being. After this continued reflection of the night before, I held my phone in my hand, thinking of the neurotic triad of my mother, brother and myself. We had all influenced each other, touched by conflicts and trauma that traced far back into the past. It would be a long story to tell, if I were ever so inclined to write it down, but I knew where my anxiety came from. I knew who I shared it with. I knew, also, that I was capable of handling anything, that I had proven that to myself.

I spoke to my dad after speaking with them. After his dazzling heroism had worn off years ago, I had spent the majority of my adult life being angry with him, for his bad politics and prejudices. But this evaporated into a petty cloud of smoke in the conversation in which he told me his thoughts about believing that he was going to die.

Only one memory pushed to the forefront of my mind then. I was five, vulnerably small in my large bedroom, my bed pushed up against the window over the driveway and the apple tree so I could see the comings and goings of the outside world instead of the tall shadows of my cavernous room. I lay in bed with my nose pressed up against the windowpane and watched my dad’s car crunch up the driveway to rest under the tree. I was supposed to be sleeping, so I pulled the covers up around myself and pretended. My dad came up the stairs and set something next to my head, kneeling over me for a minute before leaving.

When he was gone, I rolled over. There was a book. He had brought me a book.

My entire childhood, my dad gave me books. It is because of him that I love to read. It wasn’t something that just happened, I didn’t just find books and devour them. He summarized books for me, sparking my interest, then put them in my hands. This became an integral part of my identity, leading me up to the point where I am today.

In the midst of conflict, anxiety, despair, I have managed to hold the good in my hand and ruminate over it with a calm heart. I have curled into myself in the bathroom, my chest crushed and holding back sobs that threatened to rip me apart, and I stood up afterward and recovered. This did not just happen. I wasn’t able to immediately use my legs properly after being shoved so forcefully to the ground.

But with effort, it happened.

I mull over these new realizations, habits, and histories on my drive into work, now that I’m working consistently again every day, driving a half hour to a school that offers me the best experience possible, even if without insurance benefits. I think about myself, about the politics blasting from my speakers and shaking my flimsy car; I think about the friends who both push and pull, disappear under their grief only to hold me tightly in an embrace the next time we meet. The patience I forward to my friends is worth it, despite the frustrations.

January has brought cold, icy rain that slicks up the roads and makes everything gray. I swish along the hissing water on the highway every morning, the sky blanketed with black clouds, navigating myself using the golden halo from the street lamps overhead. The sound and smell of constant winter rain is the backdrop to my thoughts on this place inside myself I’ve slowly discovered, this infinite ocean of patience that swells and moves, that is colored by my mood and kept undisturbed and endless through simple and sheer willpower. Underneath the anxiety bursts, the paranoia, the self-doubt and insecurity, it’s still there. Underneath the troublesome clouds of despair, it’s there. It’s somewhere at my center, infinite in all directions.

Acknowledging its presence doesn’t make the chemicals in my brain flux correctly however. This ocean isn’t a panacea, it’s just there and accessible. I still have my bad habits, such as washing my poor brain with all sorts of drugs to modulate my experience.

On Friday, one of the few friends I’ve made in this city returned from Saudi Arabia — having visited her family over her school’s break — and she returned wanting to do two things for her upcoming birthday. She wanted to go to her first concert ever and she wanted to take LSD while she did it. We had taken acid together before after a tryst we had the previous year, so there was nothing objectionable about this situation. I was hoping the acid could help me clear some of the depressive gunk in my brain, something that was far more difficult to rid with healthy thought patterns because it just calcified to my personality and ebbed and rose in mass throughout the month.

After the show, I burst out into the night, holding her and my partner in an embrace and breathing in cold air and tasting it, tasting the colors of the lights, tasting red and blue on my tongue. The following day, sunshine radiated through my brain and the shadows disappeared. But my energy was zapped and my heart was beating too fast.

Another week begins, my mood is high though I’m exhausted and no amount of sleep after Friday has been good enough. I want to be wide awake and I want to sleep forever. I caught myself not breathing this morning, my heart thudding in my chest, holding my breath for no reason other than anxiety rearing its face at the change in my daily schedule, however small. I’m struggling at both being awake and receiving the appropriate amount of sleep, knowing that mixed up in my desires is the need for balance in order to actively maintain good habits.

And underneath this flux of daily routines, too much sleep or not enough, distant friends and needy friends, the eternal complications of love, unexpected troubles and matters of life and death, I am aware of that infinite ocean of patience. I may lose sight of it again one day, but it’s there. It’s always there.

Let’s turn doing almost nothing into something to talk about.

I’m exploring my options by doing almost nothing for once. Or at least, I’m not driving to an office and sitting in between the office walls and letting fluorescent lights beam down into my eyes every day. I’m not plagued by constant dull headaches. I’m not sitting at a desk this summer.

Instead, I’ve elected to float below the surface, not quite staying afloat but also not sinking. I’m not hiding, I’m here, I’m just peering up through the surface.

The summer has developed a soupy consistency, all days are equally hot and humid. The air is moist and clings to the skin. From above, it weighs down on our brows and sends beads of sweat dripping down the backs of our necks. This summer, we are living in a fishbowl.

There’s no air conditioning in the car, so it’s a hot and heavy and necessary death trap. To travel anywhere in this vehicle is to volunteer to smother a warm pillow over our face. When the windows are rolled down all the way, the air whips by fast enough that there is some cooling effect. But this city is a knot of traffic, and most of the time spent in the car is baking into the cloth seats, oppressive clouds of air wafting in through the windows and hanging under the roof of the car. What an amazing machine, it can take us anywhere on this continent, we certainly could find the money to feed it gas, but surely it will kill us, or burst into flames. Touching the dashboard burns our fingers. Do not touch the seatbelts

But I don’t have the car this summer during the day. So this isn’t a transportation option for me in this time frame. I live in a cave, luckily, on the top floor of an apartment building built into a hill. The apartment is small, condensed, and the large windows in the back of the main living room open up to the trees sloping upward, blocking us from the view of the other apartments on the top of the hill. In order to fight the beating, violent heat from the other large windows facing out to the bare blue sky, I covered them with a vivid green tapestry with flowers and leaves curling around all throughout the design. During the day, the sun struggles to beam through these designs, illuminating the room in a light yellowish green.

I lock the door. I slide the golden chain into place. The other apartments are empty now, the fools in the office raised rent and no one wants them, and I can hear maintenance men clopping around in the building.

Most importantly, the old air conditioner runs all day long, swathed in the green tapestry and constantly filling the small space with a nice refreshing chill and droning hum. Since I’m well-aware this is racking up the electric bill, I keep all the other lights in the apartment off and the bedroom and bathroom door shut. The dark apartment, with light beaming in through the tapestry and the air cool, make the place feel like a cave.

We are living in a cave in a fishbowl this summer.

The days are so long that even when I wake up at 5:30AM there is light in the window. I’ve been sliding out of bed and we drink coffee in the morning, sitting in the same spots every day with our mugs, blessing the universe for routine, beautiful routine, gorgeous and amazing routine. Feeling scheduled brings us together, we can drag our bodies to where we know we are meant to be and put as little effort into our existence as possible. We can both buzz side by side, aware of each other, which is all we really need.

I just can’t stay in this cave forever. I need to escape occasionally and remember the world. In the middle of July, we slung some backpacks into the death box and drove up to New York for the weekend. We drove later at night, to escape some of the heat, at least. The sun was setting and the thick air composed a vibrant purple and pink sky, clouds stretching from the horizon and reaching for the center of the sky. In New York, we slept on several couches in cool apartments swathed with curtains.

We drove to the beach, walking through the molten sand dunes, heat radiating through us from all sides. The sand was clean and glimmering gold though. We fanned out the towels and lay down on a flat stretch, playing with the rocks and piling the sand up onto our bodies. The water was a blend of cool and warm, and we bounced along the sliding sand bars until we were far into the lake and everything looked small except the consistent endless blue above us.

We rolled a joint and walked back into the woods, where there was a wide creek and dunes so tall you could sit on the peak under a tree and stare straight down into the water, a solid emerald green. The emerald was so brilliant it almost seems strange, I asked, how can the water be this green? Chugging beers and passing the joint, we stood in the cold sand under the trees, a breeze teasing through the branches and through our wet hair.

But we had to return to the cave. The cave is our home. I crawled back into the icy reaches of our little apartment at the bottom of the hill, at the bottom of the fishbowl.

I’ve been working online. Pattering away at the keyboard at record speeds, selling products and making listicles for small fees, focusing on word count for hours and hours on end, playlists looping in the background and the brilliance of day trying to reach through the tapestry.

When the cool air of the apartment dries my sinuses and makes me pace, I make a cup of tea and turn on some resonant ambient music that floods the apartment. All this time, all this down time, allows me to toss over brittle old questions, prod them from a detached and neutral point of view. Where does my depression come from? What about my anxiety? I’m neurotypical, prone to anxiety, and when I fail to control it, which happens, my stress levels rise and perhaps there’s an autoimmune response. Perhaps when I’m clinging to the floor and imagining crushing my head under a cement block, it’s symptomatic of an illness, my poor lethargic body attacked by stress and my immune system doing only what it knows best and kicking into gear so hard that it leaves me a sick dog crawling on the floor.

Maybe my brain is inflamed.

I toss this question around under the ambient sounds and the buzz of the air conditioner until my mind is blank. After hours of taking huge purposeful breaths, I become empty and whole simultaneously. I am okay. This uneventful alone time involves me sharpening my knives, to fend off bad thoughts in the future. I am equipping myself to help myself. It may appear like I am doing nothing, but my mind is never inactive.

In fact, my mind has developed its own insistent little non-sensible tune about how this city is evil. Realistically I know positive framing will do me better than giving into weird fancies, and I tell myself that just because this city is squished into the hills with blankets of heat slapped over it, and even though it takes hours to even leave the evil circumference surrounding the rivers, this city cannot be evil.

There’s really no such thing.

I am safe inside a cave inside a fishbowl. I don’t need to properly emerge until September.


In Sartre’s essay Being and Nothingness, he devotes a chapter to the idea of Bad Faith. He uses the description of a waiter to convey this self-deception: a young man, darting quickly around a café, eager to please his customers, obviously play-acting at being a perfect automaton fulfilling his assigned role. The waiter knows what he is doing. He knows he is free, but deprives himself of this freedom in his bad faith. He knows himself, but chooses to act as something other than himself. He uses his freedom to deprive himself of his own freedom.

I read this essay when I was 19 for a phenomenology class. I was struck by the waiter character and the whole idea of Bad Faith in such a way that this chapter will still periodically burst into my thoughts. “Am I the waiter?” I’ll ask myself, frantic. The anxiety and question are similar to the repetitious, frantic question from the movie I Heart Huckabees (2004): “How am I not myself?” Except I know the answer.

Two years ago, I walked out of the charter school where I taught, through the city and up the parking garage, and stood looking at my 1999 Chevy Cavalier beater crammed in between the larger, sparkling vehicles. My work clothes were sharp, my cardigan matched my dress pants, I wore heels to make myself look taller. Shouldn’t my professional appearance extend to the car I drove to work? My similarly sharp co-workers walked past me to their vehicles, not expensive and new but far newer and cleaner than mine. I felt… embarrassed. I decided I needed to buy a newer car, a flawless, attractive thing that I wouldn’t sprint away from in the parking lot when I attended job interviews.

I wanted to exit my vehicle in sun glasses, and when people saw me and my charge, they would think: “That woman has her shit together.”

However, I was still relatively poor, making less money than my co-workers and a pittance in the grand scheme of things. Stringently, I saved up money, but in the end my budget limited me to a 2004 Ford Taurus. What mattered to me, though, was that an old woman had owned it, had barely used it, so it was shiny and practically untouched, beautiful, dent-less, sparkling, clean. Professional.

I was proud. I drove to interviews in my shiny car, in my work clothes, with my work purse. All of this was very different than the haphazard art, punky clothes and colorful, bizarre purses I preferred at home in my apartment. I had two sets of everything: for work, for me.

Two years later, my car embarrasses me again—now moreso than even the Chevy. Driving through hectic city traffic and chaos, I’ve slid on ice and found myself in fender benders. My hood dented in such a way that I couldn’t close it, so I bolted it shut. Ideally I would have purchased a new hood, but that was far more than I could afford. I cracked the front bumper. Then someone hit my back bumper in the parking garage and cracked it. On a foggy day, I backed up into a hidden pipe and cracked the other side. I purchased a roll of duct tape and sealed all these cracks with a heavy layer of blue tape.

My car is bolted shut and taped together. I work in a new school in a different state now, still making very little money compared to my co-workers, and my car looks ridiculous near their gleaming vehicles. I felt ashamed for a while, thinking that I couldn’t manage to avoid wrecking a car, and what would that old woman think about what I’ve done? I’ve tried to look professional and shiny and new, like everyone else I see regularly, but in reality I can’t afford things, I drive all over the place, work several supplemental income jobs, and have more on my plate than I can handle. The things I have just fall apart.

My attempts to be like my co-workers, who watch sports and have children, discuss popular television shows over tupperware and have never moved away from their hometown, who have close-knit families and free time and job security, have failed. I’m slap-dash, I just cannot compare. I’m weird and smoke too much weed and go to raves and concerts where hair gets ripped out and ears get bitten off, I drink beer with my line cook friends and shout at anime. I’m unstable and find myself checking into emergency mental health facilities overnight. I just cannot put on the same mask, it doesn’t fit.

I cover all my tattoos, afraid to let them show at work. I pick out clothes specifically to conceal them. I can’t let people know who I’ve actually chosen to be. Lately, I’ve been agonizing over a pathetic personal conflict involving my nose stud. When I had spent years working at the charter school, I had grown comfortable enough there to wear a nose ring and show my tattoos. This comfort vanished when I was back attending interviews and shimmying in skirts and high heels to stand in front of people in suits. I took out my ring and put in a tiny little stud.

I hate the stud. I feel like it’s not me, and I want to put the ring back in so badly. But—interviews. I’ve been cleaning up my image to attend interview after interview, failing every time, but still working hard to present myself as a sharp, professional woman who has her shit together.

I feel like two different people. There’s the professional façade, and then punky little me. I can’t effectively merge the two. I don’t know if this is something that takes time and perfection, or if I should just be myself and hope for the best. But the world of careers and enough money to get by—it seems to involve the automaton motions of the waiter. The concealment of the things that make me who I am.

I am the waiter. Except my movements aren’t so smooth, not so quick. You can hear the squeak and whine of my automaton limbs. My smile is too fake. The play-acting is less successful.

I know how I’m not myself. Perhaps it’s time to throw away my ideas of success and failure—and just be myself.

I have my mother’s chin and cheekbones—my dad’s eyes and pomposity. I need to worry about diabetes, as it runs on both sides of my family. My mother’s side of the family is riddled with mental illness, and so I have inherited that load. My mother modeled depression and anxiety for me, and from her I learned the art of worrying without cease. As I watched my dad’s bitterness develop, I inherited that as well, though I channeled it through different venues.

My grandmother—my mother’s mother—modeled the same things for my mother and her sisters and brothers. My dad is too insecure to reveal the source of his bitterness, but I imagine he learned that from somewhere as well. Maybe it was merely the fact of growing up in a poor rust-belt community, working hard at a mindless job for little pay, that did him in. I am an expert now, on bitterness, and often it emanates from me. Although I’m not having children, I speak with children daily and sometimes I find myself instructing them with the best intentions, but with advice stemming from deep-rooted acidity.

The sadness and grievances experienced by our parents do not stop with them. We inherit their problems, their poverty, their fears, their beliefs, their sadness. These things move, like a cancerous mass, through the generations. These things don’t dissipate through time. Inequality works this way as well, “a cultural force, insinuating itself into family life and classrooms and replicating across generations.” The effects of inequality are sometimes not seen until the following generation. One of the things that impressed upon me in Toni Morrison’s work was how she showed that while slavery ended, the effects of slavery did not, and that trauma is passed down.

A Swedish study shows that children with parents who are experiencing depression score lower grades in school. Grades are not the be all end all, but this does show an effect on focus and motivation, factors involving stress. The data shows an impression on a social, academic and professional life venue. I certainly remember sitting on my stairs at the age of sixteen, my mother laying motionless in bed several rooms away, refusing to speak with me. I didn’t quite understand what she was going through then, but I certainly do now. But that is the thing, here—I didn’t understand, yet the experience diffused through my developing character.

I just wish a few more words had been spoken, from some source, to help nurture an understanding. Perhaps certain things would have been different for me, if only slightly. Perhaps I could have more to give now, to those I speak to and influence.

It’s very easy to be silent and cover up the issues involving our inherited grief. But, as with most things, attention and acceptance and the brutal power of honesty can help ease the burden of what moves through every family. What have we inherited? What problems do we pass on? What can possibly be helped, alleviated, soothed?

What can we do, about this sadness that moves through our families’ generations?

Today I was reading a Brain Pickings article entitled Harvard Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy on Mastering the Antidote to Anxiety, Self-Consciousness, and Impostor Syndrome and the titular syndrome struck a note with me. I had never heard of it before, or at least it flew under my radar with the abundance of “syndromes” so commonly name dropped on the internet. However, in the description I recognized something that I do to myself near constantly. Wikipedia describes the thought process as an “inability to internalize… accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as ‘fraud'” in high-achieving individuals. Cuddy paints the picture that “[b]efore we even show up at the doorstep of an opportunity, we are teeming with dread and anxiety, borrowing trouble from a future that hasn’t yet unfolded.”

Now, to say “I suffer from this syndrome” is far too dramatic, but there is certainly something to the research in that I can actually describe and pinpoint a chronic problem in thought patterns, a huge benefit in the ongoing process of tackling my day-to-day anxiety. I’ve briefly (haha) talked about my generalized anxiety before, but what’s really important is that this is something that so many people deal with all the time, even at a far smaller scope than some of these articles describe. Many of them name celebrities and historical geniuses, but really we all have our successes and our achievements, and some of us cannot accept them.

I instinctively recoil at the idea of calling myself a “high-achieving individual,” but in absolute honesty, for the young person that I am, I have had a fair amount of success alongside the trials. I’ve always been a good worker, driven to academic achievement by Type A energy, obtaining extremely high grades throughout the entirety of my schooling. I’ve almost always had a job, and worked myself hard at my jobs. On a professional level, I have always received great teacher evaluations and feedback. I’ve managed to live in nice places, exactly where I wanted. I have strong and supportive long-term relationships.

I feel bad writing that stuff out. Every day, my brain tells me that I am not very intelligent, I don’t know anything really. I’m not a good writer or thinker. The jobs I’ve had are pathetic—I quit my somewhat decent teaching job to become a substitute teacher, the opposite order in which this should work. I am barraged constantly with the thought that I am not a good teacher, that I am a quack, a fake, and I’m shocked no one has called me out on my many professional failures. When people tell me I don’t look like a teacher (I’m short, young), I interpret this as them seeing through my facade. I think people don’t like me, that I’m annoying, intolerable. These constant doubts, anxieties, do affect me. I can’t recount the number of times I’ve faltered in a situation, lost my nerve because of them.

In short, I always feel like a faker—I am not successful, and it’s wrong for me to ever even think this. Others will know.

I’m self-aware enough to recognize my strengths and shortcomings, the reality of the situation (obviously I can always improve in every way), the false thoughts my brain comes up with. The problem is the internalization. No matter how sensible I can be when I am, say, writing, my constantly ticking mind is never at ease, spinning out criticism after criticism, insecurity after the next, and these do affect my life severely.

I dig holes. One thought leads to another, and before I know it, I’m miserable at the bottom of the hole chewing on my lip. I have a good morning the next day, but then fall into another hole.

So how do we internalize our success? Allow ourselves to own our successes, whatever type they may be?

The Brain Pickings article states:  “At the heart of Cuddy’s research is the idea that the opposite of powerlessness, that ultimate fuel of impostor syndrome, isn’t power but what she terms presence — the ability to inhabit and trust the integrity of one’s own values, feelings, and capabilities.” A Forbes article on the problem says: “But just as we must take responsibility for our failures in life, we must also take responsibility for our successes. Minimizing them serves no-one.”

Whatever may help, the key to accomplish an overcoming of this impostor feeling must be practice and cultivation. Every time I think I am a fraud, I must also remember that in my own way, in my own life, I am a success. It’s not the same cookie cutter success that I see in others, or expected for myself, but success nonetheless.

If I can remember that, think that more often, then maybe I can become the type of person I want to be. I’m beginning to accept that simple agonizing phrase “fake it ’til you make it,” though there are far more layers to it, aren’t there?


[This is a long post, so if the font is too small, I encourage you to hit Ctrl + a few times. Also, if there’s a specific topic you’re looking for, Ctrl + F.]

The prescription of mental health medication is very common, and has become embedded in our life experience. Either we take it, we took it, or someone we love takes it. The purpose of this post is not to discuss whether this is a good thing or not, or to scrutinize the medicine/therapy balance and meditative approaches, but to focus simply on the personal experience. You can look at these stories and come to whatever conclusions you want, agree or disagree with whomever, but the end goal is empathy.

We all struggle, we all face our conflicts with different methods and different results. Many of us find ourselves on this medicated path. Sometimes with little to no guidance. Sometimes it hurts us, far more than anticipated. Or actually saves a life. It took me a long time before I was able to talk about my struggles with mental health and medication; even still, there’s a part in the back of my brain yelling that I should be ashamed of myself. Even though there are so many people who understand, without judgment, I feel compelled to compare myself to others, chastise myself that my problems aren’t as bad, although in the moment my feelings mean an awful lot and shape who I am. My experiences are important, I remind myself, and so are everyone else’s.

I have always had issues with my use of medication. I don’t want to take medicine. I also don’t want to stay up for days, or struggle to do any small activity, or struggle to breathe because I’m terrified. A book I read several years ago made an impact on how I see the situation, extending my views on medicine use beyond myself, to everyone. The book is Coming of Age on Zoloft by Katherine Sharpe (which, although I’ve linked to the PDF, I encourage you to purchase if you’re so inclined). The title really says it all: so many of us grew up taking these drugs. The question is raised, How much has this impacted my personal development? Who I’ve become? Another thing the book does is include an array of personal stories, where people explain why they were placed on medicine, why they continue to take it, or why they stopped.

Every single person has their own unique brain that reacts differently to the chemical onslaught. There are people who think it’s wrong, but once you are initiated into the cycle, I personally find it difficult to escape. And then what?

It seems there is no absolute answer that works for everyone. There’s a lot of trial and error.

Since reading Sharpe’s book, and having some intense conversations with good friends, I’ve always wanted to sit down with a large group of people and just go to town discussing our own personal experiences with this (a prescription powwow). So, I suppose that’s what this is. I asked my followers on Twitter (and whoever saw my tweet) to share their own personal histories and experiences with mental health medications. I wanted to know why they started to take them, how it affected them, the side effects, the results, the unanswered questions they had. I am hoping that we can read these stories and relate with each other, maybe realize a thing or two, appreciate the differences.

In a world where mental healthcare is an issue, this is something we should talk about. Also, when going through problems relating to mental health, it’s important to discuss what you’re feeling and find safe havens for yourself in other people. No matter what you might think, remember that it is always possible to find someone who will listen and understand. Whether that’s a friend,  someone we know online, or Crisis Services.

I’ll start with my own story.

My own experience with medications traces back to when I was seventeen years old. I didn’t know much about mental illness, or my family’s history of illnesses (besides some allusions: “Your cousins are staying with us because your aunt is in the hospital”), so the sudden struggle I faced bewildered me. I knew teenagers experienced depression, or so all the emo/sad teen characters I saw in television and movies implied to me, but this was as deep as this pool of knowledge went. As for anxiety, this was something I had experienced as a young child (ages 6-10, perhaps). I would have panic attacks and experience stress rashes. My dad would talk me down from the panic attacks, eventually they stopped, and these episodes were forgotten—until they resurfaced as I reached adulthood. And stopped me from going about my life in a normal healthy fashion.

At seventeen years old, I felt as if there was a heavy weight on my chest all the time. I never wanted to do anything, and everything I did seemed to cause a feeling of pain in my chest. I broke out in stress-induced rashes. I was fluctuating between feeling immobile and listless to the point I was missing school days on end, and feeling so much energy that I sought an outlet in exercise. Exercise is supposed to help with depression, right? But it became an obsession, courtesy of the anxiety. I began to see the number on the scale as a challenge, and I exercised until I physically hurt and lost a considerable amount of weight. I was happy when I reached 90 lbs. I was reducing my stupid body that I hated so much to nothing. I wanted to be nothing.

After fluctuating between laying around plotting suicide and being drowned in nervous energy that compelled me to routinely harm my body by dwindling it away, I realized that this was not normal. This was very wrong, and I was becoming something very wretched during a period of my life when I should have been growing and transitioning into adulthood. So I went to a doctor.

I began to take Prozac (I switched between varying doses throughout the years) and I became a social butterfly. I became active and happy and capable of taking college head on. I spent seven years on Prozac. During those years, I tried to stop taking it several times. Once the foolish way, cold turkey. This caused extreme mood swings that made me feel like I was losing my grip on reality, so I quickly started taking the medicine again. The other times, I was advised by a doctor, I gradually lowered my intake until I took nothing. This did not work for me. I stopped sleeping, going days without sleep, on and off for a period of weeks. The lack of sleep turned me into a zombie, I couldn’t think or function, and this prevented me from going to work eventually. At this point, I had a career. I had to go to work, no matter what (or I would ruin everything, I told myself).

So I went back on the medicine. I gave up trying to stop.

Also during these seven years, I was hospitalized several times for various reasons relating to mental illness. The first time, I had a complete meltdown and tried to hurt myself. The other times, I had panic attacks that brought me there, was given Xanax and sent home after setting up a therapy appointment.

(Speaking as someone who has been to counseling/therapy many times in the past, I have not found a need for constant therapy, so I’ve learned to realize when I need it and set up appointments as needed. This is what I advise for others. However, health insurance can get in the way of this for people, and a history of bad experience with therapists is nothing to brush off.)

Eventually, I got sick of the foggy feeling Prozac gave me (after years on it, I was able to distinctly single it out and feel the fog rolling in), and I was also tired all of the time. I went to my doctor and she switched me to Wellbutrin (150mg, twice a day).

Wellbutrin occasionally makes me dizzy—I’ve fainted before—and reduces my appetite to zero. It causes tinnitus and makes me jittery. But it makes me feel energized as well, no depressive episodes. It aggravates my anxiety, which isn’t good, but mostly this is manageable. Except when it isn’t.

In September, my anxiety grew beyond my control. I stopped sleeping, and experienced several nights with only an hour or two of sleep, and then several days with absolutely no sleep at all. I tried taking sleep aids and exercising and melatonin capsules (10mg), body awareness meditation, but nothing would shut my brain off. I feel that people are often dismissive of insomnia, but to me it is a drawn out nightmare. Staying awake and aware, brain buzzing, experiencing every minute of the day with a pain in your chest, as days go by, your brain growing confused and useless while anxiety has a vice grip on your chest. After experiencing so many episodes of insomnia, that sleepless feeling is enough to cause dread.

As I had just moved to a new city (a situational factor that was making everything worse for me), I had no access to a doctor. So I ended up spending a night in a crisis service center as the only way to see a psychiatrist and manage to sleep. Since then, I have been prescribed Ativan to handle my anxiety-induced insomnia. This is all very ongoing. I just saw a psychiatrist last week and as of the time I’m writing this, I will be starting Lexapro and mirtazapine for sleep, and will no longer take the Wellbutrin or Ativan. I’ve spent the majority of my free time sleeping the last few days. I am also doing yoga, meditation and cognitive behavior therapy. I want to help myself, badly, but there are no easy answers.

Following my own story are the stories of many different people who have experience with taking mental health medication, including amphetamines. I appreciate everyone who took the time to write out their history for me to share, and I hope that in reading these we can see both the unique and common experiences, as well as the variety of approaches to self-help and individual circumstances that lead to it.

Unfortunately I can’t remember everything with total accuracy, which is weird because I have a crazy good memory, but this is the basic rundown:

At 14/15 I was real depressed. I had had depressive episodes before and begged my parents to let me see a shrink to get meds (they were very apprehensive). I was diagnosed as bipolar and given Depakote. Depakote made me gain a ton of weight and my hair fell out. And I was sluggish. I was switched to Trileptal and Zoloft was added. I was doing poorly in school—I had incredibly high standardized test scores but was a C student—and I was becoming despondent over my inability to perform. I was put on Adderall and I considered it a lifesaver. I became an A student, lost weight, my sleep cycle seemed to be fixed. So I stayed on that med combo through undergrad.

Then my doctor moved to Florida and I got a new one. He had just been dispensing shit to me by phone or mailing scripts at this point anyway. The new doctor diagnosed me with Asperger syndrome and depression. I was given Ativan on top of the meds I was already taking because I had started having anxiety attacks. At some point in my senior year, I began abusing Adderall which I never did before. I still have a problem with amphetamines.

That doctor and I had a falling out. I went to a hospital briefly for a severe depressive episode, then got a new doctor. This was about three years ago. My official diagnoses now are Asperger syndrome, major depressive disorder—moderate recurrent, and ADHD-combined type.

After my dad died I had another severe depressive episode and was put on Abilify. Abilify really worked to lift me out of that depression I gotta say, but I was uncomfortable staying on it because of its side effects. So I weaned myself off it after I got better. So I was on Lexapro, Klonopin, Ambien, and Vyvanse, and my doctor just added Wellbutrin with the plan being to switch off Lexapro and be on Wellbutrin instead. But I’ve been feeling very depressed lately so I may scrap that plan and do emergency Abilify.

As for side effects, mood stabilizers just didn’t seem to do much except for Depakote made me slow and fat. SSRIs worked for my intrusive thoughts but not my depression. Ambien helps me sleep if I’m not too spun out. I guess that’s it.

scroll-dividerIn 2011-2012 I moved in with my grandparents. Things went south and I became extremely depressed. I started on different medications. I can’t remember my first one. But it wasn’t working. Next they put me on Zoloft. That was horrible. One night I woke up and couldn’t move and the ceiling was moving like water and worms. I was terrified.

Well, then they put me on something else. It made me not want to eat and I didn’t want to do anything I loved for quite a while now. But my family was also suffocating me with stupid drama that came out of nowhere. After my school term was up I moved back home then north to another campus. I again was extremely depressed and didn’t want to do anything. I couldn’t get out of bed. I ate a lot this time and gained seven pounds by the end of that school term. My clothes wouldn’t fit anymore. Then I took time off school. For almost two years. I realized my moods were swinging all over the place and I had anxiety and depression. Still do. But when I was diagnosed they started me on a combination of drugs. This time I basically fell asleep and couldn’t do anything without wanting to sleep all the time. I also was nauseous when awake. Afterwards they changed the meds to another combination. This is what I’m on now and it works. I’m on Fluoxitine (Prozac) and Buproprion (Wellbutrin).

It balances my moods and helps with my depression and anxiety. Before I took anything for this I would blow up on my boyfriend. I would do irrational things. I even called my boss at night one time about something stupid. I would want to go buy really expensive things for no reason. I would make decisions based on how elated I was in that moment. Now I’m much more rational and balanced and better.

scroll-dividerI was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder by an intern and a psychiatrist while in a treatment center, prescribed lithium, which I took for maybe one year. I was 21 and detoxing from the effects of drugs, particularly a lot of psychedelic drugs taken in a short period of time, and was in a drug induced manic state. I took lithium as prescribed until visiting a psychiatrist who told me I wasn’t bipolar and that it was a grave error to have made the diagnosis when my body and mind had not detoxed. All I remember of the year spent taking lithium was watching a lot of late night television. I was not willing to trust another psychiatrist and still am very skeptical.

Having been in recovery for many years, I have heard a number of similar stories, more common than I thought possible.

scroll-dividerWhen I was beginning fourth grade, I started thinking about my grandma and how I was scared to death of her dying, even though she was in good health. The thought of death haunted me, I fell into a state of nothingness, I didn’t go to school for two weeks, all I ate was peanut butter on hot dog buns. My stomach felt like it had a bear trap inside it biting me. I would sleep in the bathroom because I had this constant feeling of vomiting which is one of my biggest fears. I would get anxious extremely fast for no reason, to the point I would be clawing at my skin and face and taking multiple showers a day. I wouldn’t even shower, I’d just sit under the water for hours thinking about life and death and feeling secure to cry without scaring my mother. I slept so much, I wouldn’t leave my bed, I became extremely weak to the point my dad had to start carrying me out to the living room.

I remember drawing a picture one day, I was advanced in art, even at age 10, but I found myself drawing a family portrait with stick people. My family and I were smiling and for a split second, my head didn’t feel heavy and my stomach didn’t hurt, but that was literally for a second. My mom finally took me to the doctor where I was diagnosed with depression an an anxiety and stress disorder, and since my depression was linked to chemical messengers in my brain that went to my stomach, I was also diagnosed with a mild eating disorder.

I was 10 years old. What did I have to be stressed or depressed about? I had to start taking Zoloft once a day. It cured my constant nausea and dreariness, but I still felt the same sadness inside my chest. I would still get extremely nervous and scratch at myself when I wasn’t at home.

This went on for seven years. My grandma died during the fifth year. I had never been so hopeless. I had my first boyfriend the sixth year who turned out to be just using me for sex. I was still on Zoloft. Which seemed to be helping, although I became an insomniac and I’m still troubled with high stress and anxiety, but at least I can function. There are still some days I feel like nothing, I lay in bed and cry, I can go days without eating sometimes. I still have a mild eating disorder, especially in summer.

My niece was born the seventh year, and it really transformed me, she was so precious and I loved her so much. I started dating my second boyfriend who I fell immediately in love with even though it ended after seven months. On July 3rd, I had a doctor appointment. As my doctor was examining my organs, he stated that even though I still had high stress and anxiety, my body wasn’t showing levels of depression, so technically I was “cured.” It’s now been two years, I still get empty some days, but my parents are more open and helpful and my third boyfriend is completely understanding and willing to stand by me which is very important.

– Shelby, age 19

scroll-dividerI was on 50mg of Zoloft and found that it made me anxious for a few weeks while bumping up mg and after it did enhance my mood but I found that recovery was mostly self-induced and medication only served as an addition to my rising happiness. I was able to find out who my real support system was and surround myself with more positive people and aspects.

scroll-dividerLast winter I started taking Prozac after resisting the idea of taking medication for a long time. I was at some sort of bottom and needed to try everything I could to feel better. Within a week, I was far less anxious. I’ve been on it since in different dosages and am incredibly thankful that the first medicine I tried worked for me. I lost most of my interest in sex and couldn’t come for about four months after starting though, and it’s really difficult for me to cry, even when I really need to.

scroll-dividerI started out at sixteen with a generic brand Prozac, it made me anxious and didn’t really help with depression. I was then put on Wellbutrin, which at first seemed to work. I had less social anxiety, I was more sociable, and I slept better, for awhile. But I was prone to risky behavior, and I was very rebellious already, but I think the numbing of my depression and anxieties made me more prone to engaging in shitty behavior and actions. I just didn’t care about anything at all.

I eventually hit a plateau and all my shitty thoughts and fears were still there and I felt like I was under glass and not myself so I quit cold turkey. I started smoking pot and for a long time felt that it worked better than Wellbutrin but I still had all the crap in my brain bogging me down. I went through a party phase and did all the drugs offered to me for about 5 years, and honestly the biggest thing to make me change my life was the very first time I took acid. My dealer had it on a dropper and was dropping it on my tongue and all of a sudden says “oops”… He’s dropped “about 15 hits” on my tongue…

After that very long trip I realized how pointless and stupid so many things are, especially my fears. I saw that the world is infinitely beautiful and I should see it all in a better light than how I’d chosen to live. It took awhile to stop doing drugs and I occasionally still smoke pot, but I don’t do it to drown my feelings now. I started looking into eastern religions several years ago and then a couple years ago heard the phrase “disconnect from desire” and it really resonated with me. I try to stop and smell the roses and enjoy all the little things. I actively try to see the positive side of things even if my first thought is negative. I’ve had to change how I look at the world because the drugs, the legal and illegal ones, did not do anything to help my condition. I feel that the best way to conquer depression is to look earnestly at why you are depressed and figure out what you can do behaviorally and mentally to try and fix that.

Maybe that’s not always enough.

I’ve gone to therapists and it really never worked. I think talking to people you know and love and who know and love you about your feelings is much better and more helpful. Their opinion will matter much more and they always see something you can’t. I’m super caffeinated this morning and just powered through that, if you want me to elaborate on anything, just ask away. I’m totally fine going into greater detail and I don’t care about anonymity, I’ve chosen to be an honest and open person for the rest of my life because I believe all the shit I’ve gone through has made me who I am and if my experiences could help anyone then I’m happy to share.

Oh, and another thing I did was pulled out of a page of AA and I confronted people I thought I’d wronged but also people I missed and felt guilty for not seeing in a long time, getting some closure on my past. I was also a cutter when on Prozac and Wellbutrin, they never really stopped the depression, they just numbed it all.

scroll-dividerAt around the age of 11 I fell into a deep depression and anxiety state, I self-harmed and considered suicide on multiple occasions. At some point I was finally sent to a behavioral therapist, a nice older gentleman who I’m sure was excellent in his field, but for the year that I spent with him we never clicked and far too often the sessions would be filled with awkward silences spanning over half an hour.

I wasn’t placed on Prozac (10mg to start) until about half way through the year, around the start of middle school. What prompted me to switch therapists was another drop into the abyss of self-loathing, now complete with occasional disassociation. I was now under the care of an elderly woman who was 100% on board with any treatment options I and my parents decided on. So I met with her multiple times a month to start, increased my Prozac dosage once, then twice up to 30mg daily.

There has definitely been a change in the past six years I’ve been taking medication. And recently I was also diagnosed with ADHD, and put on 150mg of Wellbutrin (which is fantastic let me tell you. Like wow I can actually listen for more than 5 seconds and do my homework and read a chapter of a book without having to get up every paragraph and do something, but anyway). When you’re young you shouldn’t be laying in your bed all day too tired to get up or change the clothes you’ve been wearing for weeks. When you’re young you shouldn’t get anxiety attacks going to new places or walking through crowds. I honestly believe that with the help of my medication the chemical imbalances in my body have leveled out to a manageable point where I am capable of feeling happy, getting out of bed and going out to meet my friends for coffee. I am capable of grieving the loss of my neighborhood to a fire and then see that it isn’t all over and I can still live, better than before even.

Of course it’s not a cure-all, I still have bad days, hell I still have bad weeks, but now I can push past them. I only see my counselor once every six months or so and I only usually report on how well I’m doing. I still take my medication every day when I wake up and head out, and I probably will continue to for a large portion of my life. But it’s whatever.

scroll-dividerI’ve taken dozens of anti-depression and anti-anxiety medications since I was 12 years old, once I started going to a special education school. I can’t even keep track of all of the different ones I took. I used to take them in liquid form because I had trouble swallowing pills which lead to lots of grief about taking them.

One I took with my therapist, she’d squirt it into my mouth and give me a pretzel nugget afterwards to help with the lousy taste. One medication I used to take with a cup of cafeteria orange juice and inevitably I ended up gagging and almost throwing up every time, which has led to a Pavlovian distaste for cheap-tasting orange juice. Even smelling it makes me nauseated. I think I took Depakote briefly, I came home and my mom handed me a cup of pink soda which I thought was like raspberry ginger ale or something but which was the red liquid mixed with sprite.

That didn’t last long. They usually didn’t.

I took Celexa and I think for a time it even worked. I remember telling my mom “I’m happy.” That was a long time ago. During my first and to-date only stay in a hospital ten years ago I believe I was on Wellbutrin and something else which made me tired and yet unable to sleep, nightmarishly. I continued to take a procession of different medications through high school and to the present date including (I believe) Cymbalta, Abilify, Effexor, Prozac, and Lexapro among others. In the summer of 2012 I was on Ambien and Seroquel to help me sleep and nothing else. I had been taking Ambien for years even though you’re really only supposed to take it for a few weeks. This lead to a sequence of events leading to police being called and bringing me to a hospital in the middle of the night where I had to explain to a doctor that I wasn’t going to kill myself.

This fiasco convinced me I needed to get off the Ambien which I did. In October of 2013 I had not been taking anything for at least a month except the Seroquel. I ruined my brother’s birthday party and the next day I told my psychiatrist (I went through a whole conga line of these as well) who prescribed me Pristiq. There was a period of quasi-numbness which leveled out into seeming emotional stability. By December of 2014 I was back to experiencing periods of extreme depression and anxiety. By spring of 2015 I was in my first relationship and have experienced practically no serious depressive lows. I still take Pristiq every day and Seroquel every night to sleep.


I convinced my therapist to give me a combination of drugs. After a few months, I was gambling obsessively, buying shit online for no reason like a large collection of extension cords. And finally I lost my job and constantly considered driving over other human beings on the road. So I finally quit and lost my mind in a different way. But at least I am no longer homicidal. So yay for that.

I lost (misplaced?) my girlfriend. I gained like 50lbs. I was forgetting to feed the cat. And sometimes only talked to the cat. Got rid of everything I owned. Like gave away a large screen TV for 20$ and gave my laptop to someone who did me a favor. Lived in a halfway house even though I was only addicted to the prescriptions. And finally came out the other end. Confused and shell shocked.

All because I talked my way into meds that rewrote my thinking. They are good for some people. Just not me. I have been off of them for 2 years. Now I just work out 5 hours a day 7 days a week. And that keeps my head okay. Addicted to the post-workout dopamine.

scroll-dividerSo this medication saga started for me back in 2000, when I first began dealing with anxiety and depression (at least to a degree where I needed to be medicated). My parents took me to a psychiatrist who put me on Paxil, which I stayed on up until my sophomore year of high school (so about 3 years). It made me nauseated and exhausted, hardly able to wake up for school. It didn’t help my depression and made my anxiety worse, probably because of all the side effects. I would cry when my mom would make me take the pills. Fast forward to 2003, I refused to take it anymore. The side effects had waned a bit but it didn’t make me feel any better at all.

I went without medication for the rest of high school and the first couple years of college, when I was put on Paxil for second time (2007) and had essentially the same symptoms again: nausea, fatigue, and a strong metallic taste in my mouth; zero appetite, lost fifteen pounds in about three weeks. Paxil made me feel hollow and numb (I couldn’t even cry when my cat died, it was physically impossible). It just seemed to add a lot of apathy to my depression; I was still depressed but on Paxil I didn’t care about getting better or not.

My anxiety was off the charts, and I dropped out of college two months after starting it. In January 2008, I went back to school and was put on Klonopin for anxiety in order to get me to the one class I was taking. It helped a lot at the time (fast forward almost 8 years later and it’s efficacy has faded a little). I stopped taking Paxil after that, and in 2008 was put on Lexapro which was hell—nausea, vomiting, upset stomach… it made it impossible to go to work, which I had to do, so I walked around all day gagging, basically. I was on it two weeks and then stopped.

Celexa was next, side effects were similar to Paxil, though not as bad; mostly nausea/no appetite but not severe. I stayed on Celexa until early 2009, after giving it months to work and getting no help from it. Spring 2009, I was put on Prozac following a breakdown. It gave me stomachaches (which went away after a few weeks) and completely wiped out my appetite. On Spring break, I stayed in bed for 5 days straight because I felt like a zombie and couldn’t move. June 2009 – they finally diagnosed me with bipolar disorder and that explained why all the SSRI anti-depressants they’d put me on had either not helped or even made me worse.

The first medication they tried after that was Abilify. It worsened my anxiety, but I don’t remember any other noticeable side effects. But it didn’t help my mood swings or any of my other symptoms. I was especially self-destructive during it, and after a couple months, my doctor took me off of it. August 2009, I tried Seroquel which was a fresh kind of hell. I overslept three days in a row, felt like a complete zombie, could not get to work on time (which was already a struggle with my disorder). I gained 20 pounds in the 4 weeks I was on it. Eventually, out of fear of getting fired, I had to stop taking it.

I lost my insurance after that, and went unmedicated until the following Spring (2010) when I was put on Zyprexa. At first I had the usual nausea, tiredness, but that went away fairly quickly. Zyprexa actually helped my mood swings/suicide ideation to a degree. It also knocked me out completely, helping me sleep through a breakdown if I needed to. At the time I didn’t care about my weight as long as I got out of the bell jar, but I’d heard that Zyprexa caused a lot of weight gain—I had the opposite experience. After going on Seroquel, I lost the 20 pounds I’d gained from that immediately. Then on Zyprexa, I lost about 20 more, dropping to 115 pounds that summer. I don’t remember any other side effects that didn’t go away besides that. Eventually, as I got worse, Zyprexa couldn’t really keep up with my symptoms so I gradually went off it.

The next year I just self-medicated (binge drinking/drugs/etc) which obviously was a disaster. So at the end of the year I went back on Zyprexa, this time without any big side effects; I gained a little weight back and it seemed to even out. But again, after a few months, my symptoms just kept breaking through. At the hospital in 2012, I got the usual cocktail of Haldol/Gabapentin to make me a zombie so I’d be easier to deal with, I guess, but those were only for a few days at a time (but for record’s sake—they completely knocked me out in minutes, woke up disoriented, completely unable to focus, hard to remember words or even how to talk. All these side effects went away in about 8 hours, and when they did, they gave you a second dose).

In 2013, over the course of about 6 months, a new doctor put me on Risperidone (felt like morning sickness every day); Zoloft and Latuda (same as Paxil side effects); Invega (helped me sleep, but I couldn’t wake up); Buspirone for anxiety (which either worsened it, but definitely didn’t help it; went back to Klonopin for that). A lot of those meds made my mood swings and other symptoms so much worse that my doctor was afraid to leave me on them long enough to find out if they would eventually make a difference. FINALLY, my doctor put me on Lamictal (which I had never, ever heard of or been prescribed) and it helped A LOT. Initially it worsened my insomnia to the point where I wouldn’t sleep for days (which wasn’t unlike episodes of mania so I was used to it) but after about a month this completely went away. After about 3 months, I felt like I needed something go with it to… I guess help Lamictal work, so I was put on Lithium along with it. (This was around August 2013) Lithium gave me terrible headaches and made me severely thirsty (constantly, to the point where I would literally bring gallon jugs of water with me to work). I was drinking water 24/7. I felt completely dehydrated and my mouth was always dry. It was a weird feeling, but it wasn’t intolerable, and I probably needed the extra water anyway, so I stayed on it. Lithium didn’t make me nausea or hurt my stomach (which were always my least fave side effects) so anything other than that I was determined to just deal with until it went away.

After a few months on Lithium, my thyroid level dropped and I gained about 15 pounds. My doctor lowered my dose, and after another 3-4 months, I lost the weight and my thyroid level went back to normal (I still have this checked monthly; ever since then it has been back to normal.) I still feel thirsty but not nearly to the extent I was when I first started it. Now I just carry a bottle or two of water with me. Meanwhile, the Lamictal was working great for me too (great as in… way better than any other medication ever worked for me. Which would be more groundbreaking if any had ever worked all that well. But this was still kind of a breakthrough-moment for me because it was genuinely helping). I got bad headaches on Lithium and Lamictal, which went away after a few months. (I still get headaches now but from a concussion, not from the meds as far as I know.)

The problem with having bipolar disorder is that even when you think (or know) medications are helping you, you still somehow manage to go off them. Which I did twice, once in 2013 and once in 2014, both times during a manic episode and voila I was back in the hospital getting zombified on Haldol and Gaba again. It took going off of the meds to realize just how well they worked when I was on them. It was a huge wake up call. In fact, it only took 5-7 days of skipping them for things to get really bad. So, ever since then I’ve stayed on them consistently. If I’m busy, I’ll take a dose late once in a while, but other than that I never skip and I never, ever go off them.

As far as long-term side effects, I’m not sure if any of the physical ailments I have are directly related to the meds. The thirst/dehydration feeling from the Lithium probably will never go away, but it’s not bad anymore. I feel scatterbrained and forgetful sometimes, but not to a point where it really hurts anything. My thyroid level is still perfectly normal. Lamictal doesn’t seem to give me any side effects at all now. My Prolactin levels get checked every 3 months, and are normal. Last year my doctor raised both doses, so I’m on: 900mg of Lithium and 600mg of Lamictal a day (I’m maxed out on Lamictal, I’ve been told). I still take the Klonopin for anxiety, which I try to only take when I really need it since it makes me weepy. I’m also on Cyproheptadine at nighttime for PTSD, nightmares, and flashbacks. It doesn’t get rid of them, but it helps the severity/frequency. I don’t notice any bad side effects from it. It knocks me out, and in 6 hours when it wears off, like clockwork, I wake up.

So after an exhausting and MISERABLE 8-13 year struggle to find something that helped… I’ve been on these for a little over 2 years now. And I’m still here, so I’m counting that as a big win. I’m far more stable, no more roller coaster mood swings, my depression isn’t quite as bed. I can still tell when a manic or hypomanic episode is coming on. It’s a really strange feeling, I can honestly tell that it’s actually trying to override my medication… but my medication wins in the end. Sometimes I’m afraid they will stop working (especially since I can’t increase my dose of either right now) and I’ll have a mini panic attack worrying about it. But my psychiatrist told me it’s unlikely that will happen… so, guess I’ll see.

Oh, one more thing! A couple months ago I had a genetic test done (GeneSight) which helps show what medications you might respond to and which ones might make you worse or not help. It showed that SSRIs were likely to make me worse (they were black labeled for people with bipolar disorder), they were in category saying “use with extreme caution,” the atypical anti-psychotics I was on were in the category suggesting they wouldn’t help (which had been true for years), under “use with caution,” the typical anti-psychotics were marked potentially therapeutic but I hadn’t been on any of those that I know of, Lithium was also marked ‘potentially therapeutic’ and Lamictal was in a category called ‘therapeutic’… I had it done mostly out of curiosity, and it pretty much just confirmed that I’m on the right meds…. and seemingly the only meds that work for me. Just wanted to add that in there, because I didn’t even know the test existed until then. The site is fyi, it’s pretty interesting.

scroll-dividerI don’t really have a story about medication, but in the interest of statistical validity figured I’d give my experiences. Citalopram for depression did nothing, can’t remember my dosage but it was fairly high. I was on it twice, once in high school (where I found it more helpful) and then once again two or three years ago (where it was not helpful at all even with the high dosage). Both times coming off I had withdrawals that lasted about two months where there was a lot of depersonalisation and feelings of like electricity running through my brain.

Fluoxetine (Prozac) was more useful but I found that it really numbed my emotions more than anything. Feel like being on it really fucked up a lot of my personal relationships, had the same symptoms coming off it but it didn’t last as long.

scroll-dividerI’ve been taking Concerta for a year now. I’ve been trying to find alternatives to medication for my ADHD but I couldn’t get any results like the results Concerta has on me. When I was given it the doctor told me that I suffered a lot in my life and that its going to fix me. I took it, felt a lot better, more focused but it didn’t fix the problem it only lessened it when it was still in my system.

The side effects are headaches around 4pm and I take them at 8am. I have lost my appetite too and I also get a bad sinus infection sometimes. I found that my appetite is better after a year but I still eat one meal a day or two meals small portions. The headache is less if I drink A LOT of water. I also only sleep for 4 to 5 hours a day because of it when I used to have a regular 8 to 7 hours before.

I sometimes stop using them to see how I’d manage without them for a couple of weeks but around the second week I get tantrums over stupid stuff that don’t even involve me. Like something that happened to my sister would bother me to the point I’d want to be physically aggressive and that reminds me of how I used to be before the medication. I realised that it doesn’t heal. My doctor tells me that you’re only going to take it for 3 years and that your brain is going to learn and adapt to the process it’s going through when taking the medication and that after 3 years it’ll be enough. By that time my brain would have learned to function correctly as he said. I now know it’s ridiculous. I stop taking the medicine when I’m not going through college stress or have any difficult family obligations and take EXTRA care of myself at that time but I do think that taking Concerta is important to me.

At some point I worried if I was addicted but when I’d stop in the summer vacation I was comfortable and content with being able to sleep better so it’s only when I’m going through college stress or work stress that I feel incompetent without it. It has given me confidence at college and I’m able to do things now like read or sit down. I’m not as angry at small things when I take it. I ran out of it now because the pharmacy that provides it doesn’t have it and I realised how insecure I feel and I’m trying to fight it till I get my pills back so yeah i don’t think they fix me but they sure make my life a lot easier emotionally and academically.

scroll-dividerI wish I had never taken any of the anti-depressants I’ve taken. I’m addicted to Klonopin, and I don’t quite know how to get off it. I don’t believe in pills for mental treatment unless it’s for a very specific symptom, I think the real answer to mental problems is either therapy or changing your life in some way.

I had severe OCD and the main way I got past it was just seeking help, I think the most important thing in mental health, although it seems too easy, is just to seek help, although as humans we get stuck in horrible patterns which are easier to deal with than the possibility of moving on.

I took all kind of anti-depressants and didn’t get better until I willed myself to try to seek therapy, which I didn’t really receive, but in a weird way, seeking it out actually made me better because it was signaling to my brain that I was finally tired of suffering the way I was.

scroll-dividerI was dealing with anxiety and depression for about a year before I started realizing my freshman year of college that that’s what was going on, and on my mom’s advice I went to the health center hoping I could talk to some sort of counselor. I told them I thought I was feeling a bit depressed, and about five minutes later I was walking out with a prescription for Citalopram and one for Trazadone to help me sleep. It did help me sleep, if you consider feeling like you were hit with a shovel and passing out sleeping. I could only stand the drugged/sedated feeling it gave me all day so I only took the Trazadone for about a week and a half.

The Citalopram I took for about 4 months, during which I don’t really remember any specific time I felt content. I only really laughed or smiled when I was stoned beyond the point of caring and surrounded with the group of close friends I felt comfortable enough around to stand for more than an hour. I lost any desire to eat when all food lost its flavor and made me nauseous no matter what I ate. I lost close to 20 pounds over this time. I never actually did have any appointment with a counselor, just monthly visits to see if they needed to change any dosage or see if there were any obvious problems. I finally realized that the changes I was going through were not the healthiest thing, so at my monthly appointment I essentially told them I had bested my demons and would like to be weened off the medicine.

My depression and anxiety got much worse nearing the end of my second semester, and I withdrew from classes to move home and go to community college. My parents realized something was off with me even though I didn’t like to talk about it, and made me make an appointment with an actual psychologist office. I saw one doctor who prescribed me Prozac after a little more questioning than I went through at the school health center. I also now had weekly appointments with a therapist, although through no fault of his own I never felt comfortable enough to really open up and talk, so I didn’t gain too much from that. On the Prozac I felt a little more comfortable than I did on the Citalopram, but I still felt like I wasn’t really fully experiencing my emotions. I would go through periods that I would become completely detached and just sort of numb as a way to deal with the anxiety. My mind would either be racing or completely filled with white noise. I also still couldn’t enjoy food unless I got high enough, and remained too skinny.

This went on for about 6 months, until my depression took a turn for the worse. I started having somewhat suicidal thoughts in between periods of detachment. Although I never recall thinking about ways to kill myself, I remember just thinking it would be simpler and the world would be a better place if I never existed. I thankfully still had the presence of mind to realize how much I would hurt the ones I loved if I actually did die, but it seemed if I had just never been born everything would be better off. I started feeling more and more strongly that I didn’t want to be on antidepressants anymore. In hindsight I know that this was a dumb decision especially to make on my own but I stopped taking the Prozac outright, and felt like complete shit for a little less than a week. I gradually started feeling better, and over the next couple years my mental health started to improve as well. I still have days where I hate myself with a passion, but I’m happy sometimes too so I guess I could be doing worse.

scroll-dividerI struggled for a while with the concept of taking antidepressants. I knew that they were going to help me but I couldn’t help but feel like they weren’t the long term answer. I stopped taking them after about two weeks which was before they even kicked in. I would look at them in the bottle a lot but I just couldn’t bring myself to take them. I kind of felt like taking them as an admission that the problem I had wasn’t one that was going to go away. I struggled with it a lot but I made it out without them. I look back and think I should have taken them and been more serious about my health. I don’t know, that’s just my experience with them.

scroll-dividerI’ve been taking psych meds since I was 10 years old. I’m 20 now. So half my life. They started with ADHD meds. I used to get really mad when I was little and hit people and break things.

I do not have ADHD. When they realized this, they then thought I was bipolar and but me on mood stabilizers, switching them around, trying new ones every month or so. But I’m not bipolar. This was also not right.

I suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and borderline personality disorder. I’ve attempted suicide numerous times in my life and have disgustingly deep cuts all over my arms and legs. Before all of this came to light, I was fed a large array of medications that did nothing but kill my brain for years. Then I was hospitalized for the first time. I think I was 15. My depression started to show through but my other diagnoses were not relevant yet. When the doctors discovered my depression and PTSD, I was put on antidepressants (and still on mood stabilizers). They also put me on a med for my nightmares caused by my trauma (which surprisingly worked and still does).

It took another two years of trying different to find the right antidepressant for me, which ended up being Prozac. This wasn’t until 5 hospitalizations after. In my life I’ve been hospitalized, I believe, 12 times now. I’ve attempted suicide many times and have disgusting cuts on my arms and legs. In the hospitals I was basically living as a lab rat, testing a bunch of meds. Experiments and shit being done on me. Prozac was a blessing for a while since it was the first med that made me less dead inside. But it didn’t last; sometimes when you take a med for too long it starts having no effect. Around 18 it started to do nothing for me and they had to switch it to another antidepressant (currently still trying to find one).

Today, my anxiety is the main issue. Doctors WILL NOT prescribe me any type of benzodiazepine, which is the ONLY thing that helps. I’m literally crippled by this, unable to go to school, work , even get up to use the bathroom or make food. I’m taking Prazosin (for nightmares) and Trazadone to help me sleep and my psychiatrist is testing different antidepressants on me. I’m still depressed and have a lot of other life-stopping problems that doctors refuse to address . I can tell you all I got from taking all these meds over the year is brain dead. My mind is mush. My thoughts are incomplete, I forget things instantly and constantly and I can’t even talk like a normal person anymore. If I had meds that worked, this wouldn’t bother me so much. But I don’t, so it does.

scroll-dividerMy experience with mental health medication is that it literally had no effect whatsoever and so I stopped taking it and my life didn’t change not one single bit.

scroll-dividerI grew up in a fundamentalist Christian environment. As somebody who loves to think, loves to learn, and tends to be a bit pensive and cynical, I was always led to believe there was something wrong with me. This, in addition to low confidence took me to some fairly dark places as I grew older and began to come to grips with the absurdity and cruelty of life. After experiencing an extreme sense of isolation during my senior year of college, and dealing with a great deal of suicidal ideation (Spring 2015), I began going to counseling for the second time in my life.

Around this time I also happened to have a seemingly arbitrary conversation with a classmate who happened to mention he was on Prozac for anxiety and depression, and that I should talk to my counselor about it. My counselor said that he had already considered suggesting it, and after years and years and years of dealing with a daily weight of hopelessness but being afraid to call it depression because I was still able to get out of bed in the morning and eat three meals a day, I was finally able to give a name to my debilitating sadness that was hindering my work, my life, and my relationships.

Prozac (or the generic Fluoxetine which I take) takes a while to become effective. The first three weeks were hell. My hormones were out of whack, I had anxiety issues, and felt even more depressed than usual. I believe this was, in part, because I knew I was taking meds but couldn’t feel them working. After those three weeks, I remember walking to class one morning, and instead of contemplating all the miseries of life and the suffering and pointlessness of all of human existence, I found myself thinking that it was a beautiful day. This is the first moment I realized the medicine was starting to work. I was afraid for a while. Pensiveness and sadness had become such a part of who I was, that I didn’t know what to do with myself. Luckily, I have been able to maintain my passions and my identity. I still enjoy the same intellectual pursuits, I still feel many of the same emotions, and sure, I even still have really bad days. But I no longer spend my spare time wishing I had the strength to kill myself, wondering with every passing bus how easy it would be to throw myself in front of it, or resenting my parents for the fact that I never asked to exist and I had no choice.

Around this same time, I met a girl. Thinking that the timing was bad and maybe I was just feeling really good because of the Fluoxetine, I assumed nothing would work out. To make that long story short, I lost my virginity to her shortly thereafter (my hormones were still leveling out from the drugs and I had ZERO libido, and couldn’t get it up. Luckily they hormones eventually returned to normal) and we are planning on getting engaged this April. I never thought I would be married. I never thought I’d find somebody who loves me because of my flaws instead of in spite of them. But I did. Is my life completely fixed because of Prozac? No. Did I fall in love because I swallow 20mg of Fluoxetine every night and went a month without getting a boner? No. Will everybody who takes antidepressants have similar results? No. But I can say that for myself, after being convinced that I was the problem, and being told I was no fun to be around and that I just needed to “cheer up” for my entire adult life, Fluoxetine has given me a way to level the playing field of my emotions, while still hanging on to the empathy and passion for contemplation that makes me who I am, and inspires me to pursue my dreams of creating art as a radio producer.

That’s my story. Maybe it’s a little self-indulgent. Maybe it’s a little romantic. But I’ve had a really good experience. I would encourage anybody who is chronically sad and is significantly effected by it to consult a counselor. Even if you don’t end up taking medication or being clinically depressed, please know that you are NOT alone. That may not help, but it’s true. Go find friends on emo Twitter or weird Twitter or feminist Twitter. You’re not alone. You can do this. I can’t tell you for sure that it will get better because that’s not realistic but I can tell you for sure that you can find restoration, you can find things worth living for, you can find other people to help you and to help in return, and there are people who love you and who *will* love you. Please don’t give up. I never thought it would happen to me but life is full of surprises. Cliche, but true.

scroll-dividerI started taking some sort of mood stabilizer for OCD like 18 months ago after I had a massive panic attack and was incoherently rambling about being “a bad person.” I forget the name of the drug, but it worked for OCD but gave me terrible migraines and I started clenching my jaw. I switched to Prozac after about two weeks of blindingly painful migraines. Prozac has been doing okay for me. Higher doses work best, as in they bring down my worrying and subsequently make me less irritable. When you worry about being a bad person, which is completely irrational, you become defensive and can be very short with people or perhaps just completely stop talking to people so you “maintain a positive image of yourself publicly.” It sucks. But Prozac works okay for me. I am considering trying some different drug because I still clench my jaw and still get worried far too frequently to feel it’s working okay.

However, I need to switch insurance soon and that will decide a lot about how I handle my mental health. By the way, I’m 25 and only found out about my OCD at the age of 24. I went 24 years without therapy and just hating myself. It’s a tough thing to reverse. Thanks for letting me share.

scroll-dividerMy meds make me boring. I’m not how I used to be. All my friends tell me they liked me more when I wasn’t on medications; that I was more fun. It sucks being different than I was. My brain is just dead. My meds also make me sick sometimes. If I wake up too early before my night medication wears off, I’m dizzy and have nausea and feel weak. I always have to get up slowly because I feel like and will pass out if I get up too fast.

They also make me have a shit appetite. I can’t eat because I’m nauseous and I’m nauseous because I can’t eat. I also have no libido. When I do have sex or masturbate, I can’t orgasm. I’m tired allll the time and spend at least 20 hours a day in bed. Meds fucking suck but I have no choice.

scroll-dividerI realized I had strong levels of anxiety when I was a senior in high school. I saw a psychiatrist my sophomore year in college because I was unable to speak in class without blacking out or having to leave the classroom. I then started taking propranolol regularly and hydroxyzine as needed to calm my shakes, sweats, and heart racing so that I would be able to finish the speech at least. I needed stronger meds but my psychiatrist didn’t want me to get hooked on anything so she stuck with that.

A lot of stuff happened in the next few months including my father having a heart attack, me getting staked out by police for selling weed, and I felt my relationship with my girlfriend breaking down. Before our relationship ended, I tried an SSRI which didn’t seem to help and gave me sexual side effects to where I couldn’t fully perform, so I stopped taking that. After we ended the relationship, I noticed just how incredibly depressed I had become in the past couple months. I couldn’t stop crying, my anxiety was sky high, and I felt like nothing would ever get better and that our world was fucked. I told my psychiatrist about my suicidal thoughts, which included ideation, and she immediately made arrangements for me to be sent to an emergency room to be evaluated. After convincing them that I was not a danger to myself (because I didn’t want to hurt those close to me), they let me go and decided that I should partake in an outpatient program nearby.

This program was very group oriented which I was very uncomfortable with, and I felt like I was not accomplishing much so I asked for permission to leave the group after the third day, which was granted. I believe they then put me on Lexapro, in addition to the propranolol and hydroxyzine my previous psychiatrist had prescribed. Things never seemed to really get better but I was managing to get through school with the help of my drug and alcohol addictions that I had become accustomed to. I still had the sexual side effect as a result of the SSRI, so my psychiatrist prescribed me buspirone which she said should combat the side effects, as well as help with my anxiety. A couple of months later, the sexual side effects began slowly regressing, but my anxiety seemed to be even worse, so my psychiatrist began prescribing me clonazepam. That seemed to help steady my nerves and alleviate the stress that caused my anxiety with time, but I was worried about possible addiction.

After this, I had been down and depressed, and had a fight with a close friend, and began drinking and driving back to my college town and decided to attempt to end my life via speeding and driving off the road. I eventually drank everything I had with me, which was exacerbated by clonazepam’s effect while on alcohol, and got lost on some back roads and ran out of gas. I was “pulled over,” given a DUI, and arrested. They tried to place me in a drunk tank with no windows which I would not cooperate with and was eventually tased until I walked inside, and was given four more misdemeanor charges as a result.

I was dying of a panic attack and hangover the next morning and was denied access to my medication and was freaking out, but eventually it all got better (thank god) and I returned home thanks to my dad and tried to begin sorting my life out. Months later, I came down with an illness over a weekend and decided to quit drinking (which was tough). That same week, I ran out of my clonazepam, and was repeatedly deferred to my psychiatrist or the pharmacy to handle my refill. After multiple days of this with no success, I began having incredible withdrawal symptoms that were compounded by my withdrawal from alcohol. I was nervous, sweaty, hot, cold, sick, nauseous – everything in the book. It was so awful that I vowed never to take clonazepam again. I then asked for hydroxyzine to be prescribed again, as I felt those helped in my earlier years and didn’t seem to hinder any of my activities/abilities, to which she agreed.

This was like three months ago now and I was still in a wallowing state of depression, was unemployed, relapsed into my alcoholism, and still had my marijuana addiction to occupy my time all day. I told my psychiatrist that I felt like it had been enough time to declare the fact that the SSRI wasn’t working, to which she agreed and prescribed me sertraline, in addition to keeping the buspirone, hydroxyzine, and propranolol.

THE NEXT DAY, I was as happy as I’d been in years, and had a more positive outlook on life, even though nothing else in my socio-economic state had changed (was dealing with problems with getting a job due to the DUI, as well as problems with relationships between friends and family). Since then, I have had only a handful of moments that I’ve felt truly depressed as I was without the new medication, and have been able to come out of that (usually with the help of alcohol and/or marijuana). I know my drug addictions do not actually contribute as much help to my mental illnesses as I want them to, but they are crutches for me now and I am only recently beginning to phase out alcohol, but I still truly believe in the healing powers of marijuana. My only complaint from sertraline is that I’ve gained weight (specifically around my stomach) since being on it even though none of my lifestyle habits have changed, and I have incredibly vivid dreams (which is a side effect of all SSRI’s, but these are very affecting to my first hour or so of being awake). I no longer have any sexual side effects, still deal with my fair amount of anxiety, but only feel depressed when I think about “the future” or “the state of the US” or humanity in general lol so I’m thinking this is my best possible combination of meds (sertraline, buspirone, propranolol, hydroxyzine) and I will just have to wait and hope that the world gets better. Thanks for listening to my story, and I hope this helps with your project!

scroll-dividerUniversity psychologist told me I was stressed and anxious because I worked “too much” (20 hrs/wk, the bare minimum I needed to survive on). Said I didn’t need anxiety medication, just a tens of thousands of dollars in student loans so I could relax and focus on school! Gave me Prozac despite it being a terrible SSRI for anxiety and gave me an anti-psychotic to “help me sleep.”

I was wired and really up all day, the bedtime meds conked me out so hard I had dreamless and not very restful coma-sleep. She seemed genuinely confused that this combination wasn’t helpful.

I ended up discontinuing the meds because they were so counterproductive and she wasn’t really working with me to find a better solution. Years later I found a wonderful psychiatrist who really listened to my actual symptoms, gave me a more accurate diagnosis, and worked with me to find the right meds for my needs. I’m doing really well now, but I’m a college drop out and I have to think I might have made it through school if the uni psychiatrist was even somewhat okay at her job.

scroll-dividerAll through high school from 2006-2009 I probably had some undiagnosed depression/anxiety or something but I just kept it in always because my parents were always the type that would be ‘stick it up’ ‘it’s all in your head’ type shit… I was diagnosed with BPD spring 2011 at my clinic of my school and the psych did offer to prescribe me SSRI but I refused because of my preexisting ideas on it.

It was after a dramatic emotional breakup where both my ex and I were self-harming and a lot of suicidal ideation/almost attempt. That’s when I decided to go get help and though I refused the meds, I did go to therapy on and off there, my school offered some short term therapy session, I don’t know how I felt about them… it continued on/off from Spring 2011-Spring 2013, the entire time I was ‘self medicating’ with weed which definitely turned abusive because I mostly got unbearably anxious on it on top of the fact that I would sometimes do acid/Adderall/shrooms/MDMA/DMT occasionally… a big aspect of BPD is this acute sensitivity of how I think others perceive me so I don’t know, I feel a lot of that might’ve been a factor in top of my insane projections…

After I graduated in 2013 I cut down a lot of the drug use cause I feel that I did learn in retrospect some lessons about my experiences with them and probably the consequences of how they fucked up even more my already fucked up brain because I was still and still am anxious and depressed a lot and did/do still relate to some of the BPD symptoms. I mean looking into self-help has helped some but all of my bad feelings led me to go see a psych near where I lived. Wait, actually, I first went to my primary care doctor (this is late 2014 now) and asked for Adderall/Vyvanse because one thing I did notice when I used them in college was that they would calm my brain slow enough to actually focus on the things I wanted to focus on and by doing that I would feel less depressed because I was doing the things that I wanted to do, being productive, making art/music and such.

Though the only downside of stimulants were the anxiety side effects, so he actually also gave me a li’l prescription of Xanax/Klonopin, bless him. My primary care doc was very hesitant but agreed to prescribe me small doses a little until I found a psych to analyze. So I found one and she was like I’m going to put you on Lexapro for anxiety/depression and Vyvanse for focusing and I was like okay sure I’ll try SSRI. But Lexapro the first few days felt okay but after that I just felt even more shitty and depressed. So then she tried Zoloft. Same thing… then Wellbutrin, same thing too, I’d just feel shitty and tired and sad on all of these, for each one, I’d test them for about a month. Then I asked her for Adderall because so far that was the best thing I felt helped so far for me because of me feeling better about myself doing the things I liked and wanted to do but she was like “Nah, you just go out on the street and buy coke if you want it’ and then I walked out on her.

So I found another psych who first tried Wellbutrin, first two weeks felt okay but then I started feeling really anxious on it after that so then Prozac was prescribed and the same fucking thing keeps happening with me and SSRIs, I don’t know why what the heck is wrong with me, I feel so much more depressed when I’m numb on all this shit. So anyways I slowly milked my old Adderall/Vyvanse prescriptions until they’re finished. Also my old prescriptions of Xanax and Klonopin when needed, I still have some left because I wasn’t taking them daily when I was prescribed them a while ago. I know how addictive they are.

Anyways I’m still anxious about all aspects of life and easily depressed all the time especially since I have no friends, in a foreign country, and I don’t know what I’m gonna do when I run out of my benzos because I have no health insurance in Sweden.

scroll-dividerI was diagnosed with manic depression when I was about 12 or 13. I have been on various medications, various combinations of medications, stopping all medications, suicide attempts, doctors, therapy. I am 21 now. I still haven’t found a medication to stick with.

I used to keep a list of the ones I had been on but I started to not care anymore. And I lost it and never kept up with it. I also have chronic migraines and often antidepressants are prescribed to help with those. So sometimes I was on two at the same time. Or often two doctors would have to try to pick medications that wouldn’t conflict with each other. Often I felt like a zombie. Living dead. Sleeping too much or too little. My weight fluctuated a lot. I spent most of high school at home or in the nurse’s office before I got home hospital teaching. I was often nauseous. Some medications made my finger tips so numb I couldn’t write. Or shake so bad I couldn’t even hold a pencil. Spending so much of my life bouncing around on medications has set me back pretty far in life. Spending so much of my life still wanting to die has drained me.

scroll-dividerMy friend and I both had similar experiences with Adderall. Both him and I were prescribed addy by equally shady doctors—the kind you see for ten minutes a month, who write you a scrip for anything, y’know how it goes. So our dosages keep rising and rising and rising, to the point at which we were manic. I’m talking full on manic. I would stay up for three, four days in a row, obsessively clean, draw, anything. It was insane. Eventually he was admitted to a psychiatric ward. Neither of us take stimulants like that any more.


When I was on Lexapro I started dating someone, and felt, like, numb all the time. I couldn’t fall in love. A combination of Lexapro and the pill made me all confused and I found myself in a 5 year relationship with someone I wasn’t right for. I think dopamine and seratonin and oxytocin are really important for falling in love, and you just can’t organically stimulate those when you’re on antidepressants. I felt like I was acting all the time, which is hard because I’m an empath but I couldn’t empathise when I was on them, I just was pretending or trying to react how someone might in a relationship like “this must be love.” When I came off them I had weird reactions like repulsion and grief and I felt trapped.

scroll-dividerI called my doctor a few short months ago after surreptitiously cutting myself off of my previous antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication. And by calling I mean sending a message through the impersonal doctor-patient online portal their office uses—the less human contact the better, obviously. Months after stopping my treatment I found myself spiraling into deep despondency; unable to get out of bed, avoiding human contact for weeks and ultimately missing work the situation became clearly untenable. A relationship had ended, my grandfather had died, and my boss sent me an ominous message saying, “hey, we need to talk when you get in…” Shit was not cool.

So back to meds. I’ve never had overwhelming success with my recent-and-short history of medication for my case of the crazies. My floors are raised but my ceilings are low. My anxiety dissipates but my depression lingers. I’d never looked to medication as a cure, rather just a tool to enable me to work on my other issues. Which are myriad. Healthy living and therapy are the other cornerstones I’ve leaned on for support in the past.

Yet at this juncture, having removed all healthy support systems, I simply needed something to get me functioning as a human being in the normal day to day; to get through a dark period and to later worry about sustained mental health. Something to make me not cry every day would be a welcome respite.

As an alcoholic I’ve long been wary of medications that carry substance abuse concerns and have self-limited my pool of treatment. Benzodiazepine and Xanax among a few that are off my whitelist of prescriptions I feel comfortable with. My first prescription was for SSRI’s, the typical 20Mg dosage of Lexapro (generic escitalopram).

Lexapro worked pretty okay. Things were better to be sure. Not great, but better is good, right? The side effects weren’t fun: weight gain and headaches and feeling tired. But hell I had half of those already anyway. The real killer was with sex. Everything about sex was fine and normal with the glaring exception that I couldn’t finish. On the plus side for my partner I was, uh, in it to win it for their case. I say this not to be ribald but because intimacy is an important and healthy part of any of my relationships.

So for many of the above reasons I decided to go a different route than the typical SSRI’s this time around. A rather large contributing factor is that some recent test results related by my doctor suggested I was predisposed to react less successfully to SSRI’s. But there was another medication, Wellbutrin XL (generic bupropion), that works not on serotonin but rather norepinephrine and dopamine, which may work better in my situation. Best yet, the sex kink–so to speak–not only was not present, but in some cases (particularly in women although allegedly in men) had rather the opposite effect. Wicked.

So, leaving the doctor’s office with great relief and anticipation for getting back on track I walked to the local pharmacy two blocks away from my apartment to grab my prescription. I also grabbed some fish oil and B12 and other nonsense that I’m sure is great for my body or some such but which is currently expiring on my bathroom shelf. Hey, what can I say, I’m a shitty patient.

Days 1-3: Super jazzed I wake up and immediately take my pill. It’s a Thursday so I go into the office. Pretty typical day and not much to report. A little bit of a buzzy head feeling and some weird energy towards the end of the day. I had trouble sleeping but I’ve been a lifelong semi-insomniac so nothing new there.

The next day, I awoke with some pretty good energy yet some major jitters. Wasn’t sure what was up. Working from home as it was Friday, nothing major happened.

In the ensuing days I started noticing some major waves of anxiety and they were getting exponentially worse. Leaving the apartment, being in public, all of the old issues with social situations started to put me on edge like never before.

Days 4-7: By day 4 I was starting to get a little worried: my depression hasn’t subsided at all and my anxiety was starting to feel as worse as it had ever been. I was really depressed and had been thinking frequently about death and existence and things such as, “Why continue mine?” Yet the second half of the week brought some seriously troubling thoughts even for a macabre motherfucker such as myself. I started thinking about different methods to kill myself, realized I was feeling utterly hopeless and helpless in a way I hadn’t since I was suicidal when I was 17 and that for the first time in over a decade I was a legitimate threat to myself.

Worse yet, my anxiety was ramping up into ultra fuckery mode. I started getting so anxious I was shaking involuntarily any time I made contact with anyone when out in public. Riding the public transportation system was a nightmare and I could hardly walk like normal human being with shaking legs.

Shit was not only not cool it was actually twice as bad as it had been. I was trying to gut it out, so I made it to day 7 before finally calling (messaging, rather) my doctor explaining that I was having very disturbing reactions to the new medication. She immediately told me to cease the treatment.

I was really dejected. It takes so long for most of these medications to kick in: Wellbutrin is one of the faster to take effect although SSRI’s typically take 6 weeks for full benefits of treatment. After having just wasted a week, there was now the prospect of several more weeks before I would have some assistance with feeling less like killing myself with an assist from pharmaceuticals.

As I lay in bed watching Twin Peaks and Googling the half life of specific dosages of bupropion, I decided to go back to escitalopram. It had least done *something* positive without a life-threatening side effect. I really wish Wellbutrin had worked for me, yet it seems I was one of those (hopefully) rare cases in which you can experience grand ideation of the deathy variety.

A few months back on Lexapro and I’m feeling pretty good. It’s still a struggle but now is not a great time to experiment with other medications for me. I’m working to rebuild my support system of healthy living before I travel down that road again.

Hey, shit could be worse all in all. Happy to have found something that works pretty okay for me and I hope everyone else out there does too.


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