Medication Holiday and Why I Can’t Go There

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I made an announcement a week, or so, ago. My plan was to take a medication holiday from a mood disorder meds I have been on and off of since the age of nineteen. My courage has left me.

In the past, I was taken off meds to process through my education, or to carry my children. The meds slow thought processes (a compromise to learning new things), along with body metabolism. There is a numbing down of emotion and with that a deep and cutting loss of the ability to feel.

Being an extremely empathetic person, the loss of the ability to feel is not necessarily a bad thing. It does, however, pose limits to the experience of emotion. Sometimes those limits are good. Rage is in check. Anger is minimized. But so is joy, and happiness. On the meds, there is a numb sort of existence devoid of any extremes. Without the extremes, I made an excellent nurse for more than thirty years. I have a portfolio of commendations. Until the emotions began to bleed through due to stress.

I witnessed and contested some serious abuse and neglect in a pediatric long-term residential facility I was working in and up against a huge and powerful corporation and a gang of despicable people. Some of the abuse resulting in loss of limb or death. It was a two year battle. The place is closed now, if it’s any consolation.

I wrote a long and thoughtful post last evening but did not publish it.

I was recalling all of the times that I have gone over the edge and what happened. They were exciting times, filled with emotion, creative energy, and productivity. I had volumes of imaginative, expressive, original writing. I painted gorgeous pictures in oils and water colors, made fascinating jewelry, and had nearly a hundred ceramic creations that I ultimately smashed against my plaster walls in a fury.

You see, therein lies the problem.

At the end of any one of those glorious manic episodes of profound self-discovery and accomplishment were days and weeks filled with hallucinations, delusions, isolation, darkness and despair. It was frightening…no, it was horrifying. The crash that eventually came caused me to either fight the ones closest to me, or to fall into catatonia so deep that my soul wasn’t present anymore. The depressive loss of the spiritual self so profound that I not only didn’t care whether I lived or died, I didn’t even know if I was alive or dead.

Say I am exercising good judgment to stay on my meds.

Say I’m a coward for not being willing to try.

Can I live in constant state of fight or flight?

I don’t want to know.

The torment of sanity can be worse than insanity.

I’m just afraid of going over the edge and not being able to get back.

There is some sweet sorrow in the fact that the meds make me better controlled.

 

53 thoughts on “Medication Holiday and Why I Can’t Go There

  1. Definitely wouldn’t say coward. It takes a lot to view all those events, weight the good and bad, and make such a decision. Just from the people in my life who are on meds like that, it isn’t an easy decision to stay on them.

        • Meds are thousands of times better now than they were in the seventies and eighties. Weight gain is something they haven’t been able to stop. What slows thought processes, preventing mania, also slows metabolism. The tremors, tongue rolling and involuntary spasms you once saw with older psychotropics are completely gone. I have to think that in another twenty years meds will be even more improved so as not to slow physiologic metabolism, but stay specific to thought pattern chemicals.

  2. I’m so sorry to hear you’re struggling with this, Susan. I suppose like most things, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons, not only for yourself, but your loved ones. I’ll keep you in my prayers.

    • Thanks Sue. It does feel like I made an informed decision and then chickened out. It’s taken me years to get my doc to agree to this, and now that he has, and explained all the potential consequences, I’m scared.

      • You’re bound to be scared! You know better than anyone what the possible consequences can be as well as the benefits. You are the only person qualified to make the decision… and strong enough to stand by it. x

        • You’re right. Perhaps I just had to prove to my doctor that I was in control. I don’t know what I was thinking. I soooo miss the creative energy I once had, but there is a very real fear that comes with it.

          • I can understand that. The ‘you’ that should be in control, with any illness, is always secondary to what the body has in mind. Not at all the same thing, I know, but it was lack of control that bugged my late partner the most through cancer. Having the choice, and asserting your right to that choice matters.

  3. Susan, this is such a moving, honest piece. Thanks for sharing your fears and concerns with us. I admire you greatly. I’ve known a few people, some family members, who fight this battle. There is no one correct way for everyone. I hope you find the way that is correct for YOU. Don’t judge yourself harshly. ❤

    • Thanks Kate. It is as if once I was given the green light, caution lights started blinking and then a great big red light started flashing!!! LOL. Maybe one day they’ll have a treatment that eliminates the all side effects. That’s what I have to hope for.

  4. I love your honesty Susan whenever your write pieces like this. The fact that you are so open about the tough decisions you have made and continue to make is a testament to how strong a woman you are. I for one think that there is a lot to be said for medication BUT I agree about the side effects. I wish you all the best with your continued journey.

    • Thanks Jade. Sometimes I’m able to write full scenes in my mind and by the time I get to the computer it is totally lost. I feel like that wouldn’t happen if the meds weren’t such an influence. I know that without the meds, some of what I write would be so disconnected as to not make any sense. I’ve been there , too. I just wish there were some way to go to the edge of the slippery cliff without the risk of falling over.

  5. It’s interesting that you should post this now as I have been gathering my thoughts for a similar blog. I had a heart attack in 2000 and while I was prepared for the physical recovery the depression that came a few weeks later hit me pretty hard. I did counselling sessions that accomplished nothing but verify my own diagnosis that fighting through it was difficult but the only way to get past it. Generally I have beaten my demons but there are times when I feel them stirring, especially this time of year. I’m on various meds for mostly medical reasons and the thought of freeing myself from them is frightening from a physical well-being aspect. I’m in the middle of hopefully the final tweak of the manuscript for my new novel but in re-reading I have discovered that my personal feelings and emotions have become prominent in my main character. He’s questioning everything which, if you know Evan, is something he just doesn’t do. People rely on him, as some do me, to be the glib light-hearted person that makes everything seem better somehow but sometimes that’s too much of a burden to bear.
    I’m sorry, I’m rambling. The bottom line is that I believe each of us knows what is best for us. It’s the old “go with your gut” philosophy and whatever it takes to make you feel good about yourself is what you should do. I’ve always believed you have to care for yourself before you can care for anyone else…love yourself before you can truly love others. Depression is serious and recognizing it is the first step in beating it. Hang in there girl!!

    • Thank you so very much for sharing your story and your strength. I have experienced some major highs and lows over the course of my life, many of them exaggerated because of my illness and many of them very real and likely causes of my illness. I’m not stressed the way that I have been in the past. That was the impetus for thinking that maybe now I can do without the most crippling meds. Yet, there is such a dread, a very real fear, that some of the extremes I have experienced might come back with a vengeance and be inescapable. In my career, I have met those who did not respond to meds available. To put myself at risk of that just seems to great…having been over the edge before.

  6. Whatever your final choice is, I hope you find peace and tranquility. It saddens me to see such a wonderful, kind, nurturing person like yourself suffer. My prayers are with you, today and always.

    • Thank you, Sue. I would think that suffering might be greatly enhanced if I left what comfort I do have for the unknown I might face. So yeah, serenity in the familiar is probably better than chaos in the unfamiliar.

  7. Ultimately, I guess we have to trust our instincts. Yes, you are making the right choice because it’s what you want to do, and your inner voice is directing you. No, you are not a coward or copping out. It takes a very strong person to bare her soul like this on social media. Peace to you sister, for you are stronger then you think.

    • Thank you, Lockie, for your kind words. I’ve had trust issues since I was a child. Trusting my own voice. Trusting others. You hit the infamous nail on the head with that one. 🙂 I’ve also always felt there would be less stigma associated with psychiatric afflictions if people would just speak frankly about them. One in four people in this country take at least one psychotropic med. Notice I didn’t say mental illness. I don’t think you have to be ill in order to know you need help.

    • I have gone over the edge before and it only took a tweak in meds and within two weeks everything was back to normal. I have also gone over the edge and went through two or three years of tweaks, therapy, in-patient, out-patient, sleep clinic, dream clinic, from private to State facilities to Emory University to get straightened out. I don’t think I have that in me anymore.

  8. A friend is being treated for a bipolar disorder. Before his treatment, he was abusing alcohol (because he never wanted to come down from feeling like Superman) and he almost lost his family and marriage and home. He came dangerously close. The meds are a constant struggle, but, for him anyway, the alternative would be far worse. Trust your instincts. You’re not a coward. You’re just trying to make the best decision for you. *Hugs*

    • Mental illness and chemical or alcohol dependency often walk hand-in-hand. I’m very fortunate that I never had a problem with either, but my husband was not so lucky. He has bipolar and has been in AA for ten years sober. He says I would not have wanted to know him when he was drinking. He’s such a beautiful, kind and honest person now…I can’t imagine him any other way. Thanks for the hugs. You all are closer than much of my family. It means so much to me to know I have support.

    • You’re such a sweetheart 🙂 I’d like to say I’ve made up my mind to not go experimenting…but every time I think I have, I start wondering. I don’t know if the missed opportunity would be in keeping things the same or trying something different. They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. I’m not getting the results I want…something needs to change.

  9. Come to think of it, most of us live and write without strong feelings. My writing almost always comes from remembering or imagining, not from what I feel at the time. I suppose if I’d ever experienced a time when I’d been filled with creative energy, I’d miss it and want it back again. Then again, it’s nice to reflect on things in a state of calm.

  10. Thanks for sharing this, Susan. It’s so incredibly real and painful. It’s the dilemma such meds pose to a lot of people. It’s a shame that the “cure” for the downside of the manic episodes also puts such a damper on the upside. The creative explosion going off the meds would offer seems so incredible, but I agree with you, the risk probably isn’t worth it.

    About 10-12 years ago, I saw my GP about always being tired. He ran a few tests, drew some blood for a few others, and when he couldn’t find anything physically wrong, suggested that I was depressed and I should take Prozac. I said “no thanks.” I’m just not interested in taking something that messes with my mind. Fortunately, the downside of my “problem” isn’t as severe as yours. About a year later, I saw him again. He repeated the suggestion that I take Prozac. This time I filled the prescription and took it home. I took the pill for two days and then stopped. I didn’t like what it did to my head. I know that taking something like that requires a few days or weeks of adjustments, but those first two days were all I needed to not want to continue. And I remain tired to this day. 🙂

    My situation really doesn’t compare to yours, but I can sympathize with the desire to try to live life without the meds. I can also see how scary that would be for you. Good luck with this. I think you’re doing the right thing at the moment, but I also like that it’s something you continue to re-evaluate. Maybe there will be a time in the future where you’ll feel safe to try it?

    • I have spent most of today talking myself into and out of a drug holiday. I will probably try it at some point. At least my psych doctor is willing to work with me on it and that, in and of itself, makes me feel better. I was on Prozac years ago and did fine on it. In fact, you could have had a bloody massacre on my front lawn and I wouldn’t have given it a thought everything was so right in the world. That’s pretty scary, huh? A couple of years ago, when I first approached my doc about coming off of the psychotropic, Zyprexa, he put me on Prozac figuring I was just depressed and needed a lift. I didn’t get happy, I got hostile. In a matter of two weeks I went into a flaming manic episode. The personality change was rapid and volatile. My husband kept asking me about this guy who murdered his newly wedded wife on their honeymoon in Australia while scuba diving. I got so paranoid I thought he intended to kill me. (Also, you have to know that I was on lesson two of diving lessons that he had insisted I take.) He was just curious because he dives and reads crime novels and was trying to figure it all out. I was collecting weapons to defend myself, kicking trashcans across the room, screaming about every way I had been slighted in my whole life. It’s a miracle Greg stayed with me for the next two weeks that it took to change to the new med Latuda with Lomotrigine for an antidepressant. I’d love to have a couple of years to detox and get all this crap out of my system and just be me…without any artificial chemical structure…but I scare me. Thing is, that was me on different drugs, not me clean. I would like to get to know me clean, if at all possible. I’m not sure if I would like me or not, I’ve never had the opportunity to find out. I liked me when I was in school and on drug holidays, I liked me pregnant on drug holidays. What i didn’t like was my stress reaction…that’s when the world came crumbling down. But I don’t have those stressors anymore. Kids, job, school. I have great husband, a nice home, awesome friends (online and in life), a housekeeper, lots of amenities…but let’s just suppose everything is great and I go off meds and there is some stressor…it’s bound to happen. With my anxieties, can I handle it without going off the deep end? There is also a lot more at risk than there ever has been. I greatly appreciate your thoughtful comments and support. There is a wariness that I’m not certain I will ever be able to lose. Mercy, I didn’t mean for this to turn into a five-hundred word essay. Thanks, Mark.

  11. I’m so glad you are blessed with a husband that you are obviously crazy about and who understands like many others probably cannot the force of the pulls you must deal with. My guess is he feels as blessed to have that in you. I’ll be praying for you, too, Susan.

  12. In the end, you have to do what’s best for you, no matter what others may think of that! You’re the only one who matters in decisions like this and how it affects your life and health.

    • The brain is a mysterious organ. I wish more about it was understood and I could have a scientific rationale for coming off the med. I have seen long term studies and they don’t look good. Dementia on long term use is the biggest fear. I’m thinking, not only about present consequences, but the future.

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