Originally posted at Real Talk Magazine
First it was Imitrex; only use as needed. The diagnosis was chronic migraines. They didn’t go away. Then, it was Migranal Nasal, with an “as-needed” dosage of Naproxen. I was 17. Every doctor I saw suggested to my parents that we try a new and very trusted drug. It was guaranteed to take all my pain away. I obliged, and my parents encouraged my treatment. I could never blame them for what they did; I was in pain and I was their baby.
My migraines started to get worse and my mother made an appointment with a pediatric neurologist. We talked about my migraines: how they felt, where they started, and when I got them. I answered to the best of my knowledge, but to be honest, I was puzzled too. After several doctor visits, I was ordered to get a CAT scan and an MRI of my head. My imagination was running wild. Did I have a tumor? Why am I getting these migraines?
The tests came out clean, and my doctor had become more concerned by my unknown condition. After going to the emergency room over 15 times in my senior year of high school, my family was at a loss. No one could figure out what was wrong with me. Doctors, family, and friends were puzzled as to why I would sleep for days at a time, and still not feel better. I felt discouraged, I felt like I would always feel this way.
My mother had spoken to several friends, and one made a suggestion that my migraines may be psychosomatic. Later that day, she made an appointment with a psychiatrist. Sure enough, I was diagnosed with mild anxiety issues and I was prescribed Topamax. Apparently, in small doses, it was used to treat migraines. It was also used, in higher doses, to treat high anxiety and seizure disorders.
After taking Topamax for a couple of months, it was time for me to go off to college. I was excited to start my classes for journalism, write for the newspaper, and make new friends. Although I had the drive to go to my classes, and be involved in extracurricular activities, my high dosage of Topamax caused me to have symptoms of severe ADD. I could not read my assigned homework or sit still to study. I felt stupid. I felt like I was in a perfect place for knowledge, but could not obtain any of it because of my lack of concentration.
On top of ADD symptoms, I was never hungry. I would eat small portions once a day. Family and friends thought that I was homesick, and during Thanksgiving break, I wasn’t recognized. I had lost over 50 pounds due to the medication. Sounds perfect for a college girl, right? Wrong. I was shaking constantly, and had a dazed look on my face. Some professors even went so far as to ask if I had smoked weed before class.
After many phone calls home, I decided that my medicine was doing more harm than good. My anxiety-induced migraines had become so bad, that I was in the emergency room almost once every three weeks. I would be treated with anything from Naproxen to morphine injections. I made the executive decision to go back to my psychiatrist and talk about my options. There were plenty. What are you feeling? Are you very anxious? I was asked upwards of 100 questions, and was prescribed Effexor. This time, I would have to wean off of Topamax, while stepping up the new drug. For about two weeks, I was miserable. I felt like I couldn’t shake the feeling of instability. Finally, I could feel my new medicine working. This new drug was stronger, and made me feel more dependent on medication. I was convinced this was how I would live; I wouldn’t be able to have a normal life. I was ashamed.
As I grew older, I found myself less and less willing to take my medicine. I started asking Why? and What will happen if I don’t take it? After several skipped dosages, a couple of temper tantrums, and some big anxiety attacks, I was ready to start taking my medicine regularly again. My spirit was broken, and I knew I was going to live on medication forever. I feel like my surroundings, assumptions, friends, and family were to blame for this. If I know something now, it is that medications as strong as the ones I took have a long half-life. Long enough that I would not be affected if I took a dosage later on in the day. Although it is not recommended, it would not be a big problem. I was convinced, through wrong assumptions, if I was feeling anxious on a specific day that it was solely because I had not taken my medication. I was led to believe that my medication was the alpha and the omega of feeling better. There was no other option. I had successfully convinced myself that taking a pill every day was going to make me better.
After several years of changing dosages and medication brands, I was fed up. I was fed up with depending on a pill for “happiness.” Honestly, it wasn’t happiness. It was a facsimile of happy. My anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicine had made me lose 50 pounds, have shaky hands, dilated pupils, gain 60 pounds, feel more miserable, have no feelings, and be super happy. Why couldn’t I just be. . .me?
About a year ago, I asked my therapist about a drug-free option. He was ecstatic. Although he had recommended me to a psychiatrist, my therapist was a non-prescribing social worker with a private practice. To be honest, it was the best way for me to go. There is no pressure to take medicine, and they have fantastic ways to beat mental illness without drugs.
Without drugs, I learned so much about myself. I learned how strong I can be, and how to pick myself up by my bootstraps. Mental illness can never be “cured;” it isn’t a viral disease. However, depression and anxiety can be kept at bay. I learned to celebrate the little victories; even if I rolled my eyes at myself for celebrating stupid things, I still did it. I made a big deal out of small achievements, and soon, I remembered what it was to have light in my eyes. I learned not to depend on a small pill to tell me how to feel, and how to act. I depended on myself, and only me. I finally found myself without medicine, and I could not be prouder.