It mortifies me to admit that I’ve tried well over 15 different medications, peaking at being on 5 different ones at once, while trying to tackle mental illness. It started with a simple dose of the newest anti-depressant prescribed by my primary physician who had high hopes because he claimed “Everyone was on it.” Due to side effects that I experienced such as headaches, dizziness, loss of appetite and falling asleep constantly, the road to finding an effective medication I could handle turned into a maddening game of trial and error. Quite frankly, I felt like a science experiment. Anti-depressants can take anywhere from 3-6 weeks to take effect, yet the side effects are immediate.

Nothing seemed to help. Each time we decided to try something new, I would experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms such as ringing in my ears, panic attacks, the sensation of shocks originating in the soles of my feet and rippling up the length of my body. My brain would “snap, crackle and pop,” along with a constant buzzing. I would torture myself by researching every possible drug when I felt my doctor wasn’t helping. In the meantime I was struggling with the fact that I even had to take them. There were people who considered it a sign of weakness so I felt guilty and ashamed that I needed to take medication in order to be in a “good mood.”

In a hospital setting high doses are sometimes given since you are under constant supervision. More often than not this ultimately leads to complete numbness– mentally and physically. At one point I was carelessly given a very powerful med which caused me to pass out cold, smashing my head on the floor and not being able to stay awake or talk until the following day. A year or so later my doctor wanted to try this same medication again, but with a much smaller dose. I took it on a Sunday afternoon and by evening my kids were climbing all over me trying to wake me up, asking Daddy why he couldn’t get me to open my eyes. He frantically looked for a pulse and luckily I was okay, but the residual effects lasted for days. I even once hallucinated when I was home alone and called my husband wondering how my grandmother could appear out of nowhere and begin talking to me.

Once when introducing another medication, I remember sorting laundry and not being able to figure out how to separate the clothes. I stood lost and confused for quite a while trying to make sense of the two different colored socks in my hands. All I could do at that point was succumb to the idea that things would never get better, I was no longer smart, creative or alive in any real sense. I’m not implying this is true, this is just what I started to believe. I even crashed my car one morning due to my medication reacting differently in my body after losing some weight, causing me to fall asleep at the wheel.

I wish I could account for every med I tried, the doses, the combinations, the timeline and how each one affected me. I only have this general sense of it all because most of that time is a blur and I had no motivation to properly keep track of it all. I’m not saying this is what everyone experiences and I realize this does not sound encouraging. However, eventually I did find something that worked. It absolutely sucks that it can become such a guessing game — one that messes with your mind that is already sick.

Medication alone is less likely to be helpful. There are other factors such as exercise, diet and support systems that when working in sync have the best chance of lifting the fog. Wellness is so multi-faceted and this illness is so complicated that people have to be patient. But the nature of the disease causes this to be extremely difficult for the person who is ill as well as all of those around them. For example, exercise is known to be extremely helpful, but being able to get up and out the door when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and die, is nearly impossible at the time. I’ve continually tried to motivate myself to go for a run because I know it will help me, but preparing myself to take that first step is nothing short of torture. Then those around you become frustrated as well because they wonder why you don’t just do it, especially since you’ve already admitted it will help. It absolutely makes no sense, but that is the nature of the beast.

I wish I had it all figured out. I wish I could say there’s an easy fix. There’s not. It takes hard work, compassion and lots of support and patience. Those involved in the support system must be patient and kind while trying to understand that when someone is truly suffering, they want to get well and are really trying, even though to the observer it does not seem that way. In their heart, mind and soul they are trying so hard and that can be the most difficult part because you know your loved ones have no proof you are trying. Please understand though, that just because it’s not apparent in their actions it doesn’t mean they’re not fighting. In reality they are fighting for their life.

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