Thursday, October 25, 2012

In which I just have a lot of feelings. And drugs. Oh, and also I swear.

We meet again, Tiny Pill

I have decided to go back on medication.

As most of you know, I struggle with mental illness and have spent the past several years juggling medications.
As a few of you know, I made the decision to go off of meds in early May. I spent the summer talking to shrinks about my feels, learning to be a more trusting person, learning to accept parts of myself and past experiences I would rather ignore, thankyouverymuch, and experimenting with herbal supplements- this is not a euphemism for weed, we're talking straight up nasty vitamins, prescribed by an herbologist and everything. And that was good.

And now things have changed, and I am going back on medication.

[Also, I feel now would be a good time to jump in and say that I am absolutely terrified of writing this. Is talking about mental illness on the internet something that will prevent me from getting a job in the future? Is it going to make my friends feel uncomfortable around me? And if so, why is that?]

Let me tell you about myself.
My name is Lissa, and I am one of the 26.2% of Americans who suffer from mental illness. I am still capable, and lovable, and at times a total bad-ass. I also take medication a good deal of the time, and today I'm going to talk about what that's like for me. This is my personal experience: I am not a doctor. I am not the authoritative opinion on brain weasels and the drugs that can treat them. I'm just talking, because that's what I know how to do.

I feel like there are two versions of myself- Lissa on and off meds.

Off-meds Lissa is who I spent the first seventeen years of my life being. She's awesome. I hope to spend many more years as off-meds Lissa. She's brilliant, and passionate, and funny, and creative. She's also wildly emotional. Her life is markedly comprised of a series of dramatic highs and lows- beyond the "good days" and "bad days" one is expected to experience- she is either furiously happy or totally submerged in darkness.
And you know what? Those highs are awesome.
During those periods I feel like I'm running headfirst into the whole world, and I will conquer all of it. My best artistic work is absolutely created during these periods, because it is during these periods when I feel most creative and inspired, and when I have enough energy to dedicate to it.
These are also the times when I feel free of inhibitions- this girl is not scared of anything. This is the person who will talk to anyone, who will try anything. And I love that.

I absolutely realize that I could be projecting into these highs- and they probably aren't nearly as much fun for the people around me to experience. I mean, this is the girl who thinks throwing milk at people is absolutely hilarious (to be clear, medicated Lissa also finds this hysterically funny, but she refrains from throwing milk.) Actually, that's probably a fairly accurate metaphor: I throw milk, everyone else has milk thrown on them. That's basically what it's like to live with me.

And then there are the lows. Depression is the technical term, and the one I use with doctors, but when describing this period in my mind, I use the word "melancholy"- a deep, pensive, long-lasting sadness. I think I settled on this descriptor after watching Paint Your Wagon (my all time favourite cowboy polygamist musical starring Clint Eastwood), when Clint Eastwood finds his partner, Ben, lying by himself in the road during a rainstorm, and Ben says the following:

"I get melancholy every now and then.
It's a disease common to
mountain men who live alone a lot,
but if you stay with me such times,
l'll be OK."
I can remember thinking this was an incredibly accurate sentiment, easily summarized in a single word: melancholy. 
I too, get melancholy every now and then. My mind becomes void of traceable thoughts, which are replaced with emotion and irrational impulses. It is very hard for me to function during these periods- when things are really bad, I won't leave the house, or even my room, for days- I spend most of this time sleeping, or watching TV. Well, not so much watching TV as having TV constantly playing. There's a difference, one that I don't know how to explain. 

I do not believe having these periods is inherently bad- no more so than, say, having brown hair or asthma. I appreciate them as being a part of who I am. Even the lows have benefitted me in more than one way- from them I have learned empathy, and sympathy, and how to appreciate art/music/film/books that I otherwise would not have been able to understand, I have learned how to cry, and how to better value the highs in my life. 

But over the last several years, the high periods have gotten shorter and the low periods have gotten longer, and lower. I've often felt like I was clinging to the high periods with the tips of my fingernails, desperately trying to maintain a state of being that was quickly slipping away. In attempts to prolong these highs, the lack of inhibitions quickly turns to recklessness, which has lead to my involvement in more than one stupid, if not dangerous, situation. 

Off-meds Lissa is a fantastic, amazing person. But she can be kind of hard to live with. 
And on a couple of occasions, she makes it kind of hard to live. 

I first went on medication my junior year of high school. It was a hard decision then, it's a hard decision now. I don't like the idea of having to depend on external sources to survive- and yes, I realize how stupid that is. I also feel there's a stigma around having to take medication to better handle your life- and, weirdly enough, while I've never judged another person for taking medication, I think I may be applying that stigma to myself. 

It's okay to supplement your brain's chemistry with medication if you feel you need to. It's just as okay for me to take my asthma medications to breathe every day, and just as okay to take vitamins or eat food to survive. 

Again, I feel like I'm a different version of myself on medications. I still have high and low periods, but they are much less extreme- more a collection of good and bad days. I have much more control over my emotions, in part because my emotions are restricted to a more limited range. I cry less. I also laugh less.  It makes my life easier, but somedays it also sucks.
I don't take medication to be happy- I am still responsible for my own happiness. I take medication to prolong contentment. I take medication because I have yet to find a job with three months of sick days a  year  to accommodate my need to spend large amounts of time hiding under a blanket.
I'm still brilliant and passionate and creative and funny and frequently melancholy- just in smaller, more regular doses.

Taking medication is a personal choice, and one that I feel is not suited for everyone. From what I understand, medication for mental illness is a tricky business, and one that comes with lots of nasty side effects. On medication, I've been plagued with insomnia, lack of appetite, dramatic weight gain and loss, and one particularly fun year when I slept 16 hours a day.

There are lots of aspects of taking medication that suck. Really suck. But sometimes the benefit outweighs the side effects, and earlier this week as I sat on a psychiatrist's couch, bawling my eyes out and attempting to explain through a series of hiccups that "my life is going nowhere and I just want to sit in my mosquito tent of isolation and Finn and Rachel's breakup was really sad to me and I just have a lot of feelings, okay?" I realized that such a time had once again come.

I may be taking medication for the rest of my life.

And that's okay.

Here are some things that are not okay:

It's not okay to tell me- or anyone else with mental illness- to go take some more pills. Even as a joke. Unless you are my practicing physician, you have no say in my medication. I feel like this is becoming the cray cray version of "Geez, are you on your period or something?" WHY IS IT OKAY TO SAY THESE THINGS? I am allowed to have bad days, an I am allowed to be irrational and emotional as long as I am not endangering myself or others. Hell, I am allowed to go off my medication if I decide that is what's right for me. I am enough, with or without them.
And you have no say in it.
If you really love me, you will continue to do so regardless of what dosage I am or am not taking. Ditto if I gain a hundred pounds. Or adopt five cats. Or move to Tibet. Okay?

It's not okay to suggest that my need for medication stems from a failure in other aspects of my life, ie, if I just ate more spinach I wouldn't need drugs. I am aware of the studies showing the effects of alternative treatments. I don't need you to quote them to me.  I am also eating my vegetables, exercising, engaged in my religion, and actively communicating with a wide support group of friends. I'm not taking medication because I'm too lazy to try anything else, or because I'm "sticking a bandaid" on something. So unless you've found a spinach genetically modified to include SSRIs, let's not have this conversation.

It's not okay to call me at home to tell me how depressing I am to be around. Admittedly this has only happened once, but WHAT THE HELL, RANDOM GIRL FROM HIGH SCHOOL. WE WERE NOT EVEN FRIENDS AND NO ONE WAS ASKING YOU TO SPEND TIME WITH ME. I HOPE YOUR CHILDREN ARE UGLY.
so...if any of you are considering ever doing that...don't.

My name is Lissa, and I am one of the 26.2% of Americans who suffer from mental illness. I am still capable, and lovable, and at times a total bad-ass.
And today, I am taking medication.


  1. Thank you for spelling it out like that! I'm proud of you!!

  2. this is really powerful. i'm sorry that people have told you that stuff. it's pretty messed up.
    it's also really cool that you are so sure of yourself. that's something i'm very new to. so it's cool to know someone who's at the point that i want to be at. :)

  3. Dear Lissa,
    You have no idea who I am (sorry that sounded super ominous), But I want to say thank you for giving me the words I couldn’t find before! I have no idea if you even still read this, but writing this has helped me in some weird way. I too am 26.2% of Americans suffer from mental illness. This post, article, whatever you want to call it was given to me by a mutual friend. She told me about this article when I was trying to describe it all… which in essence was a pretty piss poor job of describing it.

    It’s amazing how your mind can be radio station catching a billion frequencies and you still can’t express WHY you’re on medicine out loud. Granted the off medicine Brit would be able to spew out these frequencies in a passionate whirl wind of emotions that would only make sense to someone who spoke ADHD tangents. But instead I curl up into a ball, looking at the rain drip down the car window being held back by some weird mental filter. The only words I can manage to tell my friends are “yeah it’s killed my sex drive.” And “all I want to really do is sleep.” And “I get tried faster when I drink.” Or “I haven’t really gotten sleep this week, so bare with me.” Trying to explain why the old lively girl they used to know couldn’t make it this weekend, and instead turned into a cat sleeping whenever she got the chance.
    Like you said, I’m terrified.

    The medicine has been helping, maybe not this week, but most of the other weeks. I going to class, I’m being productive, motivate, and not being frozen by anxiety to chase after my goals. The medicine helping me be the productive, motivate smart girl and letting others see it in my work. But it seems like the medicine helping me out in my work/academic life. My social life has been reduced to a weaker smile then before. It filtered out my abilities that I used to comfort people. That my fear of disappointing people might be more and more frequent in the social sphere of things. I know that I just probably have to try another medical cocktail, going on a mental rollercoaster to find that sweet spot. I want to find the mixture of motivated and emotional. Like you said in no way this is ‘cure’. This is a last resort. Tired and fed up with endless days of hoping my bed sheet devour me and allowing my mind to shut up about every little thing I do wrong or will do wrong.

    Over all this isn’t my time to bitch about it. This is a thank you. What I’m trying to say is what you wrote is my reality too. Our experiences and degrees of this reality might be different since no two humans experience the same life. But as I read this, I wiped away the tears. A nice little crack in the medical filter, maybe it’s cause it logical to me and not some paranoid fiction I made up. In the end you made it logical but writing this. Not to sound cliché, but I’m not alone. Granted that won’t cure the loneness that comes with depression and social anxiety, but it’s a nice treatment, even if it only last a day or too. I’ve printed this out so I can read it whenever I want to give up, to remember there are good and bad days and that I’m not too alone. Just a million thanks and I hope your roller coaster turns out to be one worth taking!

  4. I love this, and I love you. Please keep writing.


I'm a sucker for kittens and fancy dresses.