Warning: The side effects of medications used to treat mental disorders and symptoms can sometimes be worse than the symptoms they were prescribed to treat. Determining the impact of psychotropic medications on individuals with mental health issues is a process usually achieved through trial and error. Proceed with extreme caution.
Psychotropic medications have been a daily part of my existence for more than 1/3 of my life to date. Having used various medications to treat a variety of anxiety, personality, and mood disorders over the last 15 years, my focus has gradually shifted from which of the desired effects are produced as the most important measure of a drug’s worth to concern over which of the undesired effects—a.k.a. side effects—will be produced and to what degree. When I first popped a Luvox into my mouth in September 1997 (I don’t remember the dosage, but it was small), I had little concern about weight gain, memory loss, frequent urination, excessive thirst, dry mouth, or drowsiness. My psychiatrist had informed me of the potential side effects that came with using an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) but assured me any significantly negative effects it might produce were rare if not negligible. The cost/benefit ratio would certainly make them worth the modest inconveniences that come with the freedom and gaiety they infuse those individuals debilitated by anxiety and depression—people just like me, if not worse.
This must make me a rare if not negligible commodity. From 1997 to 2008, my weight ballooned from 140 lbs (my average weight the first nine-plus years of my adult life) to a high of 270 lbs. My average sleep time increased from 8 hours per-day to something in the vicinity of 15 hours per-day, with 20 hour sleep-athons becoming a regular occurrence. There were several occasions when I slept 24 hours straight; after only the first of those lost days did I feel I had overslept. Where I had usually gotten up to pee maybe once per-night before taking meds, I was sometimes urinating more than a once per-hour on anti-depressants and other psychological meds. The sedation I experienced was inversely proportional to the amount of energy my body allotted me during my waking hours, making daily exercise a relic of a bygone era. The average sturgeon consumed less water in a day than I was consuming.
After weight gain, decreased memory is the most insidious side effect I’ve experienced from mental medication. At this point, age may be a factor in my inability to recall dates, names, and events as much as the side effects of all the medications I’ve taken in my life combined. Nonetheless, it is likely no coincidence that my memory took a huge nosedive at exactly the same time I began taking medication for anxiety disorders. Words and titles that once came easily to me are now lost in the deep recesses of my brain. I often find myself spending over an hour obsessively trying to conjure up just the right word to describe the thoughts permeating my mind, usually a word I was once intimately familiar with to the point of being close friends. I do remember the names of close friends, but often forget those of everybody else I come into contact with. Remembering years—let alone dates—is almost out of the question if I haven’t obsessively chiseled them into my memory walls.
Due to their side effects, I now vaguely recall the medications I was prescribed during those 11 years: Luvox, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Provigil, Buspar, Clomipramine—and several others I’ve completely forgotten. Each one was supposed to have milder side effects than the last—and some were prescribed to counteract the effects of others—but in each case, the results were the same. At the end of the year, I would be heavier than I was at the start. My hours spent in bed would often double those spent outside of bed. The number of times I urinated in the day were often triple the number of hours I spent awake. It was after switching to a much milder Cymbalta, an SNRI (selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor), that I finally accepted that medications used to treat anxiety disorders were not conducive to living a functional, productive, or active life. At least they weren’t where I was concerned. Though they helped stabilize my mood (to some degree) and extinguished my panic disorder, their effect on my OCD and hoarding disorder was minimal. These medications did nothing to decrease the symptoms of my borderline personality disorder, a disorder they’re not supposed to help treat anyway.
I’m currently in my seventh month of taking 100mg of Lamictal, used to regulate the mood disturbances caused by bipolar disorder and/or borderline personality disorder (there is no consensus as to whether I suffer from one or the other, if not both). I cannot state unequivocally that Lamictal affects my memory to any significant degree, though it doesn’t seem any better or worse than it was during the brief period in 2010/2011 when I abstained from mental meds entirely. My mood has improved this year, though I think I’m due for an increase in my dosage. So, I’m happy (thus far) with the positive effects and have not experienced any significant negative ones. It took trying close to a dozen different meds to find one that did more-good-than-harm, and that came after accepting that my anxiety disorders would have to be treated with exposure therapy instead of pharmaceuticals.
If I had it to do all over again, I would have avoided antidepressants entirely. Unfortunately, only a time machine could make that a reality.
Filed under: Alcohol and Drugs, Featured, Latest News · Tags: Anti-depressant side effects, anti-depressants, Anxiety disorder, Bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder, Buspar, Clomipramine, depression, Lamictal, Luvox, Panic Attacks, Provigil, Prozac, SNRI (selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor), SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), wellbutrin