The Ultimate Guide To Taking Psychiatric Medication

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When you first start psychiatric medication, you honestly don’t know what you’re doing. I wish that there was a class on how to be a good and helpful patient that anyone could take for free when they get their first script, but instead, I will write out the things I believe are crucial in order to make significant progress aided by meds.

person holding white medication tablet

Patient Skills For a Lifetime

Although I am not a doctor or any sort of health professional, I do consider myself a “professional patient,” due to the past 13 years of dealing with bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. All that time, I have been in treatment with psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, general practitioners, and specialists in various fields. The following is what I’ve learned.

The Rules

  1. One psychiatric medication does not work the same on everyone. And if you’re already telling other people about your meds (what works for you and what doesn’t), then please read the disclaimer that needs to come before any advice you hand out.
  1. Sometimes a psych med has the effect of causing health problems, making things worse, or affecting you in a way opposite of its intended purpose. An example is that for some people, some antidepressants can cause suicidal ideation, and some antipsychotics can cause hallucinations. These effects happen to a small minority of people, so this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try them. Because…
  1. Psychiatric medication can save your life. A med can bring you back from the brink. A med can improve you enough to be able to use coping skills, which is difficult in a nonfunctional place…
  1. Doctors are stabbing in the dark when you begin treatment. This means that you will probably have to try more than one medication before you find one that works. Once you find one that works, then you will need to…
  1. Adjust your dosage and time of the dose with the guidance of your doctor. Often, a medication that works for you a little bit can work for you a lot after you figure out what time(s) of the day make you feel best. This is often called “tweaking the dose.”
  1. To learn how the dose needs to be tweaked, you will need to KEEP NOTES. Print out a mood chart from the internet (search “mood chart”-it’s easy). Go to Kinko’s or the library if you don’t have access to a printer. I know some apps do the same thing, so look for those instead if you’re inclined. Or just keep a notebook. It doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you have the following information in an easy to read way:
    • Your daily mood status
    • What you are taking, what time and how much (you don’t need to write down the things that don’t change every day)
    • Your mental illness symptoms, especially anything severe or unusual for you
    • Other health problems
    • Any problem behaviors or events (like self-harm or episodes)
    • Any insight you notice about how you are being affected
  1. Bring your notes with you to the doctor. Some doctors’ appointments are as short as 10 minutes, so every sentence counts. Having all the information on hand eliminates the need for telling long, rambling stories full of irrelevant details. This is probably the most important thing to do in your relationship with your psychiatrist.

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How I Learned That Change Is Always On The Way (or Hope In Water)

 

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One time, about 5 years ago, I was on an antipsychotic medication that was known for being very safe and having few side effects. I will not name it here, because I don’t believe that telling others about my bad experiences with medication is safe or appropriate. This medicine helps millions of people; I was just in a minority of people who had horrible, devastating, contraindicative effects from it. This effect is possible because each medicine reacts uniquely in each person’s brain. A medication is prescribed based on the typical reaction it produces, but the typical reaction doesn’t happen to everybody. For me, this medication was very harmful, and it took several months for my doctor and me to connect the dots between my ever-worsening depression, insomnia, paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, and mixed-state bipolar episodes to that medicine.

I was on this medication for five months, growing progressively worse. Every time I got worse, my doctor increased my dosage. I stopped sleeping more than 4 hours a night and fell deeper and deeper into a dark hole that was filled with overwhelming sadness and psychosis. By the time I got to the point where I had felt sincere suicidal desires for about a week, I started making plans.

I did this most waking hours. Bread knife across the throat, hanging myself with an electrical cord from a tree in the park, strangling myself with duct tape, and buying a gun were all considered. I was hurting so badly that all I wanted was out. The breadknife across the throat was the most troubling because when I was lying awake at night with my soul on fire, that was a legitimate plan for exit; all I had to do was walk to the kitchen to end it. I remember literally “white-knuckling it,” clutching my bedding so hard that my hands cramped. Continue reading