I feel more like me with my meds, not without

Me and My Meds is a new Bustle series exploring how millennials relate to their mental health medications – the good, the bad, the ambivalent.

When I was 10, I was diagnosed with both Asperger’s syndrome and clinical depression. At the time, I had never heard of Asperger’s. Obviously now it’s much more well known, but at the time — it was 2000 — no one I knew had ever heard of it. I have a history of mental health issues in my family, so this diagnosis wasn’t entirely off the charts. Yet shout out to my parents for knowing there was something wrong with me and for insisting that I be examined by medical professionals.

My treatment team started me taking Celexa and Seroquel almost straight away. Celexa was prescribed to treat my clinical depression. Seroquel is an antipsychotic drug and it was helping me control other psychiatric symptoms associated with my diagnosis of Asperger’s. Honestly, I don’t have very clear memories of that time because I was so young when I started taking these drugs. Taking them was a kind of daily life for me – I woke up and took my morning meds, much like how some people wake up and take their allergy meds. Before going to bed, I took my night medication. Other than that, I just lived my life. It was an easy routine to follow, so I never gave it much thought.

I have always been lucky for the support I have received. I mean, even in college, a good friend of mine would get super excited whenever she saw my condition mentioned in a magazine she was reading. She would call me and point out, “Look, they’re talking about Asperger’s. They say Einstein had it, or something. And I know that’s not the norm, so I felt so extraordinarily blessed to have understanding people, no matter when my Asperger’s syndrome came on.

I know some people say, ‘You’re not you on drugs.’ This has not been my experience at all.

However, as wonderful as it was to receive such warm support, I had never known as an adult what it was like to be “me” without medication. I have never met this person. I had been on my meds for so long that I never realized the difference they made in my life by taking them daily. When you wear glasses, you can see how blurry the world is without your glasses. When you use crutches, you may feel how painful it is to put weight on your injured leg. It doesn’t work that way for the types of medications I was taking. They were so pervasive in my life that taking them felt like life itself.

One day during my senior year of college in the fall of 2011, the pharmacy I was using went haywire and didn’t fill my refills on time. They told me it would take a few days before they could sort everything out. Honestly, I was a little cocky about it. I just thought, “Oh, that’s fine. What can a few days without medication do? Well, a few days could be a lot, as I unfortunately found out.

After going off my meds for a day, I had a total meltdown. I had panic attacks. I couldn’t go to class. I could barely get out of bed. I was in hell. I remember one of the reasons it was so weird was that I wasn’t in a particularly stressful part of the semester. I had no problems with my friends or my studies or anything – but without my meds I blew up.

It was shocking, because I was so used to controlling my emotions and feeling pretty normal. And all of a sudden, feeling like I had no control over my emotions or my thoughts was incredibly scary. I mean, it was the first time since I was 10 that I didn’t take my meds daily. I had certainly never left the two for several days. I assumed that my medication was helping me control my mental health, but I didn’t realize it until then. How? ‘Or’ What they helped keep me together. And I don’t take super doses, but not taking any was enough to turn me into a pretzel for a week.

I know people of my generation who still think drugs dull or break your personality. They’ll say, “You’re not on medication. This has not been my experience at all. Instead, for me, I’ve learned when I don’t have my pills, I’m not me! I felt like a completely different person. And I didn’t like him. She was incapable. Just a total mess.

For me, it feels like my meds are fixing this little problem in my brain so I can live a normal life. They don’t dull my personality — they allow me to have my personality and function day to day. If anyone feels like their medication isn’t doing this for them, I encourage them to contact their GP and adjust their dosage. I’m so grateful to have a world where I have that kind of support, both personal and medical, to make me feel like I can be a productive person.

Since that scary moment, I have a newfound respect for the potency of my medications. I was meticulous in taking them. I’m like a hawk when it comes to making sure I have refills on deck. I can’t risk something like this happening again. I’m 31 now. I have a full time job. If I lost control like that again, it would be a disaster.

I don’t tend to say I’m on medication unless it comes up when I’m talking to a friend in an organic way. But when taking medication pops up in a conversation — in a group text or an online message board — I was blown away by the compassion I received. It’s like everyone I talk to has this drug connection; everyone has a story.

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