Medication side effects (or the time I lactated)

20170905_075912One of the main problems people have with taking psychiatric medications is the number of side effects. It’s generally understood (but rarely accepted) that there is no ‘magic bullet’ treatment for Bipolar so when trying out different medications you must ask yourself 1) is this side effect tolerable for me personally and 2) do the benefits of the medication outweigh the negative side effects? I have struggled with accepting the number of compromises required to stay well; when I was eighteen I didn’t envisage spending my twenties having early nights and focusing on sleep hygiene, and yet here I am with my lavender candle and box set of Nashville. I was never going to be a hard-core party animal, that’s just not me, but now I don’t have the option I desperately wish I could go out and get wasted in a faux leather mini skirt. These compromises are dictated by both Bipolar and medication, a lack of sleep will make me unwell but taking a sleeping tablet when I stumble in from a night out at 3am will also knock me out till 12 and make me nauseous. You can see the frustration, not only do you live a life guided by the Bipolar but you then also live a life guided by the medication to help the Bipolar, it feels like a lose lose situation.

For some people it is the idea of a drug altering your identity that doesn’t sit well and I can certainly see that. For me personally I try and view the Bipolar as something fairly separate to myself and taking medication as being similar to treating a cold, I don’t accept having a cold and its effects on my body and I don’t want to accept Bipolar either. They’re not 100% sure how it all works but the dudes with the clipboards know there is a chemical change and a biological difference in the brain of someone with Bipolar which is why medication is the treatment plan that works. When I was first diagnosed I read a lot about people who only treated their Bipolar with herbs or fish oils but my psychiatrist shot this down pretty quickly with ‘no one with real Bipolar is cured by a fish’, so I had to accept the chemicals and move on.
I seem to be affected by psychiatric medications very easily which is why I’ve been passed from Psychiatrist to Psychiatrist and been a real joy for my care team, I like to think I’ve provided a challenge, I imagine they just see me as a pain in the ass. I often get asked what kind of side I have experienced for me to be constantly changing it up so I thought I’d list a few for you…
1. Lactation – you read it right people! One particular anti-depressant can sometimes cause this if you’re truly lucky. The downside is its weird and you know about breast pads at the age of 22, the plus side is it can really freak out your partner which can be hilarious.
2. Blurred vision – For three days solid my vision rippled like oil in water, I had no clue what was happening and had to sit on my sofa the whole time (that stops being enjoyable after about 6 hours)
3. Conking out/ light-headedness – The technical term for something knocking you out fast. In an attempt at mixing up my routine I decided to try taking an anti-psychotic before going to a party so that I wouldn’t forget it when I got in late; I lasted about twenty minutes before I passed out at the bus stop on my way there and had to be collected by my Dad – silver lining – I got to eat the birthday cake I made
4. Peeing as though you’re pregnant – One medication causes you to pee a lot more than usual, largely because you have to drink a lot all the time to maintain the amount of it in your blood levels at a safe dose, become dehydrated and you risk concentrating the drug and giving yourself an accidental overdose, not cool and the sort of thing that is read into when you have a mental health condition
5. Feeling REALLY anxious – One drug I took caused me to have one massive two day panic attack. It was only several days after stopping the drug that the anxiety wore off at all. One of the reasons for this can be that the drug causes you to get the jitters which your brain wrongly mistakes for a physical symptom of anxiety, it then attempts to locate the cause of your anxiety and you end up being anxious over the strangest things
6. Deadly rash – Lamotrigine, my current medication, can cause a rash which can be deadly when not diagnosed quickly. With this drug you have to increase your dose veeery slowly over several months to ensure you won’t have this reaction. Last summer I got a rash and spent a day flitting round hospitals only to be diagnosed with…. a heat rash
7. Weight gain – HOLY FRICK if I had eaten a cake mountain to get as big as I did then at least I would have had some good times in-between. I gained 2 stone in 2 months on one anti-depressant which is actually pretty impressive considering it’s a drug which is usually weight neutral- which is why no one took me off it earlier and assumed I said lard when I said I was eating lettuce
8. Feeling drowsy – This can be anything from a bit dopey to peeing yourself on the sofa because you were too spaced out to get up – yes it happened!
At the moment I’m on Lamotrigine and don’t really experience any side effects other than a slight dampening down of emotions but ultimately that’s what a mood stabiliser is there for. We have a bunch of medications which we add in when required, Zopiclone to sleep, Promethazeine to relax and Olanzapine to stop psychosis. Olanzapine really conks me out and my willingness to take it is linked directly to how awful I feel!
What I will say is this, ridiculous side effects have made me a hell of a lot stronger as a person. Once you’ve had to speak to your CPN about wetting yourself or explain to your partner why you’ve spontaneously started lactating whilst fooling about, the little stuff is much easier to deal with. When I came home from Hospital and had no friends and no way of making any I decided to join the University choir. I was so scared and shy and overweight and awkward and I felt so embarrassed going into the room on my first day. Every time I felt like running out I just thought ‘ dude you’ve fricken lactated, I think you can probably sing with a bunch of people’ it gave me a little perspective on the small stuff.

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