Why you shouldn’t give up on finding a mental health medication that works for you

In 2012 the Royal Commission in Institutional Child Abuse was announced.  I started having flashbacks watching and listening to the witnesses testimony and eventually became severely depressed and had a breakdown. I was hospitalised for five months in a Mental Clinic and diagnosed with Complex PTSD and bipolar II disorder plus Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)l I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after having episodes of both hypomania  and severe depression, and severe, uncontrollable alter outbursts. Immediately, I started medications prescribed by a psychiatrist, including quetiapine, a form of an anti-pyschotic medication. The medication was wonderful. I went from an erratic, quick-to-tempered woman to a calm and collected woman. The flashbacks lessened, Effexor had a dramatic impact on the depression and I was discharged.

While I had episodes of hypomania and depression still, they were controlled with the meds. For the first time in a long while, I felt as though my head was clear. I was able to process things and walk away from negative situations as opposed to rising to them and making things worse. But over time, while my head felt less out of control, my self-esteem was plummeting.

The medication was making me gain weight – which, unfortunately, is a common side effect with quetiapine. Of course, it affects everyone differently, but for me, it made me gain a stone over just a couple of months. My weight was a big thing for me – it’s something that can easily get me down, and, having found confidence in my body since being a size I liked, the pros and cons of the medication were at a tie.

I knew that if I kept gaining the weight, my self-esteem would get dramatically worse, and would start affecting my mental health more so than the medication. And so, I asked my pyschiatrist to stop the medication, and he trialled me on something new. The next medications were Respiridone and Abilify – two other forms anti-psychotic.They were awful. They made me feel constantly sick. My weight didn’t shift and I suffered with headaches and disorientation.

Why you shouldn’t give up on finding a mental health medication that works for you. Again, I went back, and asked to change.This time, my pyschiatrist asked me the pros and cons of each medication I’d been on so far and what I wanted from each medication.

I told him I wanted to be stable, I wanted to be functional, and I didn’t want it affecting my weight. As many mental health medications affect your weight, the list of medications available to me became short. But I didn’t lose hope. I was prescribed Lithium – a mood stabiliser. Alongside this, I was given Chlorpromazine, another anti-pyschotic. The chlorpromazine was a god-send. It allowed me to think clearly, my temper decreased, and all in all they made me feel happy within myself.

The Lithium helped keep my episodes stable – if I had a manic episode it lasted for a shorter amount of time than they previously had, and I didn’t do anything too impulsive while taking it.

But over the course of taking it, I found that my weight was changing, again. While it wasn’t as dramatic as previous medications, I gained a stone over the course of six months – four pounds of which were gained while I was on a carb-free diet. Alongside the (smaller) weight gain came the inability to lose it. It didn’t matter what I did or what I ate, the weight refused to shift.

I was often very dehydrated – which is another side effect of Lithium. Being dehydrated affected my sleep and gave me headaches.

Why you shouldn’t give up on finding a mental health medication that works for you

The medication also caused me to sweat a lot, no matter what I wore. I developed acne – which left me feeling insecure without makeup, especially as even through my teenage years, I only ever had to deal with the occasional spot. I stuck it out on Lithium for a year, convincing myself that the side effects didn’t matter as long as I was stable. If I’m honest, I was put off by having to trial a new medication only to be disappointed by it.

However, a recent episode proved that the medication wasn’t working as well as it previously had done. And so back to the psychiatrist’s office I went.

And I’m glad I did. I’d trialled enough medications now to speak with him honestly about my side effects and how they were affecting my mental health, and finally he suggested putting me on a medication that he’d been hesitant to do so beforehand. Lamotragine.

Lamotragine is a type of mood stabiliser that is often not prescribed straight away as it can be very addictive. If the dose isn’t heightened in a slow manner then the side effects can be dangerous – including a nasty rash that can be lethal. I was just willing to try anything else to get me by, and I wanted to give it a go. I have been trying out Lamotragine for six weeks now. It started with the smallest dose and has since gone up to a standard one, as I wait another four weeks to go up to the full dose.

Over this time, I’ve been kept on Lithium to ensure that while the Lamatrogine gets into my body, I still have a mood-stabiliser being absorbed.

Because of the Lithium, I can’t really say how well things are working, but what I have found is that since being on the Lamotrogine, it has been easier to lose weight. My skin has cleared up a little and there have been no negative side effects besides the occasional nausea.

I really think this is the medication that I’ve been waiting for over the past two years, and I’m so glad I’m finally finding one that works for me.

My story isn’t just to talk about taking medication, though. It’s to talk about why it’s important not to give up on it.

When you’re suffering with a mental illness it can be really hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s frustrating when seeking help to struggle to find something that works for you.

It’s easy to think it’d be better to just give up and go medication-free – even though that’s often not a safe option.

It’s so important to stick out all of the trial and errors instead of losing hope.

Put it this way: if you were trying to get fit, you wouldn’t try one type of exercise, then give up on your health entirely when you find that exercise doesn’t suit you, would you?

No, you’d do a circuit around the gym trying to find something that is going to get you where you want to be.

And that’s exactly the way you’ve got to look at it in terms of mental health medication. It’s all trial and error. It’s tiring, it’s time consuming, and you likely will experience some side effects along the way. But always remember your main goal: to get better.

Never lose that focus, because if you keep going, eventually you will find something that works for you – and you’ll look back and feel so glad that you never, ever gave up on bettering your mental health.

I’ve discussed it at length with my Psychotherapist and she says that you should never give up on finding the right course of medication to treat your mental health.

She said: ‘There is a vast array of mental health medication out there, every drug works slightly differently and it’s therefore important to find the right drug for what’s going on for you right now.

‘Some work best for anxiety, some depression, some PTSD and so on.

‘When you have the correct medication for you it’s a useful tool in treating mental health conditions and supporting you to heal.’

So, if you’re currently fighting what seems to be an endless battle to finally reach stability within your mental health, please, don’t stop fighting.

Speak out, talk to your doctor about any side effects you’re dealing with, and keep pushing to find a medication you’re comfortable with.

It may happen fast, it may take some time to see how your body reacts, but in the end, you will find something that works just for you. Morale of the story – don’t give up at the first hurdle. Keep up a dialogue with your psychiatrist and find a medication that works for you and your condition/s.

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