This was written by one of my readers. We started talking one day and I realized that she has a lot of experience and insight. She was particularly interested in sharing her story of finding the right medications and what a difference they can make;
“After a suicide attempt at age 16, I was diagnosed with unipolar depression. I was on and off tranquilizers and anti-depressant medications, which, along with serious self-medicating, resulted in a couple of other suicide attempts and some really bizarre behavior. After being un-medicated for many years, in my early-30s I was diagnosed with post-partum depression after the birth of my second child and was, once again, put on an anti-depressant (Prozac, which was new at the time). Life was good again. Then I had to stop before I became pregnant with my third child. While I don’t recommend it, and there was next to no information on the subject at the time, I nursed my third child while on Prozac. It got me through the days and nights and allowed me to cope with three young children. Fortunately, my daughter seems to have suffered no ill effects from it, but there is much more information available now and it’s a decision each person must make with their doctor. I was a better parent while medicated than I was when un-medicated.
After a few years of increasingly up-and-down roller coaster moods, I went into peri-menopause. What a nightmare that was! My moods were all over the place and I was so irritable all the time. Really, I was a bitch on wheels. I wanted to say and do inappropriate things. I wanted to run away. Some days, when I was on my way to work, I thought how nice it would be to just keep on driving down the interstate to wherever. I was still on an anti-depressant only but it wasn’t helping with the mood swings. I was getting increasingly irritable, angry, and my spending was out of control. After one particularly bad anger outburst I called a referral service to find a therapist. It felt like I was losing what little sanity I had. I began seeing a therapist but was still seeing my primary care physician for medication. At this point, my doctor told me she thought I was bipolar and added Abilify and low-dose hormones to my anti-depressant. She also suggested I see a psychiatrist. I strongly resisted the bipolar diagnosis and the psychiatrist — for two years. Finally, after having to make an emergency visit to my doctor, I had a serious meltdown. I broke down in tears in her office and she told me she could no longer manage my medications. I was having side effects from the Abilify; although it was working on some levels the side effects were intolerable, and the mood swings were not improving.
What I considered my “so-so mental health” began to become a full-blown mental illness so I took the suggestion of my doctor and got a referral to a psychiatrist. This was very hard for me because I had some terrible experiences with psychiatrists in my younger days. The new doctor took an extensive history and told me that anti-depressants may cause mania in someone with bipolar disorder. That one statement made everything in my life make so much more sense. She changed my medications, put me on a new “drug cocktail” and sent me on my way, telling me to come back in a couple of weeks. The new medications helped, but I was still having manic days which were interfering with my ability to work and manage myself appropriately.
After a month of the new medications, and at my psychiatrist’s suggestion, I agreed to go into an Intensive Outpatient Therapy program at a local hospital. This allowed me to learn skills to manage myself and my moods and, at the same time, have my medications “tweaked” while in a safe environment. During this month-long program I still worked half-days and was able to avoid hospitalization. Through a few hits-and-misses in the medication department, my doctor and I have found, for the moment, a medication regimen that seems to be working very well. I no longer have the crazy, wild-eyed look of someone in manic mode and I don’t have the “doom cloud” hanging over my head. I stopped thinking about death 24/7 and have stopped having debilitating panic attacks. A caring, compassionate doctor along with the right medications (for me) have saved my life. When I look back on all those years when I was mid-diagnosed and treated with the wrong medications, it’s a wonder I made it through raising three kids, going to school and working full time.
It has been a difficult trial-and-error process and not side-effect free, but I am a now a strong believer (a) learning about and accepting my diagnosis (b) taking medications for my illness, and (c) staying on my medications. Therapy and the study of my llness have given me enough insight to know when something isn’t working well. At my doctor’s suggestion I do a twice daily “denta health/mental health” check-up. I learn all I can about my illness and the medications I am on. It’s a never-ending learning process.”