In The Beginning
The first time I ever saw a doctor to receive psychiatric medications was at the end of 2012 after my fiancé & I broke up. I was deeply depressed & was prescribed citalopram, a commonly used antidepressant. It didn’t really do much, so I stopped taking it.
A year later I was back to the doctor’s, this time with ADHD symptoms, for which I was diagnosed & subsequently prescribed Adderall. To this day, Adderall is the only medication that’s helped relieved my symptoms & allowed me to live a normal life, even though I’m pretty sure I don’t actually have ADHD.
The following year, in October of 2014, my symptoms had completely disabled me, & I found myself yet again in a psychiatrist’s office. Within a few minutes, he diagnosed me with bipolar disorder type II along with post-traumatic stress disorder. This came as no surprise, but it felt good to have a doctor say it officially. He prescribed me Lamictol, or Lamotrigine, a common mood stabilizer used to treat mood disorders. With a little prescription note in hand, he sent me on my way. I slowly increased the dosage & plateaued at 200 mg every morning. There were no side effects, so I continued taking the medication for several months with high hopes of it helping to stabilize me.
Psychosis & insomnia persisted. A month later, I was prescribed Seroquel, or Quetiapine, an intense atypical antipsychotic. This helped me get a full night’s sleep & somewhat reduced the psychosis, although it still haunted me daily. The average dose is between 50 & 200 mg/ night. I was at 400 mg/ night just to get through the night, & I was taking 50-100 mg during the day for anxiety—that’s how intense & gnarly my symptoms were.
Aspen Pointe, Round One
I remained on those two medications while between doctors. I had to get new insurance, & with Medicaid the wait list for a psychiatrist at Aspen Pointe, the main provider in town, was three months.
By the time I had my first meeting with my new doctor, my symptoms were finally doing much better than they had been—still a struggle, but far more manageable & I was able to leave the house without having a meltdown of some sort.
In February of 2015, I was finally stable. The psychosis was entirely absent. My mood wasn’t the best, but it was manageable & I was able to enjoy being alive again for the first time in nearly six months.
Shortly after the stability kicked back in, I finally received a new doctor. She was wonderful: very personable, friendly, charismatic, talkative, compassionate, open-minded, helpful. Her attitude explained that she genuinely cared about my well-being & would do everything in her power to ensure my recovery. Throughout our meetings, she always asked how I was doing, asked about specific symptoms, & then proposed a few different medication options, fully disclosing all information about each one. Her style of medicating was to start at the smallest dose & allow me to increase it on my own until I found a dosage that worked properly. I appreciated how she worked with me, like a real team working towards recovery.
Since my episode was fading on its own & I finally had a doctor to call my own, I was very excited & optimistic that the horrors would soon be over entirely & I could readjust to some level of normality.
Because the worst symptoms were finally leaving me alone, it was time to address the lingering symptoms: lack of energy & motivation. She prescribed me a common antidepressant called Wellbutrin (Bupropion), hoping this would finish stabilizing me.
Wellbutrin definitely increased my levels of energy & ambition, but it was too much: it triggered mania. My doctor suggested another medicine used to treat ADHD that could potentially have the beneficial effects of Wellbutrin without the intensity of manic side effects. I was prescribed Strattera (Atomoxetine), a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor.
This medicine not only slightly continued my mania but it made me nausea every morning I took it. Nevertheless, I carried on with it for over a month because my doctor thought I should. I was content with how I had my personality & drive back, so I suffered through what felt like morning sickness nearly every single day for over a month. Eventually the side effects were too awful & I told my doctor I needed to stop taking it.
In between experimenting with these new medications, I stopped taking Seroquel (March 4, 2015) because my psychosis was no longer an issue. The withdrawals were absolutely horrendous. I was sick for several days but thankful to be done with such a strong antipsychotic: not needing it anymore was a huge sign of encouragement.
I also stopped taking my Lamotrigine (April 2015) because I didn’t feel it was doing anything. Sure enough, I experienced zero side effects when I stopped the medication cold-turkey. (Typical there are withdrawals & side effects from stopping a medication, especially this one.) There was absolutely no difference whatsoever with or without it. I was bummed it didn’t help but relieved it was one less pill I had to take every day.
For sleep, my doctor prescribed me Tradozone (Oleptro), an antidepressant also used to treat insomnia in some cases. I tried 50 mg but it didn’t work for me. I didn’t sleep well at all, & there were a few mild side effects I found unpleasant. I discontinued this medication immediately.
My doctor then prescribed me Ambien (Zolpidem), a sedative to treat insomnia. I started at 5 mg & increased it to 20 mg. Once my bottle ran out, I requested a refill; my nurse laughed at me.
Aspen Pointe, Round Two
Life slapped me in the face with yet another complication on the road to recovery: my doctor resigned & moved to another city. Her nurse stayed in contact with me with questions, like about refilling my Ambien. She arrogantly explained that 10 mg was the maximum dosage of Ambien legally allowed & that I would no longer be allowed it because I was abusing it by taking more than I was prescribed. I tried to explain that my doctor had always said to increase my medication until it worked & 20 mg of Ambien is what worked for me; the nurse laughed again. Even though Ambien is what worked best, I never got another ‘script for it.
I eventually got a new doctor. Unlike the last one, this woman was cold, terse, quiet, strict, & refused to make eye contact with me when she spoke.
The first medicine she prescribed me was for sleep. She told me nothing about it other than it’s a mild medication so I shouldn’t worry about increasing the dosage if necessary. On June 3, 2015, I tried 50 mg of Amitriptyline the first night. I woke up so suicidally depressed, I couldn’t function. For several days, I laid in bed, crying & sleeping on & off, begging for the miserable experience to fade away as quickly as possible. I nearly lost my job because of missing a week of work due to this incident. The medication was an absolutely horrible fit, & I didn’t take it again past that first night.
Upon further investigation, I discovered that Amitriptyline is not typical used for sleep: it was actually an antidepressant. My doctor never even bothered to tell me what type of medication it was. Had I known, I would have advised against it because I know antidepressants don’t work for me. They traditionally don’t work well with bipolar disorder, which was my diagnosis at the time. I was flabbergasted that she would deceive me from day one.
Upset with her, I complained about her not disclosing all the necessary information before prescribing me the medication. She explained that she’d given me all the necessary information & if I wasn’t satisfied then I should’ve asked more questions. She told me I didn’t have to like or trust her; we simply had to work together.
I was infuriated. How can she expect me to sit in front of her & pour out my soul explaining my deepest struggles to her with zero trust in the picture? It’s difficult enough opening up to someone I like, but with her I clammed up & speaking openly felt impossible. This was only the beginning of our issues.
For anxiety, my doctor prescribed me 10 mg three times per day of Buspirone (Buspar). It didn’t help much but I stuck with it anyway.
For sleep, I was prescribed Lunesta (Eszopiclone), a sedative. It didn’t work. Then I tried Ambien XR (extended release) at 12.5 mg on July 6, 2015. It didn’t work. Insomnia continued to be an issue, & I continued self-medicating with marijuana, going to the dispensary & purchasing strains of flower specifically to help with insomnia/ sleep.
The next step my doctor made was putting me on Lithium, an old fashion mood stabilizer. I tried it for a few weeks in June 2015 but gave up on it & resorted to self-medicating with marijuana & alcohol.
After a bad episode of psychosis triggered by binge drinking, I decided to give medications another chance. In September 2015, I started at 150 mg every morning & increased the dosage every two weeks, slowly working my way up to 450 mg. The side effects were a bother, but my mood was stabilizing extremely well so I tolerated it.
However, after six weeks of being on Lithium, the side effects were becoming unbearable: hand tremors, dizziness, fatigue, nausea & vomiting, dry mouth, etc. I landed in the hospital because of it. Even then, my doctor instructed me to stick with the medication. I tried a lower dose for a week or two before finally standing up for myself & telling her No, the side effects are destroying my life & I won’t put up with it anymore. So she gave me permission to stop taking Lithium.
Of course, my mental health declined because it no longer had that stabilizing aid. My mental battles returned full force. Unfortunately, nothing else was suggested. My doctor was absolutely no help.