Posted on 28 August 2016 by Michael Dahl

mental health medications, potential side effect, and a little cost – benefit analysis

I want to be crystal clear. I think prolonged episodes of mental illness require aggressive treatment. My illnesses of Depression and Anxiety, if left untreated, can change the volume of certain parts of my brain, they can cause permanent damage to how my brain handles stress, and they can shorten my life span.

I don’t like the sound of any of that.

So I am a fan of using multiple strategies to getting me as close to healthy as possible. Right now, that means taking multiple medications. It means regular visits with a mental health med doctor (until we find the right mix and dosage). It means talk therapy. And, most difficult for me, it means practicing with the tools given me by my therapist.

Four strategies. Four strategies to help my brain work as close to normal as possible. Four strategies to keep my brain from developing into an even less healthier version of itself.

Are we clear? And are we clear specifically regarding medications? I do not think taking medications for my mental health makes me weak (as apparently some people believe). Medicine, if used properly, can help a body heal. That sounds good to me.

Now, as is the case with many medications — not just those for mental health — some side effects can occur. For instance, one of the drugs I take daily to keep Depression in my rearview mirror makes me sleepy. So I don’t take it in the morning; I take it at night. It helps me fall asleep as a bonus to the magic it works on my brain.

One of my drugs — even though it helps with the irrational fear connected to Anxiety — can make me irritable. So I take another pill that gets rid of that pesky side effect.

In the past I’ve taken drugs that have made me too tired and very lethargic. I barely had an evening before I was in bed, fast asleep. The drugs also made it difficult for me to workout — very important to me. So I told my doctor that we needed to find another drug to deal with my Depression and Anxiety. We thought about options and found one that suited me just fine after we worked through the transition from one drug to another.

One drug I was once on caused a very quick gaining of weight — like 15 pounds. But then the weight gain stopped and my mental health seemed fine. So I did a cost – benefit analysis wth my doctor, and we figured the weight gain was a bummer, but the Depression and Anxiety were worse. Besides, there were things — eating better and exercise — that could possibly bring the weight down. So I gave that a try and was able to shed at least a few pounds.

So I am a fan of medication with the caveat that you are allowed to do a cost – benefit analysis about how they work for your body and brain.

Which brings me to right now. As I referenced earlier, I take three main drugs to deal with my Depression and greatly cut down on the Anxiety I feel. One of those drugs makes me feel like 8 pm is a great bedtime — that’s a bummer, but acceptable for the benefits it brings me. Oh yeah, it also helps wake me up naturally at around 4 am on most days. And while that’s not perfect, it does give me the opportunity to catch up on reading in a quiet house or go to a very early yoga class (I need to do that more).

But my Anxiety is still a problem. As I reported in a recent post  my doctor “said that most of my improvements in health were not likely to come from additional med tweaking anymore — something we’ve been doing successfully for over a year. Instead, now her opinion is that I must really jump into talk therapy and embrace cognitive behavior therapy in a way that could help me manage the Anxiety that still is a huge part of my life.”

But she knew this transition was going to be hard. So she amped up the “chill pills” which I used to take solely on an “as needed basis.” Now I take them morning, noon, and night. And for the past couple weeks I have only experienced a tinge of Anxiety … a level I could manage easily and put in the background of my brain until It disappeared. Success!

I believe my doctor wants me to feel as good as possible while I use a few months of talk therapy to lessen the need I have for the chill pills.

Great! Right? Well, not exactly. When I take the chill pills at their full dosage morning, noon, and night, I feel foggy, it’s hard to remember some details, and sometimes I am quite tired. So I tried taking half a pill for each of the times. While that’s cut down on the tiredness, it has brought back some of the Anxiety.

Again, as reported in an earlier post, “my mental health doctor did not command, “You must take this level of “chill pill” for such and such a time” … and as, ”I’d prefer not to live my days in a fog, and I quite like sleeping through the night and not being struck with fear if I wake up at 2 am,” I’ve been trying half the dosage for what I take in the morning and at noon. For the nighttime dosage I’m going to keep it as the full pill level.

I realize I have not talked about all side effects. Well, I can’t do that. I will share that I was once on a med that made me too happy — out of sync with the mood appropriate for the situation I was experiencing.  (I didn’t tell my doctor, because I really loved being that happy — a major no-no.  A couple months later I crashed and burned and had to switch to another drug.) I also once took a medication that had the opposite effect of what it was supposed to do. It greatly aggravated my Anxiety.  So I had to work with my doctor to find another drug.

Why have I shared about so many drugs, you may ask? Don’t you just take one pill or one concoction of pills and keep with it.   Well, unfortunately for many of us who suffer with mental illnesses a drug works for awhile (hopefully years) and then it stops working.   And I’ve been taking mental health medications for nearly 16 years.  So I’ve had a handful of times I’ve had to work with my doctor to go through the process of finding a new drug(s) to get back to normal all over again.

I share this because some readers may have loved ones who struggle with mental health drugs’ side effects — perhaps more frustrating than the ones I’ve had to endure. You’ve also watched your loved one switch drugs and ask why would anyone want to go through such a difficult process.

Well, we don’t want the frustrations and difficulties, to be clear.  But there’s something more we don’t want. We don’t want to be Depressed, or Anxious, or to have to constantly do battle with side effects. We want our brains to be as close to normal, and we’d love to have a normal life span. So we work with our doctors to try to find normalcy. A normalcy you may have and take for granted.

I guess what I am saying … I guess the purpose of this post is to let you know that these are difficult situations to navigate. And we would often love to have the support of loved ones while we try to find our way to normal.

You can be that person.