I want to preface this post by saying this is a sensitive subject. I welcome your thoughts and advice but not your judgement. Please be gentle.
This week has been hard for me, and not just because Wednesday decided to up and take a shit all over my life. No, there is something much deeper conspiring against me this week. Namely, I stopped taking my meds.
I’ve been on and off medication for depression, anxiety and, most recently, ADD, for the better part of my adult life. I can definitely live without medication–there are times I’ve even thrived without medication–but eventually I always seem to go back, usually for depression and anxiety.
I started taking medication for ADD in my late twenties. I had finally been off my depression meds for an extended period of time but was still having a really hard time managing my life. I had been teaching for about three years and struggled greatly with a lot of aspects of my job. I was feeling overwhelmed and incapable and it was making me intensely unhappy. My therapist was actually the one who recommended I look more closely at my self-diagnosis of ADD and had me talk to my psychiatrist about whether I might actually have it and what I could do about it. After much deliberation (I was very hesitant to go on medication to manage my ADD as I’d functioned, albeit poorly, with it my whole life) I decided to try something my sister had found helpful. The truth is I never could have imagine how much it would change my life.
The meds did help with my ADD, and for that I am grateful. A friend recently asked what it’s like when I’m not on my meds. It’s kind of hard to explain but basically I live my life waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m constantly worried that I’m forgetting something of primary importance, that I’m not at an appointment I’ve scheduled or that I’ve left something I need at home. I’m CONSTANTLY checking my purse for my wallet or my pocket for my phone. I spend every moment nervous that I’ve lost something or forgotten something or that I’m just messing something up somehow. I feel this way because a lot of the time I am fucking shit up, big time.
Maybe a better way to describe it is like this. When I’m driving the affects are amplified. I constantly worry that I’m breaking the law somehow. When the light turns green I don’t go unless someone else goes, because I’m worried I’m looking at the wrong light or just not paying attention enough to know when to go. I’m constantly assuming I’m going to get in an accident because I’ll be too distracted to notice something I should just see. That is what driving is like–it’s terrifying. And it’s kind of what the rest of my life feels like.
So yeah, it’s nice not to feel that way all the time. It’s nice to know that I’m at a stop sign when I’m at a stop sign and a traffic light when I’m at a traffic light and not worrying that I might be confusing the two somehow.
My meds help me with that feeling of being out of control, but they also do something else, something even more significant. My ADD medication cured me of my eating issues, which had plagued me my entire life.
Basically my ADD medication suppresses my appetite. When I take it I don’t get very hungry. I still eat well, I still want to enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner. But I NEVER think about food when I’m not hungry and I ALWAYS feel satiated after a reasonable serving of food. My medication keeps me from wanting to snack and prevents me from overeating. When I take my ADD medication I a very healthy relationship with food. I eat what I want, when I want it. I never feel deprived and I never think about food. It’s incredible. After a decade of struggling with food, my weight and body image, my ADD medication handed me my life back. No one thing has so singlehandedly improved my quality of life.
The thing is, it also makes me feel like a fraud. I will admit, there have been times I’ve contemplated going off my medication because I feel my life is stress-free enough that I could manage without it, but I haven’t gone off it soley because I LOVE my relationship with food when I’m on it. I love how it makes me feel. And I don’t want to stop taking it.
I can’t tell you the arguments I’ve had with myself about this. On the one hand I don’t believe in taking medication just because. I have never taken an anti-depression or anti-anxiety medication without first thoroughly researching the positives and negatives, understanding the side effects and feeling very clear that it is necessary for my overall health. On the other hand I believe in living medication-free whenever possible. I believe as a country we are overmedicated and I don’t want to participate in that culture of “fixing with prescriptions.” I KNOW I can manage without my ADD medication. I also know it radically improves the quality of my life.
Of course I have to stop when I’m trying to get pregnant, when I am pregnant and when I’m breastfeeding. Last time, after taking it for almost two years, I was off it for two and half. As soon as I was completely done breastfeeding Isa at eight months, I asked to go back on.
Interestingly, I don’t remember food being a big issue when I was trying to get pregnant, and I actually lost weight while we were trying. I’m pretty sure that had to do with the fact that I was on a strict TCM diet and was cutting out most processed foods, including grains. When people don’t eat bread and pasta they generally keep the weight off. Of course, when I was pregnant I gained 50 pounds. I wonder if that was because I was finally allowed to eat whatever I wanted and I didn’t have my meds to keep my appetite in check. At the time I thought it was Zoloft but I don’t really know.
Now I’m back off my meds. It’s been a hard week, not just because I’m hungry ALL THE TIME (that goes away after a few weeks) but also because I’m easily distracted and feeling generally on edge. I’m also asking myself all sorts of questions about what my long term plan is going to be vis-a-vis my medication. I can’t take it forever. And if I don’t, I need to reexamine my relationship with food, a relationship that has been so unhealthy as to make me contemplate suicide.
In the meantime I can distract myself from thoughts of food with my preoccupation with getting pregnant. It’s a short term solution, but I’ll take it.