Missing my meds

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.

13 responses

  1. It sounds like the meds help you manage a lot. I can sympathize with wanting to be off them (and am myself currently off depression and anxiety medication that I have taken at different points in my life), but my philosophy is that sometimes medications help us be who we really are–that our bodies screw things up and we need the meds to get back to the right place. I would never not take my synthroid (which I’ll take until the day I die) because I would rather be medication-free. Sometimes our brains need help just like my thyroid. My husband will probably be on an ssri for the rest of his life because that’s how he stays able to be the active participant in his life that he deserves to be. It’s possible that we are overmedicated as a society, but as an individual, only you can judge where the baseline that feels right to you is, and that might be best achieved with the help of medication. Some people, like me, only need the “brain drugs” for a short time, but some people, like my husband, need them forever. Only you know which you are.

  2. This was a brave post, E. I can understand why your meds make life easier, and also why you might not want to be taking them. I like what AS says about medication and baselines. I, too, take thyroid meds and will for life, because that’s who I am … because without them. I can’t function nearly as well. I am lethargic, depressed, I lose my hair, I gain weight. Even with them, I live on the edge. If I don’t take my thyroid meds, I risk the progression of these symptoms, which include life threatening depression and heart failure.

    While I do think that we overmedicate, it doesn’t sound like that’s true in your case … “managing” and “living” are two different things. It’s OK to use medication if your body needs it to function better, to be healthy,

    I also hear you about the relationship with food. While my problem isn’t ADD, I know that I do have an unhealthy relationship with food: I eat at night, when no one is awake, and I eat things that are less good for me. I often go all day without eating much. I cook beautiful dinners for my family (my blog is living proof of this), but I can’t figure out how to balance my own diet, nor do I make enough of an effort to tease out hunger from emotional or mindless eating. I’ve become more painfully aware of it lately, even ashamed of it. I think about starving myself. Which, of course, does no good because then I gorge myself later. This is TMI for a comment, but I guess what I’m saying is that I hear you, and I can only imagine how hard this is, because I struggle with similar things, even if it’s not for the same reasons. And that I’m sending you a hug as you try to sort out your next steps.

  3. So much here: I am so sorry to hear that your relationship with food has been so difficult! 😦 Going off meds (or going on them) is a difficult choice, one only you can make. I’m hoping for all of the best and highly recommend you talk to your therapist about coping strategies. You’re a great researcher: are there any books that talk about strategies for dealing with ADD without meds?

  4. I can completely emphasize with the tough choice that you’re facing regarding medication. No one can tell you the right or wrong answer to this one.

    I genuinely believe that we as a society come at this from two sides. On the one side, our society tells us that we shouldn’t take pills to manage every little thing and that popping a pill is ‘the easy answer.’ On the other side, people too often place issues of mental health in the category of character issues, that we should be able to fix these problems ourselves.

    The reality is that sometimes people experience complex medical issues that require a full range of treatment and that the full range of mental illness is every bit as real as the flu, or cancer, or HIV. There is a lot of suffering in this world from illness, a lot of it avoidable. I know, I suffered for years because I refused to consider anti-depressants.

    Whatever you decide, make sure your choice minimizes the likelihood of your own suffering.

  5. This is an incredibly brave thing to write about. I have contemplated writing about my dysfunctional relationship with food, but find it too scary to put out there. Recently I have realized the way I perceive food is not normal behavior. It has ruled my existence for as long as I remember and I’m getting to the point that I am ready to do something about it.

    My husband has severe ADD and takes twice daily medication for it. His diagnosis came in his late 20’s and it has changed his life and saved his academic career. He has said several times recently that I might benefit from a similar therapy. He points out that my disordered thinking and constant “checking” is not normal.

    These two revelations have really left me questioning my sanity, and if I should even be trying for a child. Reading your words makes me feel better: I’m not alone and there is treatment. Now, if I could just work up the guts to call a doctor. Maybe tomorrow…

  6. I don’t have any experience with ADD so I don’t feel qualified to give advice on this subject. However, it sounds like your meds do more good than harm and given that you have gone extended periods of time without them I don’t see you as being reliant on them. If you’d rather not be medicated then maybe you can use your wonderful research skills to try and find more natural ways or methods of dealing with any issues that arise for you. In my younger years I didn’t really believe in depression meds but then I needed them…and badly. I felt bad for taking them because I thought it made me weak. Just the opposite…I’ve learned that it takes strength to know when you need a little extra help and to embrace it when necessary. Like I said, I’m no expert and I hope that you can find a way that works for you. I don’t think you should feel bad about taking medication, though. Sometimes we all need that little edge.

  7. Agree with everyone above…very brave of you to address these topics (a LOT of stuff to unpack in this one post!). Your description of your ADD life is making me consider getting my husband to see a psychiatrist to get tested/treated for it. I used to scoff at “adult ADD”, but I’m coming around. Is it weird that I almost wish I could get on ADD-meds, too, if it could stop my food obsessions? Seriously, why do so many of us suffer from food issues? It MUST be cultural, and if so, how do we prevent passing it along to our own children/future children? Last, I think you should be proud of yourself for being STRONG enough to get therapy/treatment so that you can be the best YOU for your family, your students, society in general. Why is it that our society (even though sometimes over-medicated) has this faint judgement of people taking meds as weak and not self-sufficient-enough. And that this “stigma” is attached mainly to psych meds; no one would think twice about needing blood pressure meds or asthma inhalers…Yes, sometimes there are behavioral or natural ways to manage symptoms, but for some people and some diseases you just have to realize that your body does not work properly and be thankful that there are treatments out there to help you live a productive and happy life. Sure, maybe 100 years ago people just suffered in silence and muddled through until they died of an ear infection or something….but we have options now. I hope you find some balance once your body adjusts to the sudden withdrawal of the meds, and that the focus on baby-making/growing/caring carries you through this tough time.

  8. Oh lady, I’m sorry that you’re struggling right now. I can only imagine what it’s like, and you description of driving is terrifying. I’ve always been a proponent of medication for depression and anxiety…but that comes from having lost two people in my life to suicide, and honestly believe if they had had the correct medication, that they would be here today. And it sounds to me like benefits of the ADD medication fully outweigh the idea that you are taking it “just because.” By the way you describe it, it definitely doesn’t seem like that. But I can fully support your decision to get off it before you try again, and I will be here to give you whatever kind of support you need to manage it. (And I love what everyone has to say above, and agree wholeheartedly with it all)

  9. I have nothing to add that hasn’t already been eloquently stated above but I wanted to commend you for writing this post and add my support for your TTC journey and your future decisions regarding the meds. Brave post, friend.

  10. Your description of being off meds is so accurate. I have always struggled to describe it myself – all I knew was that I functioned much better while on them, and that it terrified me to go off of them. I am currently off meds but fully expect to have to go back on them at some point in my life.

    It is very brave of you to write this. I HATE talking about being on (or off) meds because people are so judgemental about them. I find myself saying things like, ‘I was on them for anxiety’ rather than, ‘I was depressed,’ even though I think I’ve been depressed since childhood. I believe wholeheartedly in medication for anxiety and depression, but still find myself not wanting to talk about it in regards to myself. Good for you for putting this out there!

    I’m sure you’re very anxious right now about being off the meds, that’s very evident in your post. I hope you find some peace with it. I know it’s terrifying.

  11. Meds are life-savers, literally, for a lot of people. I know what you mean about feeling ambivalent about it though – I really should probably be on meds to lower my blood pressure, but I feel so resistant to that – I feel like I should be able to control my bp with diet and exercise – but I’m not in control enough of my eating and exercise (time management) habits to do that…

    How are you feeling today?

  12. I’ve never heard anyone else describe the stop light stop sign thing before! I’ve felt that way so many times! And waiting for the other shoe to drop? SO many times I just sit here and wonder What am I forgetting?!!
    I appreciate you sharing this, I hope you get through this time with ease.

  13. I totally get what you’re saying. I, too, needs ADD meds to get through the day, and everything you’ve written here sounds familiar. You’re not alone. In fact, I’m going to write about this on my blog because it’s hard to be “out” by yourself. Be kind to yourself–especially now–and know that you’re doing the best you can. Thank you for writing this post!

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