Taking medication every day can be tiring and frustrating. But when it comes to living a healthy life, accepting this support is an invaluable step.
When I was 14 years old, sobbing uncontrollably in classes and during cheerleading practice, a psychiatrist scribbled out a prescription for Prozac. I paced through the aisles of the pharmacy, flipping through copies of Vogue and smelling the bottles of shampoo while I waited for the pharmacist to spill the capsules into a bottle.
I knew something was “wrong” with me, but I wasn’t convinced swallowing these pills could make me feel better. I did know I was sad — so sad that it was agonizing to tumble out of my bed and make my way to the bus stop.
Throughout high school, I cycled through the offices of many different psychiatrists. I was always looking for the next pill that could fix whatever was wrong with me.
After I got over the initial shock of needing to rely on psychiatric medications, I started to see these pills as hopeful objects that would bring me some relief.
Each new psychiatrist and each new medication change brought new hope that I would get better. The doctors were encouraged that we would find the right medication and that my life would become more manageable.
Then, during my senior year of high school, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And with that came lithium, pills that are amazing at evening out my moods. So, now I live the lithium lifestyle.
I have to remain vigilant about what my body is telling me because if the level of lithium in my blood gets high enough, I could get very sick. I’ve spent nights sleeping in emergency room beds because the lithium level became toxic and I needed fluids to rehydrate me.
Even still, there’s no denying that this medication has saved my life.
It’s rescued me from some of the deepest, darkest depressions — those times when I felt so broken and raw that I was not sure if I could go on. Lithium has sucked the depression out of my marrow and allowed me to have more of a life.
It’s clear that I need these chemicals to function. And I have a feeling that I will be taking lithium for a very long time, maybe even for the rest of my life.
But I can handle that. I am just grateful that lithium exists, that I can swallow a few capsules and be back on track to regaining myself.
However, despite its success, there are some nights when I’m so tired that I’m tempted to go to bed without taking my pills. I don’t want to be reminded that I’m sick and that I’m different from all of my friends. I doubt they’re reliant on pills just to survive.
But then, I see flashbacks: me pacing through the corridors of the psych ward; me standing at the medication counter while nurses pour tablets and capsules into little cups; me rocking back and forth on my bed, hoping that I can somehow get some relief from my depression.
So I stumble to the bathroom sink, fill up a large glass of water, and then bring it to my bed. I spill my cocktail of tablets and capsules onto my comforter and start taking them.
I remind myself that these pills are a collection of chemicals that allow me to function, to get through the day without being interrupted by the manic or depressive symptoms of my bipolar disorder.
Taking pills has become a part of every day. And, for me, every day begins and ends the same way: with me taking the pills my psychiatrist has prescribed to keep my bipolar illness at bay.
I think you know by now that, for me, taking my pills is not optional. The consequences are very real and very scary.
My medication keeps the depression at bay. It keeps me on the other side of that locked psych ward door, a place I don’t want to be. My medication allows me to live just like those who don’t need medication — so I can go to college and even get through grad school.
Even though I know all of this, it doesn’t mean I’m thrilled that I’ll be relying on psychiatric medication for the rest of my life. Of course, I worry about the long-term consequences on my body.
For example, I know that lithium can be hard on the kidneys. The medication that does so much for my emotional state can also make me nauseous with trembling hands. And it’s very embarrassing when I’m at a restaurant with friends and my hands tremble every time I reach over to put some food on my plate.
Someone very close to me passed away because he refused to be treated for his own mood disorder. I think of him when I’m reluctant to take my pills.
I know this person in my life didn’t want to take psychiatric medication because of the stigma of mental illness. I feel it myself when I go to the pharmacy to pick up my lithium. I still whisper the names of the medications I’m picking up so nobody will think I’m “crazy.”
Psychiatric medications are effective. I don’t care if I have to experience side effects because anything is better than depression to me. My pills have given me my life back.
I can’t say it’s easy to manage those side effects when they have me sitting in the emergency room getting fluids, but I don’t want to spend my days in bed, crying and isolated.
Depression is one of the most painful things I’ve ever gone through and I’m so grateful my medications exist to bring me back to the real world. I will keep taking them because I want to feel better, and this is how I can.
Medically reviewed on August 28, 2022
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