Lamictal. Zyprexa. Zoloft. Lithium. Klonopin. Tegretol. Prozac. Risperdal. Seroquel. And so on. The big names in psychiatric medications. Psych meds. No one really likes them. True, these complex pharmaceutical formulations have saved the lives of countless people (or so it’s said). Sure, they have kept families together and people in various states of function. I take mine every day. Every morning. Every night. Even one in the middle of the day.
And I hate them all.
I’ve written exhaustively about how much I hate my meds. Other folks have written about it. It’s been covered. People assume that folks with bipolar disorder aren’t med compliant because they don’t like the loss of the mania. This is one piece of the puzzle. The other piece is more straightforward — we don’t like the way the meds make us feel.
If you’ve never been on an SSRI, SNRI, NDRI, NaSSA or an MAOI, if you’ve never take a typical or atypical antipsychotic, or a mood stabilizer or an anxiolytic or a benzodiazepine, you have no frame of reference for what us mentally ill folks complain about. I’m here to tell you about all of the side effects I experience (or have experienced). This list is by no means exhaustive.
It might read a little like a modern-day pharma commercial. Like when the possible risks of the blood pressure or diabetes medication sound so much worse than the disease itself — itching, burning, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, trouble sleeping, sleeplessness, vomiting, headache, increased blood pressure, decreased blood pressure, loss of hair, excessive hair growth, loss of erection, an indefinite erection etc. etc.
It’s funny because it’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous because it’s true.
Here Are 10 Of The Most Common Psychiatric Medication Side Effects:
They call it ‘sleepiness’ but a more accurate description would be 'paralytic exhaustion.'
One of the first meds I ever took (and the one my oldest son takes now) was Paxil. Paxil made me so tired that I could scarcely get up off the couch. I wasn’t depressed, I was incapacitated. I had three children under the age of five, postpartum depression, and exhaustion so profound I could scarcely function.
A recent stint on Seroquel was even worse. Try raising five kids when you can’t keep your eyes open long enough to make sure they don’t set themselves on fire.
With most meds, the nausea will resolve. With some meds, it never will. Some meds impact on your digestive system is related to when you take it and if you take it with food.
Some meds cause appetite suppression, which I guess is fine if you’ve got some body fat to spare. But if you’re already so depressed you don’t want to eat, then what?
Food is a biological requirement, but it’s also part of a larger social picture. Also, nausea is miserable.
3. Weight gain/weight loss
Sometimes neither, but usually not. And you don’t get to pick which one.
4. Dry mouth
It seems like this wouldn’t be that problematic. Your mouth is dry, you drink water. But no, this is not an easily resolved problem.
Saliva is an important piece of our physiological puzzle. Without it, bacteria can flourish causing gum disease, dry/cracked lips, tooth decay, and plain old offensive breath. That’s just what we need; we’re crazy and are teeth are falling out.
5. Reduced sexual desire/delayed orgasm
Not wanting to be intimate isn’t a huge deal if you’re single. But if you are partnered, sexual intimacy is usually part of the deal. It’s one of many things that bonds us with our husbands/wives.
No, lack of sex isn’t a nail in the marital coffin, but it’s not helpful. It also just sucks to not want to be near the person you love in a physical way.
And if you want to have sex and can’t reach climax, that’s a real downer.
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Sometimes both. And sometimes by surprise.
You do not want to poop your pants in Target, I promise you.
Because why not?
How about being exhausted and restless at the same time?
9. Night sweats
People don’t talk about this one, and it’s not on most labels, but I assure you, it is real.
In addition to making me so tired I couldn’t stand up, Paxil made me sweat so much at night that I never slept. So that was a great two years of my life.
10. Memory loss and/or word finding issues
Of all of the side effects I have experienced, this is the one I just can’t surrender to. Being unable to remember something you’ve known your entire life, forgetting a simple word or being unable to locate the correct word for something, is a feeling so frustrating that I can’t even articulate it.
It is a visceral sensation of pain in my head. I can almost feel the neurons firing, searching the files of my brain and coming up flat. It’s painful. It’s demoralizing. Even if the people around me don’t sense the lapse of time in a sentence or notice that I’ve substituted a less eloquent word, or adjusted my language to omit a word entirely, I know.
Even as I type this, I have to pause and try to find the right word. Sometimes I’ve paused so long that I’ve become too frustrated to locate the word at all. In these situations, I fill the blank space with “[word I can't think of here].” Sometimes I’ll go back in an hour or two or a day or week, and I’ll find the word. Sometimes I’ll ask my husband or someone else to help me find it. Sometimes I am so wholly frustrated that I give up on the pursuit entirely.
This list only covers the first ten that came to mind.
I haven’t even started on the list of more serious side effects — increased suicidal thoughts/ideations, risk-taking behavior, aggression. Don’t forget tardive dyskinesia (which is just medical for “you shake and do other very strange things"). How would you like to have a permanent condition that causes your arms to jerk uncontrollably and your tongue to stick out at inopportune times?
If you wonder why someone you love won’t take their meds, this is a good place to start.