This Strange, Un-Medicated Life

When I first approached our family doctor in the mid-90s with “depression”, he put me on Prozac.

I had recently been kicked out of a band I started with a college friend only to be followed up with my girlfriend (at the time) breaking up with me.

Hell yes, I was depressed.

And Prozac definitely changed things. Just not for the better.

When I started to feel worse despite the medication, I was instructed to double the dosage. Perhaps the first prescribed amount wasn’t strong enough.

And for whatever benefits doubling the dosage should have had, it also led to my first true feeling of wanting to commit suicide.

Which, of course, led to my first hospitalization. This was 1996.

The hospital set me up with my first psychiatrist. They ran their tests and determined that I was manic depressive with a borderline personality disorder. Medication was then prescribed: an antidepressant and a mood stabilizer.

And those medications did something,  just not with the intended effect. They kept me in this relative fog. I was no longer feeling the same type of depression as before. I was no longer feeling anything, really. I was completely indifferent. I had no particular highs and no particular lows.

That is of course until my next episode.

I was hospitalized three times that summer. This was in between my sophomore and junior year of college. My diagnosis became my tagline. People would ask how I was and “manic depressive with a borderline personality disorder” was how I would describe myself…like it was all I had of an identity.

I tried to go back to college that fall and resume normal living away from the doctor who had been treating me and my folks. I was set up with another psychiatrist close to school who added another medication to the list I was on.

My father happened to strike up conversation with a pharmacist around this time. Although my Dad was a lifelong Goodyear employee (through all of my life, that is) his degree was actually in psychology. Something about my diagnosis wasn’t sitting right with him.

During this conversation, my Dad started to list off the medications and dosages I was taking at the time. At one point, the pharmacist interrupted him and said: “I’m surprised your son is even alive. He’s at a toxic level of medication.”

That was all Dad needed to hear. He came down to school and removed me from that doctor’s care so he could put me in with someone else. It’s my understanding that he reported this person to the board to have their license removed. I am not sure what the outcome was of that.

Nevertheless, I was back in with another psychiatrist in short order. More tests were taken, more medication changed and prescribed. At this point, we tallied all the medications in less than a year to 13 or 14 different ones.

I had not improved.

In fact, I had become so flustered with my own progress despite the medications, that I made my transition into street drugs.

It was that combination that forced me to finally drop out of college and return home. I just couldn’t function.

Two months later, I was back in the hospital.

It was at this time that I was introduced to another psychiatrist. He looked at my charts, ran more tests, and informed my father: “Your son isn’t manic depressive. And he doesn’t need medication. He just needs someone to talk to.”

Little by little, he weaned me off of everything. I stayed up with my sessions and was able to understand slightly more about my lack of coping mechanisms to deal with life as it came to me. My psychiatrist didn’t approve of my increasing appetite for street drugs but I think he realized I wasn’t going to stop taking them either.

I thought the time off would help me and in 1998 I attempted to go back to school.

I didn’t last one semester before I was back in the hospital again. This time, I was on a floor with patients who had mental disorders and substance abuse problems.

I stayed there for two weeks and had to drop out of school again.

Amy Winehouse had a famous line “They tried to make me go to rehab, I said ‘No, no, no.”

Well, I went to rehab. And I was not ready to quit.

Quitting would take another 8 years.

Fortunately, I got enrolled back in school to get my associate’s degree first then onto my bachelor’s after I cleaned up and dropped the street drugs. I finished college in 2008 (three time’s a charm.)

I have not been on medication for nearly 20 years.

I look at my life now and there is a small part of me that says “Wow, look at all I survived.”

Maybe there is some truth to that statement. I’m certainly not a “better” person because I got off of medication. I am a very different person though.

My non-medical advice, taking only my personal account into consideration, is that sometimes you need more than one opinion on your current set of challenges.

Sometimes, the medication does NOT work.

And sometimes, the medication is what keeps you even keeled.

It keeps you functioning.

It keeps you alive. (I like this outcome.)

Several years after the fact, my mother met that psychiatrist face-to-face for the first time. When she put two and two together, she introduced herself: “I’m Winnie Leenaarts. You saved my son’s life.”

Being off of medication may have afforded me some slight luxuries, namely more lucidity. But being off of drugs AND medication opened my eyes up to more that was happening inside my head.

I tell people, somewhat half in jest, that I have some un-diagnosed OCD and ADD issues I probably need to sort out.

There is the part of me that recognizes these things and can have a laugh about them and the part of me that asks “Would I function better as a human being if I got a proper diagnosis and was on the right medication for them?”

I don’t believe I am above seeing another professional to get those things considered.

But if you’re reading this and you’re not happy with your mental status, please know (if you don’t already) that it affects every area of your life. You may really believe that diet and exercise can sort out problems A, B and C in your life. However, your mind can have a great deal of sway in those outcomes.

Get a second opinion, get a third, get a fourth. Get whatever the hell it takes to be satisfied that you’re in the right hands with the right plan. If you have to be on medication temporarily or permanently, THIS IS OKAY.

Just remember all that my Dad had to go through to get a light at the end of the tunnel to shine for me. I saw several psychiatrists (5 in one year), endured several medications (13-14 in less than a year) and survived several (5) hospitalizations just to see an end in sight.

Much of my problems that came afterwards were solely self-inflicted.

You deserve better.

There’s so much life left to live.

“We Make Great People Greater”