Mountain Goat, Jasper National Park, Summer 2020
Being on psychiatric medications can be a difficult situation and over the counter and legal drugs can make things worse if you aren’t careful. Many times in my life I have looked back and wondered what may have happened in my life if I had taken my medications as prescribed from the first time that they were prescribed. For me the first time was age 14-I am 48 now. I have asked my Doctor this question and he has told me that if I had done that at 14 I would be the exception-not the norm.
My illness is schizoaffective disorder with anxiety-I have an odd combination of having mood swings with symptoms of schizophrenia. The last time I was in psychosis it was a living hell. I had been given a replacement medication for the one that dealt with my psychosis and over time I began to get paranoid to the point of thinking all my neighbours could hear and see everything I did and were waiting for the chance to kill me. I was admitted to a hospital, but it took time for the new drug that wasn’t working for me to get out of my system so that the old one that I was put back on could get to work.
One of the things that often happens with me is that I will wake up and take my medications and then go back to bed. Prozac seems to have the ability to give me the sweetest dreams. But I can’t always do that–often if I get up at 5:00 am (like today) and take my medications, they will cause me to sleep as late as noon or later. I now have a part-time job that makes a schedule like that impossible to follow, so I medicate-with coffee and exercise. These may not seem like harmful drugs, but coffee is definitely a drug, an addictive and powerful one, and for me exercise–be it swimming or long-distance walking (my knees make it so I can no longer run, I injured them years ago) is what gets me out of my morning funk. The problem really comes when it is getting late and I know I will need a minimum amount of hours of sleep to work the next day and due to mania (mood swings) I am simply unable to slow down enough to rest. This can start a vicious cycle, needing more coffee, needing more exercise (often more than is healthy for my ageing body) and getting less and less sleep.
This is the point where I often find myself turning to over the counter drugs. Something I have found helps a great deal with short naps (they cause me severe nightmares sometimes) is to take a multivitamin before a nap. This is a positive over the counter medication that is largely harmless. But when it stops helping, I have turned to stronger ones. My first level of self-medication during times of little sleep due to nightmares used to be alcohol. I will never forget being 19 and living in a cheap hotel in Vancouver, waking from a very bad dream and being able to go downstairs, get a shot of whiskey and be able to sleep contently. Fortunately I didn’t do this every day, but still I would have binge sessions of drinking that I greatly enjoyed–which had to stop at a certain point. I did all I could, going to meetings and counselling. I even picked up other habits after quitting that had to also be dealt with like overeating and gambling, that I have now fortunately put behind me. I can’t stress enough that if you self-medicate with alcohol, and you are taking medications, it is just as bad as playing Russian roulette. You are playing a very deadly game. Compulsive gambling is a real destroyer of people and families as well. You actually become addicted to the hormones in your brain that turn on when you gamble, be it slot machines, video lottery terminals or garage poker games. If you have the tendency towards becoming addicted like I did, gambling will take over everything. All your money, all your time, all your relationships. Seek help.
So now that I have eliminated some of the less obvious medication, I should talk about some of the more obviously harmful ones. On occasion I take melatonin to help me sleep. This drug is a naturally occurring sleep hormone which I have cleared with my doctor. It definitely helps me get more hours of sleep and more restful sleep, but sometimes it can work too well. Sometimes when I take melatonin, I will wake up and feel exhausted, and all I can think of as I go about my day is how much I want to go back to sleep. And there is another thing about melatonin, a person (or at least me) can get used to it, or ‘develop a tolerance’ in a short amount of time. I try to take it rarely, and if I take it over the course of a few days, it not only doesn’t help me sleep, but it causes me to move and thrash around, never feeling settled in bed, and not going to sleep for hours.
Here comes one drug that a lot of people argue is harmless, THC. THC is often found in pot and hash, and other cannabis products. In Canada it is a legal drug, but very few psychiatrists will call it a harmless one. It is known to increase a person’s chances of psychosis, especially if used at a young age. I haven’t used it in years, and even then I don’t think I ever paid for it, I only used it a few times, and one of those times was an utter disaster. I went to a party and smoked up as they say and quickly slipped into seriously warped thinking. By the end of the party a lot of people thought I was either a cop or a true weirdo and I got so paranoid I climbed down the fire escape thinking I was going to be killed by someone at the party. It may be something to laugh at now, but when it happened, it was far from fun, not to mention that if you use THC and drive a vehicle, you are truly taking your life in your hands because your judgement will be impaired worse than if on alcohol.
Well good readers, I would like to keep on writing, but I have a strong feeling that blog readers get a little bored if I make my entries too long. As always, feel free to reach out. I am always willing to discuss any mental health topics people suggest to me here, my email is email@example.com