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OCD and the Med Trade-off



If you’ve read my other posts, you know that, though I’ve tried most forms of therapy, medication is the only thing that seems to keep the demons at bay. If you think that medication is ever a cop-out or the “easy way,” think again. Medication can be a terrifying road to go down.

First, there is the fact that you’ve turned some degree of control over to an external source. At 8 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and at 9 p.m., I take my OCD meds. I have an alarm set on my phone. I keep emergency pills with me at all times. I refill my prescription long before it runs out. If I don’t take my meds at those times, the effects set in within two to three hours. I get…cagey. I start feeling like a polar bear in a small enclosure–only that small enclosure is my own skin.

If I ever get sick, I can toss everything in my stomach EXCEPT my meds. Unfortunately, if I ever do have less in my stomach, it affects the dosing of my meds. So, if I’m dieting…the effects of my meds are stronger. If I’m eating less due to sickness…I get the double whammy of meds and being sick.

Being on time and that regular is that important to me. I can’t even take it once a day because of the high dose I’m on and the amount of time between doses when my mood drops savagely.  I’m not typically depressed…unless I’m on meds and I’m not taking them on time or I’m going off them.

And if you think this level of control doesn’t burn, you’d be wrong. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is all about control. And, yet, I’m relying on these meds to keep me stable.

Secondly, there are the side effects. When we were first trying to find meds that’d work, I went through the whole list of scary side effects. If it was listed in “rare side effects,” I had it with one of the meds. We tried so many meds. We landed on three back then–only two of the three ended up having long-term side effects. So, I have one that I know I can take and the side effects aren’t AS bad.

The biggest problem with my core med is the memory loss. Obviously disrupting the obsessive thoughts is the goal, and my dark thoughts are some of the most disturbing aspects of OCD, so shorting out my memory accomplishes that. On the other hand, sometimes it gets to the point that I’m living in the day…like each day is an island in this washed-out fog of memories. I can’t always tell you what I did yesterday. I can’t remember what I’m meant to do tomorrow. I have today.

We’ve since tried a few other types. One caused severe migraines and weight gain. This additional med I’m on now seems ideal–if you don’t look too hard at it–or if I wasn’t a writer. Most of you know, I suffer from insomnia…or I did. This latest med makes me actually need sleep…like seven or eight hours of sleep. I fall asleep at around midnight–sometimes earlier. It sounds good, right? If you don’t know that I do most of my writing between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. and that’s when I’m most creative. Not to mention that I don’t seem to need much sleep off this med. I can get by on five hours of sleep for weeks. Sometimes, I can go down to two hours and function pretty normally. This medication is eating up my time. I should have finished the rough draft of this novel I’m working on, but I keep going to sleep during that time. Also, worst of all, I wake up feeling tired. I’m never getting enough sleep.

So, go off it, right? That’s the third thing that always factors in when I think of trade-offs: my family. I’m a better person when I’m medicated. Geez, it hurts every time to say that. This latest med has really taken more of the edge off my OCD. It’s bumped me from 30-40% symptom control to around 60%. Nothing is touching my Agoraphobia, but it is handling my OCD. So, is the dent to my writing life worth it for my family? Nothing is as important to me as my family. Nothing. But this issue with my ability to write…scares me.

Writing has always been somewhat magical to me. If I analyze it, I can’t figure out how I can write the things I write. Writing helps clear out the crowds in my head and is therapeutic in its own way. So, I’m always terrified that the meds will take that away. I feel like it’s enough of a mystery that it’s fragile. This med is doing that. It’s been insidious, and it’s mostly because it’s swallowing up my night time, but it’s happening. I started noticing it during NaNoWriMo and the suspicion has just grown. Now, I’m sure. But I still don’t know what to do.

The final trade-off is the expense. You have no idea how expensive meds can be. Our health coverage is much more forgiving currently, but there were years when paying for my meds cut into us deeply. Being sane…felt like a luxury we couldn’t afford. I felt apologetic for wanting it. In fact, I remember apologizing to my husband…who just blew it off like it was no big deal. He’s always treated it like medication for a sick person–I need it so I get it–end of story. He’s also let it be my choice whether or not I’m on meds or not, and I’ve gotten off meds because they’re so expensive.

Look at that…a list with four items. Wow, that makes me uncomfortable, but it is what it is.

So, if you know someone medicated for their mental health, and you’ve thought it was “easier” than therapy…it’s not, and many, like me, aren’t actually helped with therapy. If you’ve thought they’re not developing skills to cope in the future, there’s no way to develop those skills without some relief of symptoms. It’d be like learning how to shoot on the front lines.

If you’re currently medicated and making the trade-offs–dude, I know, but it’s probably worth it. Being healthy is worth it. There are people in your life who you need you as well as you can be…and they deserve it. You deserve it. *high-fives* If no one has ever told you, I recognize that you’re not taking an easy road, and I admire you for taking that step towards being a better you.

I can’t write this post without acknowledging that medication is NOT for everyone, and that therapy should always be considered due to the trade-offs of medication, and the long-term coping mechanisms that can be developed with therapy. I’m also not advocating you take any route of treatment without discussing it with a mental health professional or your doctor. This is just my story, and how I live. Do what is best for you.

If you haven’t read my other posts on OCD, they’re archived under the category of OCD.

Oh, for those wondering which paper doll person in my painting I identify most with–it’s the loner hanging next to the tape dispenser. Though I would always try to help someone from being trapped under the scissors too.

4 Responses so far.

  1. Rhianna says:

    I have so much sympathy and understanding for this Wendy. Several years (and a very long story) ago I was diagnosed with a seizure disorder and with it found out I would need medication every day for the rest of my life. Needing medication for a long-term/life-long treatment seems like no big deal until you find yourself the one having their world changed by it.

    While my situation is in many ways different from yours I too found that the medication that worked best for me caused trouble with my ability to write. Seizures can cause brain damage and the medications to treat them alter the brain’s chemistry so it’s only natural that there are side effects of the mind. Mine are a general fogginess, trouble concentrating, and lots of memory loss. Here I am a would-be-author stuck as a book blogger because I can’t collect my thoughts into a novel.

    Someday I hope to find a treatment beyond pharmaceuticals but for now I’m just glad to be able to function without the seizures making my life a living hell. I hope your experience with medication becomes more positive for both your family and your writing. 🙂

    • I think that’s a very valid comparison and much like anything else–you make me glad I have the problem that I have and not a different one. On the whole, I’m very grateful for medication. I would be a mess right now without medication. The dark thoughts being subdued are enough to make me put up with the side effects of one of the meds. But it definitely does change your world as you said. Your life revolves around it more and more. Some things are worth it, though. *hugs*

  2. Once again I so admire your willingness to step out and share your experiences. You are SO right – medication is NOT the easy road. My medication keeps my OCD/depressive symptoms at a level that allows me to function on a daily basis. Without my meds I literally want to claw my way out of my own skin but with them I’m not entirely “me”.

    I used to be able to handle a million little details without much thought now I have to have lists and notes for everything and even then I’m likely to allow some things to slip through because I just plain forget. I used to sleep a “normal” amount – now I’m a sleep junkie and it’s difficult to shake the fog. I’m generally an extremely articulate, quick witted woman but on meds I often cannot find the simple words I’m looking for to express myself and it’s extremely frustrating. Oh and weight gain – LOTS of that. 🙁

    My writing suffers as well. I have difficulty maintaining the interest and intense concentration that was once so necessary for my writing process. I suspect that I can still write but that the process will look very different from what it once did and that’s scary. I don’t know how to do it differently and, since my OCD makes me a creature of habit, my mind doesn’t seem to know HOW to break out of the existing mold so I often wind up feeling frustrated and stuck running into the same wall over and over because I can’t figure out how to move a few feet to the left and go through the door.

    On the other hand the obsessive, dark thoughts that tortured me non-stop are about 70% gone and the other 30% are generally manageable. The panic attacks are fewer and less intense (it was a massive, never ending panic attack that lasted over 48 hours that finally prompted me to seek medication) and when I feel one coming on I have an emergency med that will help knock it back.

    Every once in a while I take stock and try to decide if the benefit of the meds still outweighs the side effects and other trade-offs (cost being one as you mentioned – we’re both very lucky to have husbands who recognize that this is an illness that needs medication and there’s no question or recrimination about the expense – it’s just something that has to be done). Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it but then I remember what life is like without medication and I remember when my uncontrolled illness puts my husband through and I come to the conclusion that it’s worth it. Not easy, but probably worth it.

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