Should psych drugs be avoided at ALL costs?

My brain isn’t functioning today quite honestly so my apologies if the following makes no sense whatsoever. It’s long and I ended up rambling.


Lately, I’ve been thinking about whether there are any benefits to using pharmaceutical drugs. I have blogger friends who are very much anti-pharmaceuticals anything, try to avoid drugs as much as possible but take them if necessary, or think pharmaceutical drugs are a Godsend.

I’m still trying to figure out where I stand.

Pharmaceutical companies are in the business of making money. It is not to their advantage to put out completely shoddy products that do not work. I’m sure many of them bury negative data and findings that do not shed a positive light on their drugs but if something works overall, they’ll put it out there. I don’t believe the doctors who are involved in these trials are all dirty, rotten sell-outs. Some of them are very well-meaning and honest who work to make these drugs as effective as possible. Call me naïve if you like but I just can’t bring myself to believe there are more greedy docs who skew results than there are those who are concerned with advancement.

I don’t think twice about popping Excedrin Migraine when I’ve got a painful, debilitating migraine; I have no problem taking naproxen (aka Aleve) when I’ve got menstrual cramps, and taking ibuprofen isn’t an issue if I have severe muscle pain. I don’t question the safety of these drugs. I’ve used them for so long, they’ve proven to be relatively safe for me (not everyone can tolerate those drugs) and efficacious. The safety risk of taking Excedrin Migraine sometimes outweighs the benefits of not taking it. (Note: I only speak of adults in terms of ingesting this kind of medication.I don’t believe developing bodies, such as youngsters, are able to handle medication that can significantly affect mood.)

When it comes to psych meds, I am not anti-medication. Psych meds should be taken on a case-by-case basis. There are some people who consider these meds to be a life-saver while others complain that it has made them miserable and worsened their lives. This is the gamble people take when choosing to ingest a psych med—most people don’t know that. Trouble is, most people don’t know when the stakes are high enough to take that risk.

I shouldn’t be in a position to judge anyone but when I hear people taking antidepressants based on circumstances—a job loss, failed relationship, loss of a life—I worry that it’s unnecessary. We are becoming a nation that is more reliant on “quick fixes” rather than developing coping mechanisms. It’s easier to pop a pill and dull your emotions than it is to face problems, tackle issues head on, and learn to work your way through it. Case in point: rising unemployment hasn’t slowed sales of antidepressants or sleeping pills.

  • I have an aunt who was a violent paranoid-schizophrenic. She was placed in a mental institution and drugged up the wazoo. Now, she’s basically existing; the lights are on but no one’s home. The drugs have killed her. She’s alive but not really.
  • My father was a non-violent paranoid-schizophrenic. It got to the point where we needed to medicate him to get him on track. The medication helped him to function “normally” but his thought processes and physical ability was significantly slowed. He once told me that he felt useless because my mother was busting her butt at work to pay for my college and he was basically an invalid because his mental illness had prevented him from being able to work. He died 4 months later. A few days after the funeral, my mom began to find his psych meds hidden all around the house. I often wonder if the drugs killed him.
  • Another aunt (this is all on the paternal side of the family) also became a paranoid-schizophrenic. She was a brilliant woman who was basically reduced to moving from place to place to the point where she eventually became homeless and could not hold down a job. She disappeared for a while but during one cold winter, was found and brought into a homeless shelter. She was placed on meds and her cognitive functions returned despite the fact that her speech was sometimes garbled. She traveled the world, went on cruises and various excursions. The change was remarkable. Psych meds improved her life and saved her—the benefits of the drugs outweighed the side effects.

As I withdraw from Lamictal, I am curious to see who I am without this drug. Will my creative juices flow freely once again or are they now somewhat hindered? Will my cognitive functioning correct itself or will I forever suffer from problems? Will my short-term memory loss issues smooth out or will I still suffer from intermittent forgetfulness? I have some side effects that may remain with me for a while or perhaps forever (though I hope not) but seeing others fully recover after taking drugs for 10 times longer than I have gives me hope.

I feel the majority of my progress has come from intensive counseling and being infused with the truths as laid out in the Bible. I’d say 90% of my progress has been due to counseling. I give the meds 10%. You can tell I don’t place much stock in them. But they’ve helped to cut down on the mixed episodes.

So far, I haven’t had any suicidal thoughts are behaviors that are out of the ordinary. (Thank GOD.) I’ve been dealing with a mild depression but that stems from basing my worth based off of my career rather than any biological imbalances. The last time I suffered a severe depression, I was on Lexapro (if that tells you anything).

I’ve gotten a lot of resistance and concern from family members who question my decision to come off of the medication. They’ve seen a miraculous change in me and attribute it to being on meds. Meds aren’t a cure-all. They don’t see the counseling and shifting of thought processes going on that has helped me to develop coping mechanisms. Meds may help people “cope” but they don’t develop the tools needed to cope.

I’ve decided that I’ll probably give that Christian psychiatrist a call. My counselor recommended him and she said that he’s very neutral on meds and doesn’t shove them on anyone. I mentioned that I wasn’t sure if anyone would accept me as a patient only to lose me in the end—she insisted he wouldn’t mind. The intake cost is hefty but since I was able to temp a few days for my job this week—I’m not permanently returning, I can swing it.

Which brings me back to my position on psych meds: I said it earlier but I think it’s a case-by-case basis. In my personal life, I’ve seen the benefits outweigh the side effects and I’ve seen the side effects outweigh the benefits. And I’ve seen benefits (not necessarily beneficial) as a result of side effects. Psychiatry is the biggest medical guessing game of all medical specialties. There are no certainties, and there’s no one medication that works best for everyone. Pharmaceutical companies make it a point to put the disclaimer on the patient information sheet that they’re not exactly sure HOW these drugs work. All that stuff about serotonin, dopamine, and neurotransmitters is pure speculation when it comes to depression. You’ll have me convinced about chemical imbalances once I can get a MRI and blood test done. Until then, it’s all trial-and-error.

So if I do suffer from relapses while withdrawing from this medication and it gets to the point where I may need to be hospitalized, I’m not averse to remaining on the drug. Better to be alive and on a psych drug than dead because I was determined not to use it at risk to my safety. If I end up having to stay on the drug, the future of giving birth to children will seem a bit more uncertain.

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Christian counseling: Nouthetic vs. Biblical

Last night, I spent some time on the phone with my husband’s friend’s sister (aka my former pastor’s sister). We’ll call her Natalie.

Natalie was very sweet and kind, really encouraging and strengthening me by sharing her testimony of faith in God. She suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, which has led her to take Paxil (on and off) for the past 7 years. She says the drug has helped her tremendously and who am I to knock the drug (knowing what I know about Paxil/Seroxat) when she has seen the wonders that it has worked in her life?

I briefly explained my story of depression, history of suicide, and diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Although she couldn’t fully relate, she was very sympathetic and understanding. In fact, our conversation was so fruitful, I ended up taking notes!

Jay AdamsWe briefly touched on the issue of Nouthetic counseling (NC). She has undergone the course and simply needs to be certified. The counselor I currently see is associated with the Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF), which has roots in NC and was founded by the man—Jay Adams—who developed the method. However, CCEF is now known for what is called biblical counseling. The organization has since moved away from pure Nouthetic methods and become more a bit more varied, taking bits and pieces of psychology (and perhaps psychiatry) that line up with the Bible. Adams, disagreeing with the organization’s approach, founded the Institute for Nouthetic Studies and uses the Bible as the sole counseling textbook. According to the wiki entry on Nouthetic counseling, Adams developed the word Nouthetic based on the “New Testament Greek word noutheteō (νουθετέω), which can be variously translated as ‘admonish,’ ‘warn,’ ‘correct,’ ‘exhort,’ or ‘instruct.'”

NC was developed back in the ’70s as a response to the popularity of psychology/psychiatry. Many Christians reject some of the teachings of such popular psychologists as Freud, Jung, Adler, Maslow, etc. Adams’ highly successful book, Competent to Counsel, criticizes the psychology industry and counters its teaching with a Nouthetic approach.

But NC has its Christian critics.

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Generic Lamictal (lamotrigine)

I'm on "Day I-don't-know" of lamotrigine (generic Lamictal). It's been at least 2 weeks. I haven't had any significant side effects except for extreme fatigue. I am often tired. Some days, I can give myself a boost of energy by playing the Wii Fit (which I snagged Saturday afternoon) and other days, exercising just wears me to out to the point where I head to the shower and then to bed. I can have 3 cups of coffee, never become fully awake, and still go to sleep at a decent time.

I'm still not sleeping well. Haven't slept well since before I went into the hospital in October 2006. I can't remember the last time I had truly restful sleep.

My symptoms remain at bay. I haven't had many suicidal thoughts or impulses. In fact, some days, I can go without thinking about suicide at all. I can't say it's all the medicine — my counseling and faith play a much bigger role — but I'm sure the medicine helps.

I've recently noticed that I'm not suffering from as much social anxiety. Again, I don't know if this is due so much to the medication as it is to the resurgence of my spiritual life. I ventured out on Sunday to a meetup writers workshop group that I'd never been to before. It was extremely weird. Not the situation, but the fact that I walked into a room full of strangers, made myself comfortable on the couch at the coffeehouse and offered input quite freely without worrying about what the others thought of me. I even had the audacity to network with a woman who works at a trade magazine in the area. How strange. I don't have balls. This is not me.

What the heck has happened to me?

The Era of Quick Fixes

Pink Magazine: Out of DarknessPink magazine has an article called “Out of Darkness” on high-powered, successful women (likely in corporate America) who suffer from depression and try to hide it. There’s an online exclusive but the actual article can only be read in the print version of the magazine.

Apart from the three resourceful sidebars accompanying the article, the one thing that I felt was missing from the article more of an emphasis on psychotherapy. The article seemed to focus heavily on women whose condition improved as a result of medication. There appears to be only one mention of a women whose condition improved with psychotherapy and medication.

While I understand that medication can be an important factor in assisting those with mental illness to recovery, it should not be the sole form of treatment. Mental illness does not only involve the chemical/biological activity of the brain, but it also involves the psyche — the part of us that comprises of our personalities and behaviors. This is why cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialetical behavioral therapy (DBT), among other forms of treatment, can be so beneficial. I’m not a fan of being on medication but I feel that 80 percent of my recovery comes from my weekly Christian counseling sessions. Therapy, medication, or other forms of treatment are not cure-alls, and I’m concerned when I read that people rely solely on medication for treatment. These are the people who are most likely to suffer relapses because after a while, their medication just “stops working.”

Most people today are looking for a “quick fix.” We do this with weight loss (alli), food (McDonald’s), exercise (Fast Abs), and so much more. Then, it should be no surprise that people desire a quick fix to control their emotions. Some people use illegal drugs to dull the emotional pain in their life. Is it possible that psychotropics are the “legal” drugs that accomplish the same purpose?

Light posting again

POSTING
Posting may be light through Friday as I’m proofing an ENTIRE website — medication-related, actually — and making all the web copy is correct, the links work, and that the design/layout isn’t funky. Since it’s a website, it’s a huge job and it may take me until Friday. Here’s an example (not the real site I’m working on) of the monstrosity of the kind of work I’m doing.  I’m proofing every single piece of text on every page.  Funny thing is, I don’t mind. I love what I do.

PSYCHIATRIST APPOINTMENT
I have my psychiatrist appointment at 3:30 pm so I might be able to get a quick post in to let you know what happens. He’ll probably be concerned that I didn’t take my Abilify, but I just stopped taking fexofenadine (Allegra’s generic equivalent) and have begun to drop weight. I don’t need Abilify to help me pack it back on it again. I can do it quite easily with the help of the amazing bakery across the street.

COUNSELING
I had counseling last night but will be going again next week. I usually go once every two weeks, but my counselor is concerned since I’m having a consistent reoccurrence of suicidal thoughts. Even when I’m in a good mood, I still think of finding a way to kill myself. That’s not depression so much as it is my negative way of thinking. However, it’s still cause for concern considering that dwelling on the idea could actually lead to another attempt.

RISPERDAL WITHDRAWAL
I’ve read a few blogs in which people are enduring Risperdal withdrawal. I have a friend who’s currently coming off of Risperdal because her blood sugar is so high. She’s been on it for years. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t want to take an antipsychotic. Doctors put patients on it for long-term maintenance when most of the clinical trials have only studied short-term effects.

LAYOUT
I’ve become dissatisfied with how narrow the layout is on my blog so it’s possible that if you visit the site, it’ll look funky every now and then as I play around with it and decide on one I like. I’m not an expert with CSS so I tinker with it until I’m satisfied. I’d like my text area wide enough to post YouTube videos and pictures without them getting cut off. Just letting you know so you don’t wonder what happened to your browser.

FURIOUS SEASONS
Last but not least, if you like this blog, then please go to this one and donate $1, $2, or $5. If you know me in person, please donate as well. (I made a plea about this last week.) That blog provides me with inspiration to keep on going.  You can donate to Philip Dawdy via PayPal, check, or money order. (I guess you could send cash too but that’s never recommended.) Philip’s blog, Furious Seasons, has helped many people in the mental health community including myself.

CCEF: Ed Welch on Self-Injury

I’ve talked about how I get biweekly counseling from CCEF (Christian Counseling Education Foundation) in the past. I attended the foundation’s annual conference last year and have since received their bimonthly newsletters. This month, Ed Welch, licensed psychologist and author of more than more than six books and booklets (some of which are on my Helpful Reading list to the left), wrote an article about self-injury and the relief that comes from the pain. Obviously, he doesn’t advocate it but delves into the thought processes behind it and how to work on controlling the urge with God’s help. Here’s an excerpt.

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Celebrity Sensitivity: J.K. Rowling

J. K. RowlingFamed author of the “Harry Potter” series, J.K. Rowling admits that she suffered from suicidal thoughts after the breakdown of her first marriage when she was in her mid-20s. She attributes her recovery to “invaluable” counseling. There was no mention of her overcoming depression with medication in the article.

Another post on Celebrity Sensitivity either later or tomorrow…

Empathetic therapists

Read a good op-ed in New York Times on whether therapists need to have shared experiences with their patients to be a good therapist.

Well-intentioned but not completely right

medicating the brainI read this commentary from the Philly Inquirer on mental illness and the author insists that mental illnesses are all “chemical imbalances.” While I do think many mental illnesses are the result of chemical imbalances, some mental illnesses are not physical. Some mental illnesses come from a spiritual and/or psychological battle. There are many people who recover from mental illness without medication. If a chemical imbalance was the case for these people, they would never get better. Pharma companies have sold the American public and countless mental health organizations on the idea that millions of people suffer from a “chemical imbalance.” I don’t buy that – well, come to think of it, actually, I do – my dollars contribute to Wyeth and GlaxoSmithKline‘s profits.

After suffering from bipolar disorder (or depression, depending on which psychiatrist I listen to) for 10 years, my husband and I are leaning toward the “chemical imbalance” theory that many doctors and pharmaceutical companies push. But a person who is depressed over a temporary situation does NOT have a chemical imbalance and simply may need psychological counseling.

America is overmedicated, drugged-up, and the victims of the smartest ad campaigns from pharma companies. What concerns me even more is that the FDA and mental health organizations like NIMH buy into many of the pharmaceutical companies’ lies and tactics. What further concerns me are the doctors involved in clinical trials who fail to disclose their affiliations with many of these pharmaceutical companies.

So yes, chemical imbalances do exist for many people. Millions? It’s possible. But unlikely. And I could go off on another rant about how PCPs shouldn’t be prescribing psych meds, but I’ll leave that argument for another day.