What Meds Do We Take?
In this episode of Schizophrenia and the City, Michelle Hammer and Cecilia McGough answer the very commonly asked question “What meds do they take?” Well, not quite. Rather, they discuss the reasons why they don’t typically answer that question. People who ask that question are usually asking because they want to try taking or prescribing that medication themselves, but meds are unique to each person and it is not a good idea to bias someone towards a medication that may not work for them. Sometimes people with psychosis won’t even take medications at all. Even if the medications do work for another person, it is still a conversation more suited to the confidential environment of the clinic.
Without mentioning specific medication names, some side effects of medications for Michelle included akathisia, or “A feeling of muscle quivering, restlessness, and inability to sit still, sometimes a side effect of antipsychotic or antidepressant medication,” according to Mayo Clinic. It was extremely uncomfortable and stressful, and the doctors could not identify it until years later, when she described it to her doctor and he casually remarked that it was akathisia and that it could be fixed simply by taking another medication – very frustrating indeed. She also experienced sexual side effects and weight gain. Cecilia also experienced weight gain, which was even worse for her because of the eating disorder that she had even before being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Combined with the fatigue side effect, which was harmful if she needed to stay up and study, she would often not take her medications.
Michelle’s relationship with medications has always been tenuous. When she was misdiagnosed with bipolar at 18, she was prescribed medications, but was not told about any side effects or how to know if they were working. The side effect that Michelle experienced was depression – she went from being energetic and loud to being subdued and quiet. However, Michelle did not realize that the medication was not right for her, because she had not been told how the medication should be making her feel. This happened many times in college, and Michelle ended up going through many medications because she had no idea what to expect from them. The doctors were hearing Michelle, but they were not listening, and for that reason Michelle had so many bad experiences with her medications. It is important that doctors not only tell things to their patients, but that they also talk with them to reach an understanding. Cecilia abused her medications because they weren’t working for her – she would not take them to stay up at night, or take too many and sleep an entire day, which strained her relationships. Her friends were concerned, but it was an unstoppable habit, all because her medications were not right.
What are Michelle’s and Cecilia’s advice for finding the right medications? Firstly, advocate for yourself. Do not do what the doctor says if you feel differently. If you don’t like a medication, tell that to your doctor. After all, you know yourself better than any other person. Secondly, communicate with the doctor. Just as the doctor has the theoretical expertise, you have the real life experience, and both are necessary to make informed decisions about medication. Thirdly, do not expect medications to completely erase all symptoms. Try to find the combination of medications that works best for you specifically. Fourthly, advocate. Speak with researchers and pharmaceutical companies about your own experiences, so that treatment options can be improved for all people with psychosis.
Michelle Hammer from Schizophrenic.NYC and Cecilia McGough from Students With Psychosis discuss their lived experience perspectives about medication in this week’s episode of Schizophrenia And The City.
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Schizophrenia And The City is a podcast and video series hosted by two New York City women.