“Medication doesn’t make us superhuman; it just allows us to be functional human beings.”
Taking medication for mental illness is a common treatment option, and no single experience is the same.
So we asked the BuzzFeed Community to share what their experiences have been with taking medication for mental illness — what they wish people knew and what misperceptions they'd like to clear up. Here's what they want you to know.
Note: Always consult with a doctor about your personal health and wellness. BuzzFeed posts are for informational purposes only and are no substitute for a medical diagnosis, treatment, or professional medical advice.
Needing medication for a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re weak; it just means you have a condition that medication can help. Simple as that.
“It took me years to accept the fact that my depression was a legitimate thing, and that I should treat it as such. Some people say things like, 'Oh, try meditation' or 'Change your diet instead of just resorting to drugs.' Well, here's the thing. What's going on in my head is an actual chemical imbalance in the brain. It's not a bad mood, it's a real medical issue.”
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And taking an antipsychotic medication doesn’t make you a “psychopath” or a danger to society.
“It's just the name of a drug class that can be used to treat anything from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder to severe anxiety. We aren't a danger to society, and we're not 'psychos' — we're just folks struggling with an illness.“
—Melanie Schneiderman, Facebook
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It’s just like taking medication for any physical illness.
“I was diagnosed with depression seven years ago, and then with bipolar disorder three years ago. Even though it took a lot of trial and error to find the right meds for me, I've never been more stable, or felt more like myself! If I accidentally miss a dose, I notice how reliant I am upon them, which can be a little scary. But it's also a huge relief to know that I have them. The common analogy to use is: diabetics need insulin to survive, and they rely on those every single day. So why should use of psychiatric meds be any different? I don't have to live in a horribly dark battle every single moment of every single day anymore. Now, those battles are far and few between, and I am SO eternally grateful.”
—Cara Niedergall, Facebook
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Getting on the right combination of medications and dosages could be a long process of trial and error.
“I've tried so many different medications. It takes time to test the waters and find what's right for you, and, to be honest, it's tiring. But once you find the right combo, you'll start to feel a difference.”
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Sometimes, it can take a few months for the effects of the medicine to kick in — it’s different for everyone.
“I take Sertraline (Zoloft) every day. I was expecting to have some kind of amazing overnight transformation. But it actually took a few months before it kicked in and I started functioning normally again. Before, my anxiety, depression, and OCD were so bad that I was terrified to leave the house. I didn't really feel as if I was 'there' most of the time. Now, I basically see myself as functioning in the same way a neurotypical person would.”
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And some meds can have a lot of different side effects.
“I have bipolar disorder, and have tried 20 different medications. Some of them have horrible side effects that are hard to deal with and disrupt daily life, like weight gain, muscle twitching, hot flashes, and excessive sleepiness. But unmanaged bipolar disorder is also really difficult to live with.
Now that I've found the right medications (that are effective for me and have minimal side effects), my mood is relatively stable and I'm able to study, work, and maintain a social life again. While I don't like taking medication every day, and I don't like the idea of doing this forever, I am grateful that I can function healthily now.”
The purpose of medication is not to magically get rid of your mental illness.
“Being on medication has been liberating. After much trial and error, I have finally found the right medicine that mostly helps my anxiety/depression. I used to feel so trapped that I couldn't even get out of bed. Now I feel like I'm free. My days aren't magically perfect, but it's a hell of a lot better than how it used to be. People have this weird assumption that if you're medicated, then you're cured. But meds just help you cope with day-to-day things.“
Or give you ~superhuman~ abilities.
“Being on prescribed medication in college for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the worst. I have to hide my medication in a lock box because everyone thinks it will help them get better grades in school. This leads people to believe my high grades and achievements are not from hard work, but from taking a little pill every day. My medication doesn't make me ~superhuman~. It just allows me to function normally, like everyone else.”
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Medication is meant to get you to a place where you can feel OK every day.
“I suffered from severe anxiety and depression for most of my life, but didn't know what was going on for quite some time. I can remember having symptoms for about six years before I received an official diagnosis, and despite some pushback from my parents, I finally went on Lexapro about five years ago. Prior to the medication, I was an absolute wreck. My depression was truly consuming me in ways I didn't fully realize.
My most vivid memory was when I had been on my medication for about a month. I woke up one day, went to my mother and said, 'Mom, I finally feel normal again.' I was waking up every morning with a new outlook on life, like I had when I was a little kid. I finally feel like I can appreciate my life again, and actually participate instead of having my mental illnesses control me.”
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Just because a medicine works now, doesn’t mean it will work forever.
“Medicines that worked for you for so long in the past might not work anymore. That means you may need a change of medications. DO NOT feel discouraged when this happens! (Because it will.) Everyone goes through this. Just know it's always going to be a process. Don't give up!”
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Constantly taking your meds can make you feel dependent on them.
“I suffer from postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum anxiety (PPA), and bipolar disorder, and it's like an emotional roller coaster. Being medicated for a mental illness feels like I'm in a codependent relationship with my meds. You miss one pill for the day and your withdrawals could be far worse than the actual symptoms of your illness(es). It's like a never-ending cycle that you can't escape from.”
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But even if you don’t like taking them, stopping cold turkey could cause serious withdrawal symptoms — so talk to a doctor about tapering off of them.
“I first went on medication for my depression and anxiety when I was 16. It was like I could finally see the world in color again. I grew a tolerance for it and it stopped helping after a few years. If I didn't take it in the morning, I would get a terrible throbbing headache and sharp pains in different parts of my body.
When I was 20, I decided to go stop taking my medication because I didn't like having to be dependent on it. I tried to stop cold turkey (this is not doctor recommended), but the withdrawal pains were unbelievable and almost too much to handle. I've now been off them for about two years. You shouldn't feel ashamed to use medication to help with mental illness. You also shouldn't feel ashamed if you want to stop using them.”
Jenny Chang / Via buzzfeed.com
They could affect your sex life.
“I struggle with crippling generalized anxiety disorder and was prescribed Lexapro for it. The only downside to taking Lexapro was the anorgasmia — a type of sexual dysfunction in which a person cannot achieve orgasm despite adequate stimulation. It strongly affected my sex life and that was a downer. Ultimately, I decided to stop taking my medication. And while I still have anxious episodes, they're very sporadic.”
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Not being able to get your prescription refilled on time can be pretty scary.
“Currently, and this is not the first time, my insurance requires me to fill my anti-depressant through mail order, and I've run out before. Usually, going one or two days without them is okay. But right now, I've been off of them for a week and I'm still waiting on the shipment. The feeling is miserable. It's like my depression is taking over, plus I'm going through withdrawals. I'm constantly light-headed and feel like I'm going to faint, but somehow still have to do my daily things like work and live.”
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And so can a company discontinuing a medication that really works for you.
“For me, my medication was a miracle. I've been taking 125mg of a drug called Imipramine for 20 years to treat depression and anxiety disorder. For the first six weeks, when the clouds finally began to clear, I carried the bottle around in my purse just so that I could have a constant physical reminder that I was finally safe from my demons.
My greatest fear — more than heights, cancer, or job interviews — is that they'll stop making my drug. It's really old and barely used any more. That would be catastrophic for me.”
diamondsxdelusions / Instagram / Via Instagram: @diamondsxdelusions
Medication can help you get more out of therapy and put the strategies you learn there into practice.
“With my medication, I am able to use the strategies my therapist has taught me to manage my depression and anxiety, and, for the most part, function 'normally' in my day-to-day life. They gave me the boost I needed to be able start therapy. Meds helped my symptoms, but therapy taught me to how to effectively manage my depression.“
beingaborderline / Instagram / Via Instagram: @beingaborderline
You might only take medication as needed, rather than a daily dose.
“I've dealt with anxiety ever since I can remember. But it wasn't until I was 19 that I actually got help for it. I was nervous to go on medication because I personally preferred not to take them on a daily basis unless I absolutely had to. So, my doctor prescribed me with a pill I could take whenever my symptoms got particularly bad.
I can't count how many times that medication has helped me. I'd wake up with anxiety attacks for no given reason, and honestly, if I didn't have my pills for those cases, I wouldn't have been able to function.”
Or you may need to be on them every day for a long time, and that’s okay too.
“It wasn't until I ended up in the ER from a suicide attempt that I committed to taking medication. As much as I didn't want to rely on medication, I knew I had to in order to be healthy. The combination of two different medications has helped my depression and anxiety tremendously. Now, almost four years after being in the hospital, my psychiatrist is talking about tapering down my medication. I honestly never thought that would be possible.”
Chris Ritter / Via buzzfeed.com
All the costs for prescriptions and psychiatrist appointments can seriously add up.
“Everything is doctor prescribed and I can't afford $100+/hour to see a psychiatrist. I've been medicated twice and both times I had horrible side effects. Now I'm scared of trying again.”
—Niki Bahm, Facebook
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The ups and downs from trying different medications can be really tough on your relationships.
“Sometimes, you have to wait four to eight weeks to know if there's been an improvement or not. And if there isn't, you might have to start all over with a new medication. It can be hard to explain to your partner or family over and over that 'this may be the one,' and then it doesn't work. It's frustrating and scary because the whole time you're waiting, you and your loved ones are dealing with your symptoms. But, during this time, you'll only get stronger and learn more about yourself and your resilience.”
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But finding and taking the right meds could drastically improve them, too.
“As someone who takes a psychiatric drug (Sertraline), my life has improved 110%. I have major depressive disorder (MDD), and before taking Sertraline, I was horribly depressed and would shut everyone out. Now that I’m medicated, I actually talk to people again, all of my relationships have improved, and I've never felt better. I feel alive again.“
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Or help your doctor find the right diagnosis.
“I was on a combination of Prozac and Wellbutrin for anxiety and depression, since I was 11 years old. When I was 18, I was also diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and prescribed Abilify to help combat my mood swings and impulsive behaviors. For those 11 years, my emotions were less volatile. But I felt emotionally/mentally/physically dulled, as if I was living a 'half life,' and never part of my 'whole' self.
I'm now 22, and recently I was reevaluated by a different psychiatrist who diagnosed me with ADHD, inattentive type. She took me off of my antidepressants and anxiety medication and prescribed me Adderall. She believes that my anxiety and depression were consequences of my inability to concentrate, retain information, and complete tasks. I am now three months into treatment for ADHD and I have NEVER felt better.“
—Kate Cummings, Facebook
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People asking if you have ~extras~ that they can have or buy off you gets really old.
“It's so frustrating when people ask me if I have ~extras~ of my meds that they can have or buy. I don't get it. It's not like I'm taking these pills for fun. I wish I didn't have to take them every day — it'd honestly make life a lot cheaper. But every pill that I'm subscribed is needed to get me to my next refill. If I give some to you, then I may run out before I can get more, and that won't be pretty. When people ask, it makes me feel like they think I'm faking my mental illness and just taking my meds recreationally.”
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There are going to be people who don’t understand.
“Some people like to crack jokes about my sanity or shame me for needing help. I feel like I've received every remark there is at this point. There's such a stigma around meds that you only need them if you're ~crazy~. I've actually lost a handful of friends simply because they think that my disorders make me a bad person.”
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But there will also always be people who do.
“I've been taking medications for my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and mood disorders for years. I genuinely believe that finding the right medication and therapists saved my life. But even though they helped me, I always felt a little self-conscious about my meds. This stopped with my current boyfriend. He made me realize how important it is to have a supportive partner when struggling with mental illness. I remember the first time he saw me take my pills. I made a self-deprecating joke about it, and he said, “You taking your pills is like brushing your teeth. It's not a big deal. It takes care of you.” This kind of support, even little comments like that, can be so impactful.“
Most importantly, being on meds can help get you back to a baseline that feels right.
“It took me a long time to realize that my brain was not functioning normally and that my ~normal~ was actually crippling anxiety. Taking an SSRI has brought me back to being my old self again. I can sleep through the night for the first time in years, I can concentrate on tasks, and I can build relationships without second guessing my every move. Being medicated has made me start to love myself and have confidence in myself for the first time ever. It has completely changed my life.”
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Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
If you need to talk to someone immediately, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. Suicide helplines outside the US can be found here.
Follow along at BuzzFeed.com/MentalHealthWeek from Oct. 2 to Oct. 8, 2017.
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