What to do About Mental Health Medication Side Effects and Complications

A few months ago, I made the decision to start medication in efforts to treat borderline personality disorder and schizoaffective disorder. My psychiatrist finished updating my diagnosis and asked if I was "sick and tired of being sick and tired." Medication was the answer.

Within a few days of taking my new medication, I was living a life with minimal intrusions and decreased irrational fears. But the price of my medication was that I had nightly panic attacks, along with horrific akathisia (full body restless leg syndrome while exhausted and a nagging need to pace around the house). I also couldn't get enough sleep- 10 hours per night and I was still exhausted. 

On the positive, my moods stabilized. I stopped hallucinating. My flashbacks were less intense and I was able to recognize my emotions on a gray level. The issue came when I didn't know whether these positives were worth my nightly terrors.

Having the conversation with your medication provider

I was 13 when I visited my first psychiatrist, who prescribed me an antidepressant and antipsychotic. The antidepressants made me numb, but also irritable. I couldn't feel anything and it was scary. She decided to continuously up my dose of the antidepressant until I realized what was happening. If there was any sort of complaint or concern, she answered it by increasing the dose.

Looking back, I definitely don't feel like she was actually listening to my concerns.

And it's okay to seek a new psychiatrist if you don't feel like you're getting the help you need. You never owe your psychiatrist anything. Try not to feel like you are being entitled or ungrateful, if the medication they prescribed is not working for you. Side effects are serious.

My current psychiatrist is different. We spend 5-10 minutes discussing how the medication has been effecting me and he adjusts or leaves my medication alone, depending on what we talked about. He also respects my fear of being on medication so we take it slow. After I told him about the panic and akathisia, he prescribed me another medication to help calm it down.

It's a good idea to let your psychiatrist know your worries and concerns. 

Tracking how medication makes you feel

Track your progress while you're on medication. Write a word or two about your feelings. 

I like to track my daily moods inside a small bullet journal. Alongside, I also track how my medication is making me feel. I learned about my increased panic as I wrote down how bad things were progressively getting. 

You don't have to make a fancy journal, if that's not your thing. A simple 0-5 rating of your mood plus listing down the intensity of any side effects, is enough.

If phone trackers are more your thing, try Moodtrack.

Remember that medication works differently for everyone

A good friend of mine swears by her Prozac. She's been taking it for several years and she has made great progress with her depression. Unfortunately, Prozac was the worst medication I ever tried. I was irritable, suicidal, and numb when I was on Prozac. 

But don't let horror stories scare you. Remember that your body works differently from everyone else's. Medication that helped even blood family, may not work for you, and something they hated could be your perfect medication.

Be courageous and talk to your psychiatrist if your medication is giving you bad side effects. Discuss your options. That's the best route to take.

Do you deal with bad side effects on your medication?

-F