This is the final in the series of all-about-psychotropics: how to stay on your medications and hang in there.
Perhaps the toughest part of staying on a medication is getting through the first few weeks. There’s little reward out of it because of the initial side effects that can be bothersome. Now, there’s no point at all staying on a medication where you only get side effects and zero benefit, right? I mean, who wants to be depressed, have dry mouth and itching all at once?
Typically these side effects go away within the first two to three weeks. So at first, just monitor the effects. If you find them intolerable or you discover a scary side effect, contact your prescriber right away. You might have to stop taking that medication and switch to something else.
One of the things I used to do with my patients at the hospital is ask them to keep a journal that monitored the following:
- Mood. How do I feel today? Numb, sad, happy, giddy, euphoric, angry, or what? Was I all over the map emotionally, or did I feel stable?
- Side effects. Dry mouth? Aches? Skin crawling? Anything totally out of the ordinary? Anything scary? Scary or highly unusual needs to be reported immediately.
- Interpersonal interactions. Did I get irritable with others? How did I take bad news? How did I take good news? Did I find a supportive person? Is there someone being toxic that perhaps is interfering with my recovery?
- Menstrual cycle. Obviously this would only apply to those who menstruate, but many who still have their cycle find that their mood can fluctuate greatly depending where they’re at. So, what day am I on? Do I find a pattern before menstruation that my mood is off?
- Diet. Rather than keeping track of calories and fat or anything like that, this is meant to see if there is any correlation between what I’m eating and what I’m feeling.
This doesn’t have to be an elaborate journal. In fact, it can look something like this:
- Mood: wiped out.
- Side effects: Itchy, dry mouth.
- Interpersonal interactions: Jane Doe is yelling at me about not doing the dishes.
- Menstrual cycle: Day 20.
- Diet: Ate pizza for breakfast, no candy today. Lunch was a cup of soup and half a sandwich. Ate vegetables for dinner. Felt snacks at night so had a bowl of chips.
That’s all. Just something to mark the day and help you keep track of what’s going on while you’re on your new medication. Some people give this up after a few months, and others find it’s a great tool to use in the long term.
After you’re over the initial side effects, this journal can be a helpful way to see if your medication is still working and when it’s time to go in for a medication check. Yes, most psychiatrists will give you periodical med checks whether you need them or not as it’s their duty of care to make sure you’re on the right track. But this is for you, to empower you and allow you to take charge of your own care—to work as a partner with your therapist and prescriber. Too often people feel they are at the mercy of their providers, and nothing could be further from the truth. You get the final say in what works for you and what doesn’t.
Of course, that doesn’t mean ignoring what your prescriber says. What it does mean is that you deserve to take control of your health and make sure you’re getting the right medicine in the right amount for your condition, age, weight/height, and physiology.
Knowing what to look for in your journal can help you determine what’s working, what’s not working, and what’s stopped working. For example, if you have a low mood or high anxiety for a couple of weeks, but your med check isn’t for another month, you can pick up the phone and push to get an earlier appointment.
That journal can be your indicator of what’s working and what needs to change.
Another source of Keepin’ On? Your family and friends who are supportive of you. Ask them to be part of your inner circle. They can be your network that you trust to have your best interests at heart. If they notice you’ve been irritable lately but you haven’t noticed, take stock of their opinion. Ask for examples. Reflect on it and have them help you. They can also do practical things to help, such as taking you to the doctor’s office, the pharmacy, etc. Going it alone can be difficult. Having support can make a huge difference in your recovery and wellness.
Developing a method that works for you is important, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to do things perfectly. There is no perfect. There is what works for you and what doesn’t. So fail rapidly to get to the things that work so that you can get back to your best functioning.
You are worth it.
This post is not a substitute for professional medical advice. This post is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment.