Sometimes Drugs Work

And sometimes they don’t. Case in point:

A few weeks ago, I stopped taking Elvanse – a slow-release amphetamine licensed for ADHD and binge-eating disorder – after taking it every day for two and a half years.

I gave it a go. A good go. I wanted it to work. I really did. I tried different doses. I read about all the ways in which people’s ADHD medications help them. I wanted to be like the characters in those success stories. I even pretended to myself I was.

But after two and a half years, I had to admit that my life really wasn’t in any better shape than before. The meds hadn’t made it easier for me to manage my life. In fact in some ways they’d made my day-to-day existence more of a struggle. They certainly weren’t placebos – they had a dramatic effect on the way I felt. But this effect was a lateral move, not an improvement. I didn’t like the way I felt. So I told my psychiatrist I wanted to stop taking it.

My body and my brain didn’t like withdrawal. Amphetamine is a stimulant. Imagine getting used to a daily dose of what is essentially slow-release speed for a couple of years and then your nervous system suddenly having to find the energy to do everything from elsewhere. It’s been knackering. My motivation to do anything has been down the toilet. Some days it’s pretty much just been Seinfeld and a couple of meals.

I’m getting there, though. And in the meantime I have been prescribed Citalopram, an SSRI anti-depressant. One of the things I found with Elvanse – something I was perhaps over-eager to blame on caffeine a few months ago – was that once it wasn’t in my system, I realised how much depression it had been covering up. Like… so much. And so now I’m trying in earnest to attend to that.

It’s the third time in my life I’ve taken anti-depressants. The other two times (10 years ago and 3 years ago) they worked so well that – ha! – I convinced myself I didn’t need them any more after six months because I was feeling so much better. This time I think I’ll give them a lot longer. They work for me.

I’ve also been doing something I didn’t do the other times I took anti-depressants – taking advantage of an online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) course. It’s enlightening – frighteningly so, actually. I’m seeing just how irrational and illogical and unhelpful 99% of my thoughts are. I sit there nodding at my screen and wondering whether to laugh or cry. It’d be funny if it weren’t so… no, it’s mostly just funny.

Well, I know you didn’t ask, but I thought I’d share what’s been going on with me. The only lesson I hope you take away is that your body (which of course includes your brain) is an incredibly complex mechanism, one that is always trying to return to some kind of equilibrium, and that through no fault of your own all sorts of things can go awry with it.

Sometimes drugs work. Sometimes they don’t. But try – with your doctor – to judge whether or not they’re for you by results, not with a value judgment. You’re not weak if you take them, you’re not strong if you don’t. If you were ill in any other way, you wouldn’t refuse treatment. Why is your mind any different?

Remember: you don’t get extra points for recovering without help. You just make it harder on yourself and those around you, and you make it far less likely that you actually will recover.


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