Me and My Meds is a new Bustle series exploring the way millennials relate to their mental health medications — the good, the bad, the ambivalent.
When I was 10, I was diagnosed both with Asperger's syndrome and clinical depression. At the time, I’d never heard of Asperger’s. Obviously, now it’s much more well known, but back then — this was in 2000 — nobody I knew had ever heard of it. I have a history of mental health issues in my family, though, so this diagnosis wasn’t totally out of left field. Still, shout out to my parents for knowing there was something going on with me and insisting I be checked out by medical professionals.
My treatment team started me on Celexa and Seroquel pretty much right away. Celexa was prescribed to treat my clinical depression. Seroquel is an antipsychotic medication and it was helping me control the other psychiatric symptoms associated with my Asperger's diagnosis. Honestly, I don't have really clear memories of that time because I was so young when I started on these meds. Taking them was very much an everyday life sort of thing for me — I woke up and took my morning meds, kind of like how some people wake up and take their allergy meds. Before bed, I’d take my night meds. Other than that, I just lived my life. It was an easy routine to just follow, so I never thought about it much.
I've always felt fortunate for the support I received. I mean, even back in middle school, one of my good friends would get super excited anytime she saw my condition mentioned in a magazine she was reading. She’d call me and point it out: “Look, they're talking about Asperger’s. They’re saying Einstein had it,” or something like that. And I know it's not the standard, so I felt so extraordinarily blessed to have understanding people no matter when my Asperger’s has come up.
I know some people say, ‘You're not you on medication.’ This hasn’t been my experience at all.
However, as wonderful as it’s been to receive such warm support, I'd never known as an adult what it felt like to be “me” unmedicated. I’ve never met that person. I'd been on my meds so long that I'd never comprehended the difference they made to my life by taking them on a daily basis. When you wear glasses, you can see how blurry the world looks with your glasses off. When you use crutches, you can experience how painful it feels to put weight on your injured leg. It doesn’t work that way for the kinds of meds I was taking. They were so ever-present in my life that taking them felt like life itself.
One day during my senior year of college in the fall of 2011, the pharmacy I used messed up and didn’t get my refills done on time. They told me that it would take a few days until they could get everything taken care of. Honestly, I was kind of arrogant about it. I just thought, “Oh, that'll be fine. What can a few days off my meds do?” Well, a few days could do a lot, as I unfortunately discovered.
After I’d been off my meds for a day, I had a full-on meltdown. I had panic attacks. I couldn't make it to class. I could barely get out of bed. I was in hell. I remember one of the reasons it felt so strange was because I wasn't in a particularly stressful period of the semester. I wasn’t having any problems with friends or my studies or anything — but off my meds, I spiraled.
This was jarring, because I was so used to being in control of my emotions and feeling fairly normal. And for all of a sudden to feel like I had no control over my emotions or thinking was insanely scary. I mean, that was the first time since I was 10 that I hadn't been on my medication daily. I certainly had never been off of both of them for multiple days. I assumed my medication was helping to keep my mental health in check, but I didn't realize until that moment how instrumental they were in keeping me together. And I'm not on, like, super heavy doses, but being off them was enough to turn me into a pretzel for a week.
I know some people in my generation who still think of medication as dulling or severing your personality. They’ll say, “You're not you on medication.” This hasn’t been my experience at all. Instead, for me, I learned when I don't have my pills, I’m not me! I felt like an entirely different person. And I didn't like her. She was incapacitated. Just a total mess.
For me, it feels like my meds correct that little wonky bit in my brain so I can live a normal life. They don’t dull my personality — they allow me to have my personality and function day to day. If anyone doesn’t feel like their meds do that for them, I’d encourage them to contact their prescriber and adjust their dosage. I'm so grateful to have a world where I have this sort of support, both personal and medical, to make me feel like I can be a productive person.
Since this scary moment, I have a newfound respect for how powerful my meds are. I've been meticulous about taking them. I’m like a hawk when it comes to making sure I have refills on deck. I can’t risk that kind of event happening again. I’m 31 now. I have a full-time job. If I lost control like that again, it would be a disaster.
I don't tend to bring it up that I’m on medication unless it arises when talking to a friend in some organic way. But when taking medication does come up in a conversation — in a group text or online message board — I’ve been blown away by the compassion I’ve received. It's like everybody I speak with has this connection to medication; everybody has a story.