Managing Mental Illness without Medication

Over the past few months, I have been living without medication. There are a vast amount of reasons for this, which I went over in a previous article called The Trouble with Medication.

So far, I am very happy with the outcome of this decision as the benefits outweigh the disadvantages by far in my opinion. When taking medication, all I have experienced is the negative side effects of that medication without seeing any improvement in my disorder. Since stopping medication, I have a clearer mind and seemingly better cognitive function, although that is still hindered by the illness itself, it’s no longer as intense as when I was using medication. I feel both better in myself physically and mentally; and of course, with no medication, there is no side effects. Therefore it makes sense to me to cease all consumption of medication, and manage my illness in other ways.

I tend to manage my illness through mindfulness and physical activities like yoga, going for walks amongst nature, art and other things. Meditation and mindfulness have been a great tool in learning to manage my illness without medication as it provides me with the insight I need to recognize unhealthy thought patterns and when I am going into an episode. Therefore being able to prevent such things from happening. I find keeping myself occupied is also extremely helpful, as it stops the mind from wandering down all crazy paths, and keeps unnecessary thoughts away.

However, as expected with mental illness, this is not always the case; and that is what brings me to the disadvantages. Without medication my psychosis and mood disorder are still apparent, although they are controlled at the moment, it is very possible for me to have a ‘relapse’ at any point. I use inverted commas because I do not believe I relapse as such, rather I have never been stable but the illness becomes less severe at times.

Although my current psychiatrist respects this decision, she believes that I need another severe episode to occur then I’ll be convinced to take medication for life. I strongly disagree with this. I’d prefer to ride the wave and experience all of life, than become the hollow shell I once was due to medication.

Managing mental illness without medication is a huge learning curve, but it is possible and can be done successfully. Which is what I intend to keep doing, however it is important to be aware that many different people use many different methods in order to manage their mental illness, and that each methods effectiveness can vary from person to person. Therefore if you have found a way to successfully manage your mental illness with or without medication, that is what I recommend you keep doing.

The Trouble with Medication

I have been having a lot of trouble with medication, including both antidepressants and antipsychotics. This is my personal view, it in no way means that you will have the same experience or that you should cease to take your medication.

First of all, each time you take a new medication or switch medications, you’re left with the 6 – 8 weeks waiting period before they begin to take full effect. That typically means around 8 weeks of hell before you start to get better, and that’s if the medication you are taking is right for you. As a lot of the time, it’s merely a guessing game until your find the right medication or mix of medications that work for you. I am yet to find that medication. Dosage changes can also have a big impact on how the medication will effect a person; I know many people who were fine with a medication to have the dosage increased and then they are unable to continue to take it. The side effects of antidepressants and antipsychotics can be enough to make people not want to take them, although the side effects are different for everyone. Finally, the medication may work for a person for a certain length of time, then cease to work, making them change medications and once again participate in the guessing game of finding the correct one.

The first medication I had a bad experience with was Prozac which is an antidepressant. As I am prone to severe manic episodes which can be triggered by almost anything and everything, I should never have been placed on an antidepressant in the first place. I had at least 4 appointments with my psychiatrist cancelled consecutively, which left me on Prozac for 2 or 3 months; during which I lost almost all of my money, weight and pretty much anything good in my life at the time.

After that, I found myself threatened with hospitalization in order to ‘correct’ my medication. I refused, and was put on an antipsychotic called Seroquel. My experience with Seroquel hasn’t been all that great due to the fact that it has no effect and is useless to me. The longer I am on it the more my brain feels like it is ‘shutting down’. I personally feel that it is doing just as much if not more damage to my brain than the disorder itself. This is another issue that concerns me with antipsychotics, brain damage and brain shrinkage caused by the medicine which has been shown in multiple studies.

As I also suffer from extremely severe insomnia, I have been given a vast variety of sleeping tablets and benzodiazepines which also have taken no effect on myself.

All of the above is what is leading me to question the effectiveness of medication, although I could continue in the search for the right medication it does seem pointless so far. Which leaves me with the option of living through hell or being brain dead (due to years of medication). Stuck between a rock and hard place here.