June 10, 2020

I was at a recovery meeting the other night, and the issue of psychotropic medication came up. In this case, the question was about Adderall being prescribed for ADHD. The person in recovery had used meth as his favorite escape vehicle, so the issue was a live one. Without wanting to go into detail, the group’s sense seemed to be:

-Be careful

-Be aware of your emotional motives

-If you need to reconsider this, do it with your doctor

As regular readers know, I’ve lived with mental illness for as long as I can remember, primarily depression and suicidal thoughts/actions. Giving up drugs and alcohol has greatly helped this, and so has a prescription for sertraline, an antidepressant which increases the amount of serotonin in the brain. Taking my daily dose before getting into the shower each morning doesn’t guarantee I’m not going to feel depression during the day, doesn’t prevent me from having depressed ideas, doesn’t act as a screen to keep in only happy thoughts while shooing away sad ones.

Sertraline seems to keep me from sinking so low I can’t use the mental tools I’ve learned to help myself. For example, when the black dog of depression settles in, it’s easy for me to think all I’ve done in life is a bad joke. When I’ve taken my medication as prescribed, I’m able to remember how powerful gratitude is and, most times, steer myself right back up to feeling okay.

Coming up with a simile for life is probably a fool’s errand. When Forrest Gump declared, “Life is like a box of chocolates . . .” I immediately wanted to finish that sentence with:

“When it’s thrown away all that’s left is paper shells”

Or

“It’s filled with experiences that feel good at first but lead to nausea”

Or

“It’s pathetic to go through it alone”

{Full Disclosure: I am one of the 3% of Americans who don’t like “Forrest Gump.” That’s not really true, though, for I’ve never been able to watch all of the movie. I give up in dismay at the emotional manipulation.}

Life is not like anything. Life is life. It is sui generis. It is unique.

That said, life is like a bicycle ride, with the bicycle being your mind, body and spirit, or your pedals, wheels and steering. My depression makes my steering wobbly. When depressed my spirit can wobble so much I’m in danger of riding into ditches. My sertraline, as prescribed and overseen by a doctor, is like taking a soda can and some tin snips and making a custom shim to slide into the head tube of my life’s bicycle, tightening the steering without in any other changing the bike.

Same rider. Same bike. Better steering. Better ride.

Abusing drugs or alcohol is a bad idea and can lead to riding into ditches, oncoming traffic or a grave. I am not a person who can use drugs or alcohol in safety. Period.

Taking antidepressants (or antipsychotics or antianxiety or any other psychotropic medication) as prescribed is a good idea for me. I can’t prove they’ve helped save my life, but I know it’s true. If you’re living with mental illness and have been prescribed medication, please take it as prescribed, please check your emotional motives and please work with your doctor if you feel you need to change things.

I want all of us to enjoy our recovery and stay out of ditches.

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith