December 06, 2020

My Meds Story

Medication can be extremely helpful in managing symptoms of both physical and mental illnesses, but care needs to be taken  in prescribing and following patients. Doctor and patient awareness and advocacy are essential to managing and addressing side effects and unexpected outcomes, as outlined in our post here. In her story of a journey with meds that caused more pain than relief, Greta contributes her perspective From the Lived Experience.

By guest contributor Greta Stiritz Nagy

One time Anxiety came knocking on my door, and I let him in for a glass of wine. Depression begged to come with him, so he brought her to our next dinner date. Luckily, I found a psychiatrist, because they specialize in resolving your mental health detriments. For me, I needed to be happy and less worried. I needed to let go of my PTSD. I did not need to spin completely out of control in the span of six months. I never predicted that my stability could plummet so rapidly and to such a low point. I put my trust into a doctor that failed me. My psychiatrist needed money, and I needed medicine.

Before I continue with this story, I would like to emphasize that certainly not all psychiatrists are harmful. I currently meet with a wonderful woman, both caring and well versed in her medical and mental health knowledge. I feel grateful, comfortable, and truly as if this woman has saved my life. I think it is so important to de-stigmatize the use of medication for mental health needs. There are words and stereotypes that surround taking SSRIs or mood stabilizers, which cause individuals to shy away from taking them. There are also stories of manipulation in the psychiatric industry, which also induce fear in individuals. Although the story I’m about to share revolves around my first and most tragic experience with a psychiatrist, I am happily receiving safe help that is necessary for my happiness and well being.

Greta Stiritz Nagy

Years ago I went to this psychiatrist because I was having issues with PTSD. I didn’t even know what PTSD really meant. I just knew that I was having night terrors once again, and that simple things were triggering me. I hadn’t deciphered my mental health yet, but could safely postulate that anxiety and depression were involved. I knew I always felt at least a little unhappy or uncertain.

During our first session, the Doctor asked me what I liked to do. “Hang out with friends and play the piano.”

Then she asked me what I liked to eat.

“Miso soup and Mentos the most!”

She didn’t laugh at my lighthearted attempt at banter and building a connection. I felt awkward and judged.

My psychiatrist asked me what was wrong with me. That was the first red flag. It wasn’t a “so what brings you here?” question, or “so, what’s going on?”

“What’s wrong with you?”

What was wrong with me? I could hardly speak up in class. How was I supposed to manage to tell a woman I had known for ten minutes everything that made me feel sad or scared. I didn’t even know what was wrong with me! That was why I was there to see her in the first place.

I told her that I wasn’t quite sure. I explained to her that I had been having nightmares of past experiences. I told her that I thought I had anxiety and felt very sad for no reason very often. She told me to take Lexapro. I told her that I had trouble focusing because my thoughts were so intrusive. She told me to take Adderall.

Every morning I took Lexapro and Adderall. I did what the doctor told me to do because that’s what you learn from a young age right? You are taught that doctors know what is best for your health, and can cure you.

I didn’t feel anything from the Lexapro. I had no mood. It took away my personality and ill attempts at humor. Adderall, on the other hand, was a completely different story. I would take it in the morning and feel like I could conquer the world for the next three hours. I was on my A-game. Really. I would take meticulous notes in class, hold long conversations, and always want to get another task done. Adderall gave me a super power. Hours passed and the power slowly turned into an inescapable nightmare. I would begin to experience a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if something was very wrong. I felt debilitating sadness. All I wanted to do was get out of the come down, but I couldn’t. I always had to wait it out and push through the enfeebling anxiety in my chest, and crippling depression.

I called my psychiatrist to schedule another appointment. No availability for two weeks. I remember asking her on the phone if she had a few spare minutes to chat. She said she had none, and to continue taking the Adderall and Lexapro until I began to get used to it. She said it would work.

By the time our appointment came around, I had begun to rapidly lose weight. As someone who has a naturally speedy metabolism, this was not ideal or healthy. I entered her office and she weighed me. I was astonished at the weight that the scale read! My BMI was way too low. Dangerously low. I assumed she would automatically tell me that the Adderall was not good for me, as it was cutting my appetite. I didn’t even realize how little I had thought about eating in the past few weeks. There was no comment made by my psychiatrist. She told me to sit down, after jotting my concerning weight down on her iPad.

At the time, I wasn’t seeing a therapist regularly. I had my friends and family to talk to, but no professional mental health advisor. I only had this pill pusher. I told her that Adderall was making me sad for absolutely no reason. I told her about how horrible the come downs were, the weight concern, and the changes in my personality.

“Well, let’s switch you to Ritalin and add on Buspirone,” she said.

I didn’t know what any of these words meant. Even worse, I didn’t even know why I was being made to take these medications. I did know that I wanted my anxiety to lessen and my PTSD to lessen. I had never been diagnosed with ADHD, not even by her.

We set up a meeting for the following week. Thank god. Ritalin made me question why on earth I had ever complained about Adderall. Ritalin was Voldemort. Ritalin was constant needles jabbing at my chest. Ritalin was a living hell. Sure, the weight loss issue came to a halt. The anxiety was at an all time high. The insomnia. If I had thought I had depression before taking Ritalin, this confirmed that I hadn’t. When I went on this medication I felt what depression was. I had previously had nothing near this amount of sadness and irritability in my entire life, now for hours and hours each day.

Back to the office I went. My psychiatrist asked me how I was doing and I felt hopeless in trying to explain to her that the medications she was prescribing me were making me worse. I felt as if she wasn’t listening to me, and merely waiting for our fifteen minutes to be up so that she could get the payment and move onto the next patient. I didn’t feel cared for. I needed her help more than ever before though. I didn’t know how else to get out of the hole I had fallen into. I told her about the battle I was having with Ritilon. I started crying and telling her that before she had put me on these medications, I was so much different. She took me off of Lexapro and Buspirone, because “those were the issue.” She put me on Zoloft and a different stimulant. Vyvanse.

I left the office with little hope. I just wanted to get rid of the awful depression that the medicine had given me. Maybe this would help. Maybe this would help my anxiety and PTSD. Maybe this was finally the cure.

Four months later I decided to stop listening to my psychiatrist. I threw away the Vyvanse because I wasn’t eating again, but I continued to take the Zoloft.

I will say, Zoloft really did it for a while. My anxiety was manageable, I had lost the depressive behaviors, and I wasn’t struggling as much with PTSD.

Spoke too soon.

I told her that the Zoloft was helping me a lot. She told me that I needed to up the dose. It is so interesting how the word “psychiatrist” should insinuate that they know what is good for you. That they want to help you. There seems to be a trend in the world of psychiatry that is just the opposite. My psychiatrist was making upwards of 180 thousand dollars a year. She was making this much money at the cost of my mental health. Once a happy, carefree, and optimistic individual who wanted to be the best and healthiest I could be, I became more depressed and anxious than I ever imagined possible.

Later, I saw this and wondered… Amanda Cochran, a journalist with CBS, published an article: Does your doctor have ties to big pharma? How you’ll be able to find out. She spoke with Charlie Ornstein, a senior editor for the independent, non-profit newsroom ProPublica. “It’s illegal to give kickbacks to a doctor to prescribe drugs, but it is legal to give money to doctors to help promote your drug. Some doctors make tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year beyond their normal practice just for working with the industry,” Ornstein said. According to Ornstein, trust is a large factor that makes or breaks your experience with a psychiatrist: “When you go to your doctor, you trust that the doctor is giving the best medication for you, but there’s a lot of different interests that your doctor has to take in mind in prescribing you drugs,” he said. “It makes sense as you’re paying more and more for the cost of your medications that they’re trying cheaper alternatives first, a generic drug, for example or encouraging you to try non-medication alternatives to reach your goals perhaps first.”

Back to my real life experience. The increase in my Zoloft dosage produced thoughts in my mind that I didn’t think I was capable of experiencing. The depression was unmanageable, and at times I thought that the world would be a better place without me. I told her this. I told her how badly I wanted to get better, and how I believed the medications that she had been telling me to take daily, were turning me into a person I couldn’t live with being.

She put me on Pristiq, without so much as a blood test or psychological evaluation. Naive and desperate, I trusted her. One of my largest supporters in life is my boyfriend, Mark. Mark watched my once outgoing and always fun-seeking personality turn into a closed off and negative tragedy.

Pristiq. My jaw was almost always clenched, which has caused me to have TMJ. I was so tense. I was so worried about everything that could potentially go wrong in my life – of course everything is possible, but irrational thinking whole heartedly confirms that. I made up conspiracy theories in my mind that Mark didn’t love me. That my family didn’t love me. That my friends hated me. I believed I was unlovable.

Back to my psychiatrist I went. This session I broke down in tears. I truly wanted her to assure me that it was going to be okay. I wanted her to tell me that this was something I would conquer. She told me to take Klonopin.

Klonopin calmed me down. It muted my issues, the way that Advil deceives you into believing that your pain is permanently gone when you have a broken tailbone.

Well, let’s try Xanax. I was now on my eighth medication within a six month time span. Xanax had a way of numbing my pain. It was like waking up from anesthesia, and slowly starting to feel the pain come back to you. Benefit from Xanax was only temporary.

Moving On

With the help of my close supports, I cut my ties with this psychiatrist. I believed that her first priority was money, and I was always the segway into accomplishing her goal.

I attended an outpatient program for anxiety and PTSD, and began seeing a new psychiatrist and started more serious therapy. The outpatient program was a gift from the heavens. If I didn’t believe it before, I do now: there is someone up there watching over us all. The individuals, therapist, and psychiatrist that I met during this experience changed my life. Prior to my decision to get help, I had finally hit the point where I was contemplating taking my own life. I didn’t need someone to tell me to get help, because I knew I wanted to get better for myself and the people around me who were concerned and loved me dearly.

The stigma surrounding therapy and seeking help is atrocious, debilitating, and weakening. I believe that seeking help is one of the most powerful decisions a person can make, and you are NOT crazy if you attend a form of therapy. My best advice for anyone pursuing medication is to find someone who doesn’t just hear you, but listens to you. They make you feel comfortable, and they see how much effort you are putting into getting better. My new psychiatrist saw this in me, and for that I will forever hold her in my heart.

I thank God for this new doctor, who continues to use her genuine concern and hope to help me. We decided to slowly try out a new medication. We met every week for check ups, and I found that this medication has done wonders for my mental health. I have never felt better in my entire life. This was the main reason I decided to start The Stories We Need to Hear. I want people to share their voices. I want people to be able to let it all out. Most importantly, I want you to know that no matter what, hope is always on your side.