Stopping Psych Meds as a Form of Self-Sabotage

By Dawn Clancy 04/25/19

It's impossible to explain to someone who's never had suicidal thoughts what it feels like to be in a space where the only option you think you have to end your suffering is death.

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Woman has head against glass wall or window, face away, depressed, stopping psych meds
I'd spiraled so quickly down a black hole that it didn't even occur to me to ask for help. Photo by DANNY G on Unsplash

"See...it's not that bad." My friend was responding to a text with an image of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. It was the first road trip my husband and I took after moving to Houston. My friend was right, the Alamo wasn't bad; but having to move back to the States after living in the UK for three years sucked. In all fairness, we were given a choice, and I was the one who pushed for Houston over New York. I wasn’t ready to return to the crowds and chaos of Manhattan, and due to the nature of my husband's work, Houston made logistical sense.

"We'll only be there for a year," my husband assured me on our last night in London. "It'll go by so fast." I wanted to believe him, but I wasn't ready to.

"Taking a Break" from Psychiatric Medication

There's much planning and reflecting involved in making a big move and my biggest concern was managing my anxiety and depression medication. Not only did I need to make sure I had enough to last me a few months once I got back to the States, but I also needed to sort out insurance and find a new doctor.

But I kept avoiding these tasks.

Once we were settled in Houston, every time I thought about the process of meeting a new doctor and running down the lengthy list of addicts and alcoholics in my family, describing my abusive childhood and my almost successful suicide attempt while remembering all of the medications I'd tried in vain, my brain flatlined. What I needed to do to ensure my mental health suddenly felt impossible. Instead of asking for help, which felt like a herculean task, I assuaged my anxiety by deciding to let my prescriptions run out. Besides, after five years on medication, my body could use a break, and despite clear evidence to the contrary, I felt stable enough to handle any anxiety or depression that could pop up in the future. However, at the time I neglected to give any credit to the role my medication played in supporting my relative calm and stability.

As the months passed in Houston, I started to notice subtle dips in my mood, but each time I'd dismiss it as being part of my monthly PMS package or something that could easily be fixed with a long walk or a quick afternoon nap. But about six months in, I found it exhausting to even think about putting on my sneakers. My occasional mood swings turned into full on sobbing sessions and instead of experiencing PMS one or two weeks every month, it slowly became four and then five until I lost track of when my last cycle ended and the new one began.

Depression, Anxiety, and Suicidal Ideation

My deepening depression wasn't the only issue. One sunny Saturday afternoon, my husband and I took a road trip to Austin. As I was driving us home, I became increasingly anxious. The roads were dark, I couldn't see beyond the headlights, and my mind began to spin. Mid-panic attack, my husband convinced me to pull over so he could take the wheel. I was so angry at myself for not being able to handle something as simple and routine as driving.

The more I struggled, the more I believed there was just something wrong with me and as a result, my medication or lack thereof never came to mind. I'd spiraled so quickly down a black hole that it didn't even occur to me to ask for help, although it was becoming undeniably clear that I desperately needed it.

It's impossible to explain to someone who's never had suicidal thoughts what it feels like to be in a space where the only option you think you have to end your suffering is death. There's no way to put into words the void that enters your mind when you no longer feel the pain, but it continues to seep into every second of your life. And there's no making sense of the relief you quietly experience when death, something you may have once feared, suddenly becomes your very own golden ticket. Sadly, during the year I lived in Houston, off medication, I reached this low.

Finally, my husband sat me down and gently asked if I'd stopped taking my meds. At that moment I surrendered. In a freak moment of clarity, I knew what I had to do - I needed to find a doctor. We were getting ready to move back to New York in a few weeks, but before I left Houston, I got on the phone and scheduled an appointment.

Why Did I Stop Taking My Meds?

At our first meeting, I jumped through all of the usual hoops, getting my new doctor up to speed on my background and mental health history. I dove into the details about my alcoholic mother and father, the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse I sustained as a kid and was completely honest about the suicidal thoughts that had been roaring inside my head. And of course, I told her I’d stopped taking my medication.

"When did you decide to stop taking your meds?" the doctor asked.

I answered hesitantly, "um...about a year ago." I was embarrassed by the choice I'd made, and I kept my fingers crossed that she wouldn't ask me why.

"Why?" she asked.

"Honestly I don't really know," I told her. "I had insurance...I had everything I needed to find a doctor here in the States. I just didn't do it."

"So, when you needed your medication the most, you stopped taking it?" she gently asked.

"I don't understand.”

"You sabotaged yourself, Dawn," she explained, leaning back in her chair. "As I understand it, living in Houston was rough for you, and you stopped using the one tool you had to help yourself get through it," she said. "It's self-sabotage."

Self-Care

I've been back on my meds for two years now, and while I still occasionally get snagged with depression or get overly anxious about a work deadline, for the most part my life has become manageable again. I added therapy back into my mental health regimen about a year ago, and that too has helped tremendously.

Now, without hesitation, I give my meds the credit they deserve. As it turns out, they've done more than balance out the chemicals swirling around in my head; in their absence I eventually discovered one of the many tricks I use to get in my own way, especially when I appear to be making progress. Today, taking medication isn't something I have to do, it's something I choose to do because I know it’s right for me. Instead of self-sabotage, I choose self-care, health, and stability.

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Dawn Clancy is a freelance writer based in New York. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Fix, The Establishment, Dame Magazine and others. Her website is growingupchaotic.com.

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