Pouring Oil onto the Engine Block of My Brain

This is my all-time favorite image of the problem of psychiatric meds: Their use is “a bit like trying to change your engine oil by opening a can and pouring it all over the engine block. Some of it will dribble into the right place, but a lot of it will do more harm than good,” explains neurobiologist David Anderson in a TED talk.

That totally describes how my brain feels on these drugs. Excuse me, is there smoke coming out of my ears? I think my engine block might be on fire.

And now for my “Sonnet to Psycho-pharmaceuticals”

With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning

You have taken me to the depth and height

My emotions can reach, when feeling far from right

To the end of the prescription pads without grace

In the pill minder each of my days

New hope in every change of dose

New combination, relief must be close

I feel some effect, but only faintly so

And the side effects much more woe

You speed me up and slow me down

Fuel anxiety and make me frown

I have suffered with thee and thine,

For years which feels like all my life

When may we admit you cannot suffice?

Thank, you, meds, for the inspiration! Though not so much for your help.

And no wonder. As Dr. Anderson puts it, “your brain is not a bag of chemicals”. That is, you can’t just add a little of a substance, say, serotonin, and voila! Um. no. Neuroscience is just beginning to understand how our noggins work and how they malfunction, but they know this: too much or too little of certain brain transmitters does not begin to explain it.

Thus, there aren’t targeted drugs for psychiatric disorders. These drugs were not even developed specifically for psychiatric disorders.

As I understand it, some researchers working on other diseases said, “Hey, this stuff doesn’t work for X, but the population taking the medicine was less depressed than placebo. Isn’t that cool? We just made an antidepressant. We wonder how it works!”

Since then, all the new medicines (I have been trying) are variations on those originals fortuitous finds. Clinicians are still giving patients, in essence, the same types of medicines for over 30 years, explains Dr. Fibiger, a researcher and former VP for neuroscience at a major pharmaceutical company. We still know next to nothing about the mechanisms of these disorders themselves, Fibinger says.

My doctors shake their heads and call me a “difficult case” as if it were surprising—shocking!—that these miracle medications could possibly not have been effective for me. Maybe the opposite is true: I’d be lucky if some medication, or combination thereof, actually did work.

Yes, I continue to take my meds and try new (to me) ones. I am not recommending anyone else stop taking theirs either—especially if yours are working, for goodness sake! That’s another issue with these meds—you can’t start and stop willy nilly.

My psychiatrist is still working with me to find that magic—or, okay, workable—formula. Meanwhile, I have been asking myself for quite a while: other than therapy and meds, what else is there? As it turns out, there are options. Rest assured, readers: as I continue on my journey I’ll report on the methods, bizarre to mundane, as I research and try on myself. You’re welcome.

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