In many—if not most—cases, people with mental illness need medication to help them cope with life. That has certainly been the case for me.

In 1965 I was diagnosed with schizophrenia because of my struggles with psychosis. That diagnosis stayed with me for twenty years until it was changed to bipolar disorder. Better medication meant that I no longer had to deal with psychosis. I’m grateful for the rich life medication has allowed me to have.

But life has become progressively more difficult. Although I’ve had a life of many accomplishments, the medications I’ve taken (currently four in all) have taken their toll on my quality of life. I have become physically disabled as a result.

Years ago, a neurologist advised my psychiatrist to reduce the lithium I was taking because it was thought to be causing hand tremors. I don’t know how seriously this advice was heeded because my psychiatrist who, along with many, thought highly of lithium, calling it gold for bipolar disorder. But these tremors must have been a problem even before this—before I was taking lithium. Was it the excessively high doses of loxapine a previous psychiatrist had prescribed?

My tremors have become worse as time went on. I often have trouble writing with a pen, as well as the computer—frequently reduced to using a single finger when typing. Difficulty controlling the mouse is now preventing me from designing the books I used to publish. Seven months ago I gave up the photography I loved and had become known for. My life has shrunk.

My walking became unsteady about eight years ago, making a cane necessary to get around. In 2016 I was taking 450 mg of lithium. In 2019 I started needing a walker. In 2021 the lithium was reduced to 300 mg. There were no adverse effect as a result of this decrease. And I ask myself, why was I kept on 450 mg when it didn’t appear to make a difference to my mental health?

My current neurologist recently identified another medication she said I need to be taken off of. I had been taking carbamazepine for many years. She said that if I don’t come off it my hand tremors and walking problems will worsen.

Do psychiatrists understand how much such side effects can have on our quality of life? Are they aware of the damage they can do when they over-medicate? More attention needs to be paid to the side effects of the medications they prescribe. Psychiatric medications don’t only affect our mental health, they have an effect on our physical ability to function as well. Do psychiatrists grasp how important it is to keep that in mind?

Too often, psychiatric medications are considered the primary course of treatment for mental illness. But there are other ways to contain mental health problems. Shouldn’t psychiatrists make it their business to explore alternative methods of treatment? (more about this in another post)

My life has been greatly changed over the last eight years. I used to be a leader—independent, getting out and doing many different things. Today I can’t go anywhere without my husband’s assistance. That means the only activity I take part in is church on Sunday. I seldom travel with my husband anymore. When he goes on a trip, I have to go somewhere for respite care, since I don’t shop for groceries or cook anymore. (My mental health is a part of that problem.)

We have our names on a list to move to a retirement residence. Because I would be lost if anything were to happen to my husband and I was left alone.