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Poison Pills? When Meds Strike Back

when meds strike back

This narrative details my personal experience with medications. Medications impact each person differently; please consult with your psychiatrist if side effects persist.

The medication bottle gravely intones, “May cause drowsiness, use care operating a vehicle, vessel, or dangerous machinery.” If only.

Over 15 years ago, a well-meaning nurse at UNC-Chapel Hill prescribed an antidepressant. “It will make you feel better,” she soothed. Capitulating to her, I begrudgingly placed the tiny capsule under my tongue.

I was your typical Carolina student: studious, fun-loving, and a little neurotic (partially about Carolina’s March fortunes). Fretting about exams and OCD tendencies, I scheduled an appointment at Student Health. Little did I know that this seemingly innocuous appointment would launch a medication saga spanning 15 years.

Grey streaks now pepper my hair. Reflecting on the last past 15 years, I shake my head ruefully. Medication: more hindrance than help. Or a bigger downer than depression.

Yearning for mental stability, I searched for the most effective medication. I cycled through psychiatrists and medications for the elusive elixir. In this neverending quest, an avalanche of unintended side effects nearly derailed me.

Law school was a three-year blur. The highly competitive environment tested my emotional mettle. Feeling dazed and disoriented, I stumbled through law school courses. I complained of emotional blunting; a vapid, numbing feeling. Normally effusive, I felt emotionally distant.

Other prescribed medications sparked uncontrollable emotions. Some days I plummeted to the depths of despair. Rousing myself out of bed would consume all my energy. At restaurants, a well-meaning waitress would stop, observe my glum countenance, and offer a cheerful, “What is wrong, honey? Are you OK?” Other days I acted impulsively, ceding control to my rawest instinct. On these days, sleep would arrive in fitful spurts. These emotions vacillated without rhyme or reason.

Over the past 15 years, my absent-mindedness — once somewhat endearing — transformed into abject forgetfulness. I would spend an hour searching for my car in a downtown parking lot. Running a casual errand, I would blank on the trip’s purpose.

After 15 years of trial and error, I am officially weaning myself off the latest medication. My mind is sharp and agile. The synapses buzz with activity. This newfound mental alacrity has been a revelation. When medication muddled my razor-sharp mind, I questioned whether I would regain my trademark functionality and perfectionism.

For the millions of medicated Americans, your trepidation about medication’s toxicity is well-placed. As mental health consumers, we need to be extremely diligent before ingesting seemingly innocuous pills. Well-educated, savvy, and persistent, I ask probing questions. In some cases, I am more knowledgeable about the drug’s interactions that the attending physician. You should be, too.

On the surface, medication is a viable, even sensible, option. You will take a harmless pill, comply with your doctor’s instructors and voila, life’s storm clouds will disappear. But before leaping into the great unknown, do your research. The Citizens Commission on Human Rights offers an exhaustive list of common side effects. The most humbling self-realization: recognizing that life’s greatest victories arrive through personal trial and error, not the pillbox variety.


Poison Pills? When Meds Strike Back

Matthew Loeb

Matthew Loeb, a Seattle-based attorney, is a mental health advocate. You can contact him at

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APA Reference
Loeb, M. (2018). Poison Pills? When Meds Strike Back. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 11 Aug 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.