Mental Health Drugs and Creativity

I’m sitting in my room going through my old, familiar routine. Roll a cigarette, smoke it, wrestle with a poem for a little while, go downstairs to get water and then take my psychiatric drugs, and then do some more wrestling but with sleep this time. You’d think  the drugs would be enough to knock me out – I take antipsychotics which are in a class of drugs labelled “major tranquillisers”. The antipsychotic I take (along with lithium, but that’s a different post for a different time) is called olanzapine. I take 20mg most days; by which I mean, I take 15mg at night and then have the option of taking up to 5mg during the day should I start to feel anxious or distressed. I take the drugs I take because I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, though this is in some debate. Psychiatrists and well-meaning care co-ordinators etc in the past have given me lots of names for what is wrong with me. In chronological order, I have been diagnosed with the following: depression, severe depression, treatment-resistant depression, psychotic disorder, paranoid schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, bipolar type 2 disorder, antisocial personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, bipolar type 1 disorder and, most recently, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. I think it’s clear enough to anyone reading that I have some kind of mental health disorder along with some kind of personality disorder. The most recent diagnosis, schizoaffective, is the hellish mix of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – every mood swing will bring psychosis. But I’m not sure I agree with this. I have experienced psychosis on a grand scale several times in the past, but I don’t struggle with it every day. If people ask me, I say I’m bipolar. Although recently, I’ve been thinking. Maybe the reason I don’t struggle with psychosis for the most part is because I take antipsychotics. I’ve been taking some form of antipsychotic for about six years now, I no longer know what it feels like to have a natural sleep and I can’t remember the last time I made the choice to get out of bed before noon. This is what the drugs do. Psychosis is the result of a flood of dopamine (the feel-good chemical) in your brain. Antipsychotics stop too much dopamine from being released. Because of this, I’ve found it harder to enjoy the  things I used to, friends and family have complained that I’m not as “chatty” or as “fun” as I used to be and I tend to agree with them. I sleep all the time, I eat all the time, my weight has crept up from “pleasantly curvy” to “morbidly obese” in the six years I’ve been taking these drugs because another fun side effect of them is MASSIVE WEIGHT GAIN. And worst of all, creativity doesn’t come as easy to me as it used to. It does still come, but it no longer wakes me up in the middle of the night with a flight of brilliant ideas, it doesn’t compel me to visit art galleries and attend poetry readings, it doesn’t shake me and tell me that I have a creative gift to give to the world. Okay, that all sounds grandiose and perhaps it is, but I miss that.

It is for these reasons I have decided to stop taking antipsychotics.

I’m aware of the risks. Maybe I really don’t know my mind as well as the psychiatrists do; maybe I actually do need these drugs in order to stay safe and sane in this world. But do I want to be sane? If this is sanity, I’d rather go back to what I had before. As Amanda Palmer put it: “If wellness is this, what in hell’s name is sickness?”.

I’m going to keep a document of how coming off olanzapine goes for me, and I’m going to do that via this blog. I used to write a lot about mental health on this blog about two and a half years ago, the last time I was in hospital. The thing that changed is I have been heavily sedated since then. That ends now.
I’m sick of feeling so tired and hungry, not being able to do anything, and not being able to write. My vocabulary is dulled. My sense of ambition is absolutely gone. I no longer think I have anything valuable to contribute to society. I feel like a useless member of my family. I have started to truly hate myself. This ends now.

I’ll keep you all updated on my progress, and I’m sorry for this rambling blog post, but I’ve made a decision and I’m sticking to it.

1 comment
  1. Hey there. First, brava you! Second, be careful and look up withdrawals from benzodiazapines. It’s awful but doable. Be kind to yourself and do it slower than you ever thought anyone needed to. I’ve been there. Third, I found amazing help in the form of Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps the Score. I hope you get some feel goodness out of this journey. Peace.

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