My Life, Measured in Pill Bottles

Written by Jandy

Bottles of unfinished prescription pills line my medicine cabinet.

Pearly Latuda. Cerulean Abilify. Klonopin. Depakote. Wellbutrin. Et cetera.

A rainbow of unconsumed pills that worked for a short term and failed, now collecting dust in the corners of my cabinet. Not needed for now, but saved in perpetuity just in case.

Just in case my current meds fail.

I’m mentally ill and I am at the mercy of my prescription medications.

When my medications fail, I come apart. I can’t think. I can’t do.

I just can’t.

At night, in the safety of my boyfriend’s embrace, I try to stifle my anxiously beating heart that warns me that things are not okay. I hold him closer and inhale his smell, as the tightness of my chest and my shaking hands seemingly foretell bad things to come. This anxiety has my heart in a vicegrip and it feels like I am weighed down by pointed stones. Each time I open my mouth to speak, I choke on my anxiety instead. The words come out jumbled. 

Objectively, things are as perfect as they can be – I have a job, I have an apartment, I have a loving partner to spend the rest of my life with. But I have a personality disorder. I have depression. I have generalized anxiety. I am not well.

So I am on a cocktail of drugs that helps me stabilize. They are my crutches. But like any drug or good thing in life, they also come with a catch; a handful of debilitating side effects:

Nausea, akathisia, anxiety, weight gain, chronic fatigue, cognitive impairment, and memory loss.

In exchange for emotional stability and well-being, I give up the things that make me…well, me.

My creativity is gone. My cognitive ability declined. I can’t concentrate on tasks. My ambition is gone. I’m too tired to start and finish new projects. I’m starting to mess up at work.

My confidence is reduced to just a whisper in the sheer darkness. The side effects overtake who I am and all I hear is “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.”

The quality of my life is measured by the dosage stamped on the pill bottles. It is life or death. Without my medication, I am a dangerous and suicidal wreck. So to choose my medications and their plethora of side effects is like choosing life. It is survival. It is moving forward. 

But how do I move forward when I am barely there? It feels like my mind, once sharp and ever-present, is dying and fading. When my presence is reduced to an unresponsive, medicated zombie, am I still living?

I’m trying.

One day at a time. Each day getting infinitesimally better than the last. But still getting better, I hope.

I hold unto the hope that someday in the future, I will no longer need to switch meds and cycle through a carnival of side effects. I look forward to the day when I won’t need meds anymore. That I will be strong enough to be steady on my own. To be healthy. To be vibrant. 

So next time when you see someone who seems a little off – don’t be so quick to judge or dismiss them. You may never know what kind of silent battle they are fighting, resisting, and enduring. The fact that they are there means that they are trying.

You may never know whose lives are measured by the bottles in their medicine cabinets.