DDN December 2021 December 2021 | Page 20



To take psychoactive drugs or not – that is the question , says Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt

In 2008 , in a boring-looking room , a psychiatrist gave me a diagnosis I could have done without . She made an assessment , asking me many questions , and after 88 minutes concluded I had ‘ a lesser form of bipolar affective disorder ’ ( bipolar type 2 ). Somewhat shocked , but definitely terrified , I looked at my 15-month-old daughter , and began to fret . Then the processes of grief kicked in as I thought I was being told I would not be able to think well .

In one phone call with this doctor , I said , ‘ Hey , you should research open “ addiction ” self-help groups . We ’ re all like “ that ” in there ,’ meaning that mental health was an issue for almost half of us – hardly surprising as those rooms are full of people in early addiction-healing , not to mention hepatitis C , HIV and other BBVs . She proceeded to suggest I keep taking vitamin D , as it is helpful for people with depression .
I didn ’ t mind the upswing of my newly-diagnosed condition , but the lows often left me suicidal . Try as she might , this poor clinician couldn ’ t get me to take drugs for the bipolar 2 – it didn ’ t help that the psychiatric profession are not sure whether it requires medicine anyway . According to a fellow living with BP1 , the main difference between BP1 and BP2 is that when , for example , I think I ’ m
super-woman on a well-day , my ‘ sane brain ’ will let me know that is clearly not true . I was ‘ lucky ’ – my diagnoses left me with enough connection to reality ( as we know it ) to protect me from the excessive sex , retail therapy , and other behaviours that often bedevil people living with BP1 , getting us into terrible debt , not to mention STDs .
I was already taking low doses of opioids for chronic pain and SSRIs for the suicidal phases of my illness . The idea of taking another medicine was hardly attractive , and let me say there were people in ‘ the rooms ’ who were dubious about my decision not to take drugs for the BP2 , but it took me nine years to finally ‘ research ’ whether lamotrigine actually stabilised my moods .
To this day , I ’ m unsure whether it did but I , as ever with unpleasant psychoactive drugs , took the lowest possible ‘ clinical dose .’ I was in 12-step and we didn ’ t do those kinds of drugs , right ? Wrong . How many of us have utterly ignored the one page in ‘ the big book ’ about how when a professional advises us to take a medicine , we should seriously consider it . After all , they are trained to know better than many ‘ recovering addicts ’ when a drug is necessary or not . Lots
of people ‘ in-recovery ’ or not take psychoactive medicines for mental health care , chronic pain and so on . So what ’ s the problem ? Several . When you live within a community whose narrative is anti-psychoactive drugs , and you ’ re enduring countless illnesses , lack of paid employment and sleep , your own thought process will struggle to remain grounded in fact and reality , as most people know it . Then there are the infrequent ‘ amateur psychologists ’ who will tell you that you should not take tramadol , SSRIs or anti-psychotic medication as that is a relapse . To be fair , anyone in those rooms who knew me knew I was the last person to advise not to take psychoactives therapeutically as a passionate proponent of harm reduction , but most didn ’ t know me at all .
The only groups I regularly go to now are full of people navigating similar dilemmas . Some opt to take the prescribed medicines , some opt not to and use other tools ( yoga , vitamins , meditation ) to cope , and a few like myself do both . One thing ’ s for certain . As we
‘ I was already taking low doses of opioids for chronic pain and SSRIs for the suicidal phases of my illness . The idea of taking another medicine was hardly attractive ...’
age , some of us will hurt , creek and often be challenged by illness , drug prohibition and socio-economic deprivation . Therefore it is our job as responsible citizens to ensure we do whatever it takes to ensure the highest possible levels of self-care .
Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt is an activist at ACT . UP London , actuplondon . wordpress . com . This article is in memory of Mary P .
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