Creativity and Meds

Balancing Creativity and Mental Illness

For as long as I remember, there has always been a link between the “creative types” and some form of mental illness. High rates of depression, bi-polar, “somethin’s just not right with little Ray,” whatever.

And while the above article doesn’t do much except to re-iterate something that has been general knowledge for decades, it does make me grind my teeth a little. In a nutshell, the article states “creative people” feel treatment with medication stifles their creativity and more needs to be done to balance the patient’s fears with the medical need.

It’s hard for me to be coherent about this. I spent close to 15 years on anti-depressants.

I’ll be the first one to say that, yes, I’m a glass half-empty type and it is quite easy for me to spiral down into the depths of despair, but looking back over the years I was on meds is rather… frightening.

I was on Lexapro, Trazadone for sleep, and then Ritalin for the last 5 years of the 15 year pull. Looking back, it started with not being as happy as everyone thought I should be. Then it migrated into a reveal about how I don’t sleep well and haven’t since high school. For the Ritalin, they examined how much I nod off during the day, a questionaire about caffeine habits, forgetfulness, the ability to follow through and what compensation techniques I’d developed on my own before saying  – “You have ADD, hon.”

I would try to come off the meds, people would argue and push that I needed to be back on them, because coming off was rough for everybody. Medicated Katty was far easier to deal with. I would cave under pressure and go back on them, because I had no evidence, hard evidence, that I needed to come off. I only had a gut feeling.

Some of that feeling included the mantra from my doctor – “Just take the meds and play with the dosage until you feel good with it, then stay on that dose.”

Apparently “serotonin syndrome” is unheard of among GP’s, because none of them even mentioned that possibility when urging me to just “play with the dosage.” But they all seemed so unconcerned about it, that despite my own personal paranoia, I was a little calmed. It couldn’t be that common, right?

At age 28, I began having unexplained cases of vertigo, some of which were enough to drop me to the floor in mid-step. After many trips to the GP, who referred me to an ENT, who then performed tests and admitted he had nothing and then referred me to a neurologist who also performed yet more tests before saying “I have no idea what your problem is” I went to my ophthalmologist for my regular checkup who only frowned, looked at my file and said “Oh, that’s why.”


“You’re a long-term anti-depressant user. Ophthalmologists see this a lot. You just need to dry out for a few weeks and then go back on them if you still need them.”

And yes, it worked. And GP’s only nodded and scribbled notes. Most antidepressants are given out by GP’s, and I don’t entirely blame my GP’s – they’re generalists. They see a problem, a patient can either agree or not, and a treatment is given, all within the 15 minute window demanded by insurance.

15 minutes is not a lot of time to judge a person’s problem. And really, a GP can’t be expected to be up to date with every damn medical article under the sun. It can’t be done.  But I would’ve expected the various shrinks I’ve seen over the years to have known about this. To have at least heard about it, maybe even perhaps brought up some issues to me that a colleague of theirs mentioned during a casual lunch three weeks back when I talked about a gut feeling that I shouldn’t be on these meds.

However, as time passed, it stopped working as well. After a few years, I was needing to dry out every 6 months, which wasn’t possible. My moods were becoming wilder and more unpredictable.

Like I often do, I entered search terms into the internet and finally, *!bang!* there was the research I had been seeking for years.


Of course I didn’t want to hear that I’d actually been damaging my brain by taking antidepressants.Nor did I want to read about how coming off the meds as quickly as I had been encouraged to do by the general medical community probably caused even more damage.  But, well… the research articles are cited right there. Articles written by accredited agencies, not some crackpot gnawing away at a root having visions of a purple zebra named Kevin giving him medical advice. Even my husband, by far the most insistent that I stay on the medications, couldn’t argue with 40 years worth of professional journal extracts.

And yet, no one has heard of this?

Ahhh… but one cannot just go cold turkey off this stuff. Nope. That can hurt you even worse. A large number of people on the surviving antidepressants forum report nearly catastrophic reactions to coming off too fast. Being bed ridden. Physically ill. Debilitating headaches. Tremors. All kinds of fun things.

My own withdrawal was far easier than many that are reported. I came off them over a period of about 2 years (Which is still screaming fast for a lot of people out there. All I can say is that you have to listen to what you think your body is trying to tell you and react accordingly.).

There were days in which iron will was required, and there are still rough days now, about 2 years off the meds. My husband reports that while I still have ups and downs, and they are closer together, they aren’t as wild and dramatic as they were when I was on the meds.

On another front, for the last 8 of those 15 years, I’d been dealing with high triglycerides. Obscenely high triglycerides. Like “Katty, what does your diet look like because your triglycerides are 400+” high, while acceptable norms are at 120-160.

I’ve kept my bloodwork from every year when they put me on atavorstatin, and there is an interesting correlation between my triglycerides and coming off the antidepressants.

The best I could do, despite diet and meds and weight loss, was dropping my numbers to 340.

Six months after the first meds reduction, I was down 20 points. After the next reduction and six months, I was around 290.

A year after being completely off the meds, I was in the neighborhood of 170.

The only real “lifestyle” change?

Getting off the antidepressants.

Interestingly enough, there’s a book out there about the negative side-effects of statins. Negative cognitive, neurological and physiological effects.

So while the article that started this whole low-key rant sagely advises that a balance must be found in treating those who are mentally ill while maintaining their creativity, I’m of a slightly different point of view.

There are those who need the meds. I will never say someone SHOULD NOT take them. If you feel you need them, if you feel they help, whatever you are taking them for, then by all means, do that.

I would ask, however, that you look into other possibilities. Just like GP’s and shrinks aren’t looking too deep into the publications of their brethren regarding these medications, a great many of them aren’t examining things like mindfulness meditation, dietary intolerances and other angles of the environment – be it macro or micro – that affect the human condition.

I found out prior to coming off the medications that I was gluten intolerant. Not celiac, though. And before you roll your eyes and think “another fad dieter” – no. I use the wrong kind of skin cream, I’m laid out the next day. Vanilla ice cream, lunchmeat, shampoo, condiments, salad dressing, pickles, hot dogs, potato chips and more often have a gluten ingredient added to them. If I consume any of them, I may as well not make any plans for the next day, because while I (sometimes) can get out of bed, you don’t want me out of bed.

I am a raging, depressed bitch determined to let everyone know that I am hopelessly miserable and you should be too. And reports indicate that I resemble a person who has just taken a prescription strength sleeping medication, but is fighting to stay awake.

If I continue to take in gluten day after day after day? It gets worse. And it mirrors typical depression, exactly.

But a GP doesn’t look for the exotic. Half of them don’t even know that you need to be consuming gluten products for at least 6 weeks before you can take a celiac blood test.

I’m not saying it’s easy to step back and experiment with your life habits. Doing a reduction/detox diet for 6-8 weeks just to be able to start adding one new food a week back into your diet and record what changes you notice, sucks. It truly sucks. It takes an iron will and weeks of research and pre-planning and prep just to take the first few steps correctly.

Meditating every day? *snicker, snort* I’ve got the cd’s (Yes, I still buy cd’s. I’m old. Shut up.). I’ve done it a few times. I keep meaning to do it again, make it a “sleep hygiene thing,” or a “wake-up routine before the kids thing” but the bed is so nice and toasty warm and I’m so tired… and so forth.

Writing has been my true sanctuary, along with my other bits of crafting insanity.

But it’s a damn sight easier to pop a pill. Quicker results, too, in the short term.

My problem is – if we’re not even paying attention to published, accredited research regarding the side effects of these medications; if we’re not listening to patients when they’re coming forward and saying things like “Yea, verily, this stuff messed me up and this is how,” – How can we have a conversation about balancing treatment against the creativity needs of the patient?



About kattywampusbooks

A SAHM with delusions of literacy.
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