The side effect cycle

grey thinking blog post - side effect cycle - spoonful of medicine

This morning I was reading the article “Help! My Cold Meds Make Me Anxious. What Can I Do?“, and thinking “isn’t that the story of my life.”

I’m not just talking about cold medicines, but a lot of treatment in general. My meds cause side effects that require me to take other medications that have their own side effects that are completely counter-productive to the problem I was trying to treat in the first place. My neurologist recommends a treatment that is not at all compatible with recovery from and eating disorder, which kind of impacts my future and the rest of my life. I can go to the doctor for one issue just for them to find something else. It’s almost this paradoxical effect where the more treatment you receive, the more additional treatment that you need.

I think this is often true in mental health treatment as well. It’s been my experience that when you’re admitted to a higher level of care that removes you from your regular life and routine (which may be much needed), you lose any kind of “normalness” in your life that you did have. And as I’ve said in previous posts, it’s not treatment that’s the problem — it’s the disorder in itself. Treatment just happens to have side effects, in a sense. Then, when you transition back to the “real world” and a “normal routine,” that can create such anxiety that you turn right back to the disorder or addiction and are where you started. How frustrating.

The original article makes a good point though, which pretty much sums up what I think is the best solution to all of this: knowledge.

…[G]etting to know the ingredients in your cold medicine gives you a greater sense of control over your illness.

Knowing the effect that a specific medicine has on your body can be comforting — instead of attributing a mild sense of wooziness to an impending panic attack, wouldn’t it be nice to sit back and say with confidence that you KNOW diphenhydramine (an antihistamine) makes you feel this way? You know it’s the medicine, and it might be uncomfortable — but it doesn’t signify anything. Isn’t that a comforting thought?

If you get to know how each of these ingredients personally affectsyour body, you can more easily come to terms with how they make you feel.

I know that my seizure meds make sleeping impossible but that not sleeping causes headaches, so I try and do everything I can to give myself the best shot at a good night’s sleep: not drinking caffeine after noon, taking a shower before bed, using my bedroom only as a place to sleep and not for work or watching TV, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, not napping during the afternoon — and all the other annoying things that you’ve been told to do your whole life. And admittedly it is a total pain, but I it does actually help.

When I discharged from residential treatment, I knew I was going to be totally overwhelmed with real life — all of the chaos, responsibility, expectations, etc. I set up as many protective factors as possible before making the change (like therapy 2x a week, meals with my husbands, structure in my life other than going to appointments, an increase in my anti-anxiety meds) so ease the transition in any way possible. It still sucked — but I survived it and I didn’t have to keep all of those pieces forever. It felt like a step backwards, but I think that’s what being proactive looks like sometimes.

So in this world where even anxiety + a cold can be contradict each other, all I can say is that sometimes MORE treatment makes things MORE complicated. They are just different complications, and you have to decide which you can and can’t live with (or which are more/less detrimental to your goals).

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