Accepting Treatment and Managing Medications’ Side Effects | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Accepting Treatment and Managing Medications’ Side Effects

By Crystal Peng

During finals week in my junior year of high school, I was taking my statistics exam when suddenly, I decided to “take off” and exit the testing area. That was my breaking point. My memory was poor, my concentration and focus weakened — and I was depressed and anxious. In the weeks leading up to this breaking point, my behavior had changed. I found myself on edge and startled easily, even by my friends approaching me. I had little interest in anything; I mostly spent large amounts of time on my phone. This streak of uncharacteristic behavior continued through the rest of my high school years.

After some time, I knew that I needed to seek medical help. When I began university, I started seeing a nurse practitioner with a specialty in mental health. Within a few years of our work together, I was first diagnosed with depression, then bipolar disorder and, finally, schizophrenia. I also began taking medication to manage my symptoms.

Honestly, there were times when I questioned whether my diagnosis was correct, but I continued to take my medications and trust that recovery is an ongoing process. Even though I did not always recognize a difference in my day-to-day activity, my friends and family noted that the medications  improved my mood and functionality.

Naturally, there are pros and cons to taking medication, and I had to cope with certain side effects. For example, when I was tired or nervous, my eyes would roll upwards uncontrollably. This strain on my eyes can be painful. I also struggled to manage rapid weight gain since beginning medication — a side effect that was a constant challenge throughout my years in university. I also battled constant fatigue and struggled to motivate myself.

In 2020, I decided I wanted to take charge of my health. I began to be proactive in addressing the negative side effects of my medication. I learned that my eye movements could be resolved with eye muscle therapy. I started making healthier food choices and focusing on my physical well-being. Instead of eating sweet or salty junk food in my spare time, I would find intellectually stimulating or nourishing activities to do, like reading or sipping tea.

I started cultivating hobbies that have, I believe, helped improve my mood, raised my energy levels and allowed me to be more social. Now I enjoy hiking, gardening, crocheting, drawing and playing violin. While combatting fatigue is always a challenge, I find that I feel more motivated to begin my day if I feel like I have a purpose and something to look forward to. This motivation comes from the activities that I love and the opportunity to make meaningful social connections. By far the most rewarding part of my recovery journey has been making meaningful friendships. I have also found comfort in frequent walking and prayer.

An essential part of my recovery journey was finding what worked best for me — and this process can be difficult. But I encourage those who are struggling to take the time to find the activities that bring you joy and peace. Whether it’s taking a walk and getting fresh air or finding a good book to read — embrace your options and don’t give up. Things can and will get better. 

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