Part one is here.
So you start to overdose.
It’s remarkably easy – too easy, in fact. At no point do you actually think “I am going to overdose on these pills so I can sleep more”, but when the opportunity arises you seize it with both hands. You discover how to overdose by accident; you order a repeat prescription for your asthma inhaler from your doctor, but they run off a repeat of all your prescriptions, including Quetiapine. Which you don’t need, because your psychiatrist tends to issue those prescriptions separately. You end up with two lots of medication for the same period of time. As your psychiatrist handwrites the prescription, there’s no paper trail. Suddenly, you can double your dosage, and spend your days in an exhausted haze, sleeping up to 20 hours a day.
After a month of this, you have run out of both the Quetiapine issued by your doctor and your psychiatrist. Looking back over the month, you see no panic attacks, no dizzying spells of fear, no nights of terror spent trembling. You think: this is better. Sure, you can’t remember doing very much at all, but surely it’s better to have no memory than terrible memories?
Will it work again, you wonder. If you try to obtain two prescriptions – rather than it happening by accident – will it work? To your surprise, it does. You make an online request from your doctor, and your psychiatrist gives you a handwritten prescription as normal. You’ve found a way to do it. You think you’ve found the way to handle it.
You’re now taking double the prescribed dose of Quetiapine. It means you sleep for 20 hours a day, and move like a zombie for the four you’re awake. But that’s okay. It’s better than before. Surely, anything is better than before.
You don’t care that you’ve gained so much weight that none of your clothes fit anymore. You don’t care that you don’t have the motivation to get medical help for an ever-worsening back problem. You don’t care that you’ve failed with work, with friendships, with family ties. You can’t care; nothing can penetrate the fog you’ve surrounded yourself with. Months, years pass; you and your now-husband move into a new flat, and you can see that it’s nice, and you’re glad, but you’re not really there. You’re never really there anymore; being awake is just the period being sleep, rather than the more natural way around.
You become so used to pretending. You write blog posts, you send emails, you even have conversations. You shut people off from meeting in person, because you know they will notice something is wrong. But that’s their fault. How could they possibly understand what it’s like to be trapped inside your head? No one that hasn’t lived with obsessive thoughts could comprehend how horrific it can be, you justify to yourself. That’s why they’d think it was odd; not because you’re doing something wrong, but because they don’t get it.
You still have the OCD thoughts, of course. They’re always there, but you can shut them up by going to sleep. Except for when you dream. You dream of horrors, of cancer, of death and illness. These serve as a constant reminder of what you are trying to run away from; these are your reason to continue in those lucid moments when you wonder if taking so much Quetiapine isn’t the answer.
Then, slowly at first, you begin to awaken. The Quetiapine doesn’t drug you, doesn’t knock you out, in the same way you used to be able to rely on it to do. You begin to have nightmares while you are awake; depression sits on your chest, pushes itself in and clenches tight. You have never felt anything like this before – you have anxiety, the exact opposite end of the spectrum to depression – and you feel like you’re drowning. You can’t escape. The drug doesn’t help; sleep doesn’t solve anything.
And then you realise that this isn’t better than before.
It’s the wake up call you need. You realise you’ve gone too far; finally, thoughts and comprehension begin to pierce through. You begin to be motivated by fear of what is to come, by the driven force of your friend – the one thing you could rely on – turning against you. You begin to suspect that the Quetiapine is the force of all this.
It is a horrifying revelation. For three years, the Quetiapine has been your shield against life’s ills. Now, it is the torturer, as the depression begins within moments of taking the drug. Your best friend, the thing you manipulated medical professionals to get, is no longer on your side. You are even beginning to wish you could just die; the tiny spark of your survival instinct that survived for so long is finally beginning to fall apart.
So what do you do? Do you talk to your psychiatrist, your doctor? Do you seek help online, run searches, try and find answers?
No. You decide, this time, you will rely on the person who can influence you most of all: you will rely on you. You know you have to do this, that no slow reduction in the drug is going to do it, that this is your chance – and it could very well be your only chance – to bring yourself back from what is beginning to feel like the brink.
So you sit down with the Quetiapine. You hold the box in your hands, the familiar rectangle with its turquoise writing. You take out the blister packets inside; it is half empty, you are due a refill soon. You push down on the pack; the pills tumble forth, landing on the plate you have prepared with decisive clinks. For a moment, you touch them, every Quetiapine pill you have. They are so familiar; you have been taking them for years. You move one around the plate in a circular motion, wondering if you have the strength to do this.
Then you take a glass of water and drown them. Furthermore, you take a CD case, and you crush them. And you swear they will never pass your lips again.
The next few weeks are torturous. You cannot sleep; you toss, turn, restless. Your OCD thoughts begin to shine in bright technicolour, just as big and as bad as before. You begin to remember things you did when you were on the drugs – things you said, things you wrote. You can’t believe that was you; it was all so out-of-character, you did things you can’t even recognise. Reality is stark, and bleak, and terrifying, but not for one moment do you contemplate calling and requesting a repeat prescription.
Because you also feel light. You can’t really explain it, but you do; you feel light when you try and stand up, you seem to weigh less, less even than air. You begin to experience things again, and experience them truly, without a veil separating you from the world. You begin to come back in to focus, like a photograph coming to life in developing fluids.
It isn’t easy. There are days when you wish for that oblivion again, when the OCD drives you to tears and trembling hands, but it’s better than before. It’s better than when you were on that drug, that drug that took so much of you away even before you began to overdose on it. You see now that that before, a drugged and shaded life, was worse than the one you were avoiding in the first place. At least your pounding heart and body shaking with fear is real, and present, and your own.
One day, months after your last Quetiapine, you begin to wonder if it was just you. You decide to Google for the drug, and what you find astonishes you. People have served law suits on the makers of Quetiapine for its side effects; there are clinical papers admonishing its use for anything beyond extreme psychotic disorders (of which you now know OCD is not one). You even read about it being linked to suicides.
You know you have been lucky. Something – and you’re still not entirely sure what – made you stop, made you see what was happening. Something allowed you to realise that the first batch of Quetiapine had damaged your ability to judge, and the overdose had damaged your ability to exist. It wasn’t strength that made you do it, it wasn’t hope, it wasn’t anything you can name or even contemplate – it was just a spark, but it was enough.
You realise you’re glad. You’re glad that you were pulled back, that you didn’t begin to contemplate and perhaps even attempt suicide. You realise you’re glad you’re alive; your existence, flawed and drained and flattened though it is, you want your life. You want to be alive, you want to learn how to fight rather than just quell. One day, you want to overcome.
I decided to write this because I have referenced Quetiapine, and what it did to me, many times in passing. I still don’t know what made me throw water over that tablets that balmy day in August nearly three years ago. I’m not sure how I even began to make the connection between those extreme depressions and the medication.
I can’t lie and say that since coming off the Quetiapine I have managed to recover from OCD. In all probability, that battle is for life. This doesn’t tie up neatly, with the heroine beating the nasty villainous drug and getting everything she ever wanted. I still fight my mind on a daily basis.
However, when I fight now, I am really fighting. Every time I look at cognitive behavioural techniques, or talk to a psychiatrist, or forcibly remove myself from Googling symptoms – I am the one doing it. For so long, I wasn’t really fighting at all; the Quetiapine was just letting me detach, providing a security blanket.
At the time, I think I needed it. I don’t know if I could have survived the first few years of OCD without that fog. Before I triggered, my mental health was stable, I was almost cavalier about my health. To suddenly smack in to the exact opposite broke me apart, and perhaps the Quetiapine gave me time to find enough of a spark of myself again to begin to deal with it alone.
Perhaps. The sad truth is, I don’t think that’s the case. Quetiapine, or any other sedative, is never the answer for those with anxiety disorders. Never. All it does it dull things, take a person’s personality away. Sure, that washes a lot of their disorder away too, but it’s not gone for good. It’s still there, just subdued, buried under a blanket of medicine. When on Quetiapine, I wasn’t awake enough to learn how to manage anxiety. I genuinely believe if I had never been prescribed it, I would have eventually been able to learn and adapt the way I did post-Quetiapine in 2008 a lot sooner.
When I have a good day now, it’s all mine. I can lay claim to it in a way I never could while I was on Quetiapine. That means I have to accept the bad days as mine also, which at first felt damn near impossible but over time has become easier. I learn from every panic, from every attack, in a way I just couldn’t when I was medicated so powerfully.
No drug branded an anti-psychotic, a sedative, should be given to people with anxiety disorders. It especially should not be given to those who have depression – which, according to the research I’ve done online, is happening with frightening regularity. Doctors and psychiatrists need to start taking responsibility for the glut of over-prescription of Quetiapine in the mid-2000s, especially now its side effects are becoming more clear. I genuinely believe the aggressive marketing resulted in Quetiapine being prescribed for disorders it was never intended to be used for. Reading things like this makes me want to cry (scroll down for patient experience of this drug. Be warned, it makes what I wrote look like light-hearted fuzz).
Quetiapine is currently the in-vogue drug. The next time you’re in your GP’s surgery, have a look around. Check out the scales, or perhaps the pens sitting on your doctor’s desk – because chances are, they’ll be branded ‘SEROQUEL’. I’ve seen this merchandise everywhere, from GP’s surgeries to physiotherapist offices. Aggressive marketing has been a big part of the push of Quetiapine, a push which has benefited pretty much everyone – except, of course, the patients.