Side Effects (Not the Movie, the Experience)

Personal post incoming. You have been warned!


There are currently four, count them FOUR, articles half finished in my drafts box.

Why, you ask? Why are they unfinished as opposed to gracing this blog with their presence?

I’ll tell you why: side effects.

In a previous article on this blog I talked about being bi-polar. I mentioned how difficult it is to take steps to get healthy. But in the end, I did take the jump to medicating. I’ve been very open both here and on Twitter, because I believe transparency as a creator is important. It helps people understand, both personally and professionally, what is going on with me as I work in my current field. I do it not to fish for sympathy but to illuminate my creative process and how I go about doing what I do. I also do it so that anyone out there struggling with the same thing can hear another voice going: you’re not alone. I often feel like I am, so I want to offer that. So if this sounds familiar to anyone out there, raise a glass. Because we’re going to talk about side effects.

Drugs have side effects. And when you sign on to be medicated as someone who needs mood stabilizers, you realize that you might get these side effects. Sometimes they’re harder to track than others. The doctor will ask you ‘are you finding yourself fatigued?’ and my answer is usually, “I’m an insomniac grad student, when am I not fatigued?” But after a while, you look back at what’s been going on in your life and say, “Hey now. That’s not how things were before.” Then you look up the side effects and you say, “Oh.”

I’ve been having side effects from my medication. Boy howdy have I.

Let’s start with fatigue. I cannot help but sleep ten hours a day. If I want to stay awake and not be half asleep, I have to front load on coffee when I wake up in the morning. I cannot even think about spending time in a comfy chair or near my bed or else WHAM, its nap time. Not in the ‘let’s take a nap, it might be pleasant’ but in a ‘oh hey, I just lost four hours, how did that happen?’ way.

Weight gain. Now I don’t eat well. I don’t exercise well. But that’s been a constant. These days however? Cannot lose a pound to save my life. And worse yet, I feel sluggish. That’s the fatigue working WITH the weight gain. It’s been pretty awful. I’ve always been big but I can feel the difference since I started the medication.

Here’s the one that gets me: my brain feels some days like I’m trying to hold thoughts together as they try to fly apart. They’re polarized to fly apart. They just run from each other like toddlers in a tantrum and my job is to hold them together to put together work. My focus is nigh gone. Reading has become a chore of the highest order. Where I used to polish off a book a day sometimes, I can barely read thirty pages without having to stop. I reread whole pages when I lose focus. I can barely watch an episode of TV without needing to let my thoughts wander like lost sheep. And when that’s not happening, there’s a fog in my head so thick I can barely think through it. I’ve had that before but not this bad.

Why am I sharing all this, you ask? Because of one thing: all this is making it a bitch to write.

I’m getting work done but its at a snail’s pace by comparison to what I’m used to. Where I could churn out ten thousand words in a sitting, I’m now fighting for two. And if that isn’t the most frustrating thing to a writer like me, I don’t know what is.

The hardest part is that my instinct for creating new ideas hasn’t slowed down. There’s still a million ideas building up in my brain, rushing around and pushing into me. I have notes for a dozen things I want to do, but when I sit down for execution? The fog rolls in and I have to slog through where once I could fly.

But hey, I’m not manic anymore. So that’s a plus, right?

That last line was bitter. Its hard not to be frustrated. When I signed on to take medication over just dealing with my Type II bi-polar, I confided in my doctor that I was always concerned about losing touch with that ‘creative spark’ that made manic so appealing. Now, my life has to change to fit this whole new paradigm. And that paradigm includes the thing that I love doing more than anything else – writing – being not the joy that it was but a fight for every page. Its not just work now. Its brutal sometimes.

But I’m healthier than I was, at least in my head. And that’s what’s important, right?

My friend John Adamus says I have to adjust the way I work to adapt to this. And I am… slowly. But I guess this post is to say that though it is necessary, it is a slow process that is demanding a lot of my attention. And it is making me feel off my game. I have not been the ‘get up and go’ Shoshana lately that juggles multiple projects with my usual stubborn tenacity. I’m exhausted, hiding away from distractions to try and get work done. But I am taking the time to do this. Why? Because adjustment means I can be the professional I want to be. It means that in the grand scheme of things, I will find a way to make this work so I can be the best writer and the best person together that I can be. Accepting that things need to change is an adventure. But they did need to change when I went on the medication, they are better off now then they were before, and the work goes on. On all fronts.

I’m talking to my doctor about the side effects. I’m going to ask him if there’s anything I can do to mitigate them. Until then, however, I’m going to keep working. Even if it takes me twice as long as normal to write a thing, the writing will get done. And I’m going to try not to be cranky at myself about it.


  1. I can’t say enough about how illuminating it is to read your thoughtful and sometimes very raw accounts of managing the personal ‘running costs’ of a bipolar disorder. I’d say hearing this inevitably helps other people – whether in the same position or knowing someone who is – you deserve a positive knock-on effect from that 🙂

  2. This is the world which we are forced to call “reality”. No one said it would be practical or pleasant. The best e can do is keep at it until we get it right. Best of Luck, Friend

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