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Pyjama Girl has to take her medicine

by Liz Main

9th March 2004

I hate it when doctors decide to tamper with my medication. So I was not best pleased when I got told I need to take another mood stabiliser.
I already take one that is very good for stopping me getting depressed. But now I have to take one that stops me getting elated as well. And it might make my hair fall out. Not to mention the "transient" weight gain, or the water retention.

But it does have one advantage over any psychotropic medication I've taken before. It's pretty.

Now maybe the fact that I spend a good five minutes admiring these new pills before taking them is sure evidence that I need them. I don't care. In a long career of pill popping, I've never before been presented with a lovely purple pill whose ergonomic design reminds me of a sleek car.

I almost can't wait to increase the dose to see what the 300 mg tablets look like. I'm hoping for a contrasting colour scheme. After all, the 500 mg packaging is silver-on-purple and the 300 mg is purple-on-silver. So surely we'll at least get a different tone? It's a French manufacturer after all ... and the French know about these things!

And it's not that standard plastic bubble backed with flimsy foil packaging either, which invariably pops open in your handbag leaving unrecognisable paracetemol and flu tablets gathering fluff down the bottom with a few stray tic tacs.

No, the new pills are by far the prettiest. The only thing that comes close is the lofepramine I was once on, an antidepressant that seemed determined to cheer you up with its Christmassy packaging - green plastic casing, bright red pills. It was a nice, dark red - I'm still searching for a lipstick that exact colour. The packaging certainly didn't pass the handbag test, but at least the scattered pills didn't require close inspection to determine what they were. Sadly those pills did very little for my state of mind so got traded in for boring little white ones that worked so well they made me manic.

I'm not entirely sure why the aesthetics matter, but heck, if I've got to take all these tablets with all these vile side effects, I want the drug companies to make a bit of an effort!

The mood stabiliser tablets I take to stop the gloomy side of things, really aren't even trying. They are horrible little flat squares in a sort of anaemic peach in the bog standard packaging. And if I need to take them anywhere they have to go in the box, taking up space in my overcrowded bag.

For some reason, the names of the drugs matter too. Not the brand names which tend to be universally stupid. The latest antipsychotic, yet to reach our shores, is marketed as Abilify; I kid you not.

I like the generic names. Like zolpidem and zopiclone for sleeping pills, and quetiapine and olanzapine for antipsychotics, and venlafaxine and paroxetine for antidepressants. Is there some doctor-hating person out there who spends their life thinking up hard-to-spell names as revenge on whoever wrote them a particularly dodgy prescription? Or are they just spat out by some computer that randomly generates drug names?

I do like the name of my new mood stabiliser - sodium valproate. Not sure what the valproate means, but I understand the sodium part. The kind I take is cut with something called valproic acid which I'm not so keen on - sounds like something that would be administered by an alien to an unsuspecting earthling! But it's better than lamotrigine, which has taken me six months to learn how to spell. (Yep, these are epilepsy drugs for the pharmaceutical cognoscenti out there, but they moonlight as mood stabilisers.)

Whatever is in a name, I hate taking medication. And because I hate it so much, there is nothing that infuriates me more than when it works. I am, of course, rather glad it works. But I'd rather like something that works without side effects, without having to remember it wherever you go, and without ending up gathering fluff in the seams of your handbag. It would also be nice to be without the pills for the side effects - although right now that's only a load of vitamin C to stave off infection lest my white blood cell count drops and a few zinc and selenium tablets that will hopefully stop my hair falling out. If it does fall out, though, the patient advice sheet says it might grow back curly which would achieve a life long aspiration, but would it all go curly, or just the bits that fell out???

I can't imagine that this is peculiar to mental health - many Ouch readers of all hues of disability (and even a few normies) must have to pop a few pills. I wonder if everyone hates it as much as everyone I know hates their psychotropic wonder drugs. As the White Stripes so astutely sing "Girl, you have to take your medicine."

I'm not asking for a spoon full of sugar, but surely a pretty pill isn't too much beg.

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