A Non-Responder's Story
Name Withheld to Protect My Former Treatment Professionals

I was always a sensitive person, but I was also sociable, accomplished enough, had a pretty good family life and a fair amount of self esteem. At the age of 15, though, my boyfriend broke up with me and I ended up seeing a runaway who was working at the burger joint across from my high school. I became pregnant. I overheard my parents talking and misunderstood what they were saying and, thinking they were going to force me to have an abortion, I ran away from home in the middle of the night. Traumatized, I was headed home after a few days of that, and I saw my mother on the street. I was happy to see her, but with her was a policeman who put cuffs on me. I was committed. That started ten years of treatments, countless medications, being misdiagnosed as bipolar, cycling in and out of psychiatric hospital. I was forced to give my baby up for adoption.

I had a psychiatrist I saw as an outpatient. I liked him somewhat, I do believe talking with him was some help. But, instead of making me pay for missed appointments, which would have meant making my father pay and was not really acceptable to me, he would have me take experimental medications. Like most antidepressants, either they did nothing more for me than cause weight gain and dry mouth, or, they caused hallucinations and worse psychological symptoms than I was dealing with already. This went on periodically for a couple of years. In spite of the fact that I attribute at least one hospital visit to the effects of one of these meds, called Ascendin, I recovered enough to enroll in first pre University and then University.

Then, when I was 24 I was sexually assaulted. Hospitalized again. Given every antidepressant that then existed, one after another, by my next psychiatrist. They provided no relief. He concluded that what I had was PTSD, and also that I was a €œnon-responder€ to anti-depressants. My research since has established that there are a lot of us non-responders. In spite of everything, I went on to get married, have a baby, work for 30 years, raise my daughter. I coped reasonably well with divorce, and remarried.

My father's death and my subsequent concussion and loss of a long term job, all happening at once, and then discovering a breast lump (it took 2 months to discover it was benign) caused me to become seriously anxious, possibly for the first time €" my problems had been mostly mood related, and I had painful memories that would surface inconveniently, particularly when I would be in certain parts of the city, but I had never had what you might call an anxiety disorder before. Also, I was not sleeping well and became run down and depressed. I saw a psychotherapist who suggested that I ought to try medication again. I had been medication free for many years. I thought I would try again, seeing as they had new pills. Maybe it would help. That was foolish of me.

I was prescribed Myrtazapine, a tetracyclic (atypical) antidepressant that was also supposed to be helpful with anxiety, and, Zopiclone for insomnia. Three days after I started taking them, I developed a blood pressure issue, numbness and tingling in my extremities, inter-dose withdrawal with the Zopiclone. Soon, I would spend each day waiting for my next dose of Zopiclone, counting the hours €˜till I could have it. After a week, I had my first ever panic attack; I thought I was going to die. I became paranoid. I knew I had to stop taking them when my daughter suggested we go to an activity and I heard myself say"I can't go out, I'll be killed". This wasn't the me I knew.

After three weeks, I stopped taking Myrtazapine fairly quickly, the Doc said I had not been on it long enough to cause serious "discontinuation" symptoms. It took longer to get off Zopiclone, and somewhere I still have little broken pieces of it, to remind myself never to go on these pills again. That was seven years ago.

While it may be that some psychiatric meds help some people sometimes, to me they are part of the traumatic past I have had to learn to live with. There are many alternative avenues that can benefit people with mood issues or anxiety: Just talking with an understanding therapist or counsellor or spiritual advisor or caring friend; mindfulness meditation; gentle regular exercise; yoga; learning new things and acquiring new skills; cognitive behaviour therapy; life skills training; artistic pursuits, music, practicing extreme self-care and good sleep hygiene; having a decent job; supportive relationships; getting involved in one's community . . . ĶIt is, to my mind, a great shame that the medical model of psychotherapy and the preponderance of psych med prescriptions cause these other methods to be overlooked.