Tag Archives: Abilify

Increase in My Antidepressant Dose: Is It Working?

Tomorrow, I will see my psychiatrist for a medication review. Last month, the dose of my citalopram, an SSRI antidepressant, was increased. Do I truly feel it helps?

When I started on the higher dose of citalopram, I had no idea what to expect. I’d originally been prescribed this medication in September of 2010 and had never had its effecacy evaluated. I seem to remember I was put on citalopram after the dose of my Abilify had been increased twice in a few months’ time and I was still very irritable. Abilify is an atypical antipsychotic commonly used for irritability and emotional dysregulation of all kinds. Citalopram is primarily used for depression and anxiety, but it can also help with emotional dysregulation, or so I seem to remember my psychiatrist having said.

Even before I started on my higher dose of citalopram, my mood started to lift a little, possibly because of anticipation. Once I started on the higher dose, my mood remained relatively good for a short time. Things were looking up in the day activities department, so that also helped.

One thing I have clearly been noticing, is that I’m more active. I have less need for sleep during the day. I am also a little more motivated and inspired to get things done. Though I obviously did’t complete the #AtoZChallenge, I did write far more regularly on this blog last month than i’d done in almost two years before.

Another positive that I’ve noticed is that I am more able to keep myself from engaging in self-destructive behavior. I do still have urges, but I’m more able to reach out for help first.

Though these are all very positive changes, I must say that if I’m truly honest, my depressed mood is still the same if not worse. Same for my irritability. I still experience this feeling as though a heavy weight is on my shoulders. I still get agitated very easily. I still experience suicidal thoughts.

Then again, these are most likely more symptoms of emotional regulation issues rather than major depression. Unfortunately, there’s no medication that targets these specifically. I won’t have my first appointment with my new treatment coordinator till the 17th, and I assume we won’t be diving back into dialetical behavior therapy right then. I try to use the skills I’m learning through self-help groups and apps, but it’s all rather hard.

Then and Now: A Timeline of My Mental Health

It is often hard to see how far we’ve come on our journeys in life until we look back at where we came from. I am no exception to this. I tend to feel that I’m not improving in my coping with my mental health issues. There’s still this hurricane in my mind, after all. It is also hard because, whenever I seem to improve in my behavior, people’s expectations rise even higher. To shed light on the positive changes I’ve made on my journey through life with mental illness, today I will write a timeline of events related to my mental health.

2007: I was hospitalized on the acute ward on November 3 of this year. I was not allowed to leave the ward without someone accompanying me. For the first few days, I even had to have a nurse accompany me. After those first few days, any adult could accompany me, but they had to sometimes assure the nurses I was safe with them.

2008: I started out the year with a setback: I was given a seclusion plan, which meant I could be secluded if I was a burden to other patients or staff. By early February, however, my privileges were finally extended so that I could go off the ward unaccompanied for fifteen minutes. By early March, my privileges were quite suddenly extended to four hours of unaccompanied time off the ward, which is the maximum you could get at that unit. If you had this privilege, you could ask for extended leave if you had a reason for it. My seclusion plan was also lifted, only to be reintroduced again by June. Fortunately, I never had to actually be secluded, but the nurses frequently used it as a threat. The plan was lifted again in September, but only so that I could be moved to the resocialization unit.

2009: I transferred to the resocialization unit in March of 2009. I did mostly okay until September, when I had a major meltdown which elicited another patient’s aggression. The possibility of moving me to the locked ward for a few hours if I acted out was introduced into my treatment plan.

2010: I was sent to the locked unit for the first time. This did lead the staff to consider medication, and I agreed. I started on a low dose of Abilify, an antipsychotic, in late February. It had to be increased to a moderate dose by the summer and by September, Celexa, an antidepressant, was added. Both helped calm my anxiety and irritability. In November of this year, I was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and PTSD.

2011: I was on the waiting list for an autism-specialized group home and went there to stay over for a week-end in October of 2011. Unfortunately, the group home had changed its target population and there was too little support by the time I stayed over there. I didn’t end up going.

2012: I started planning to live with my husband by this time, originally pretty much solely because I didn’t have any suitable alterantive. I don’t mean this to insult my husband, but I didn’t feel I should be burdening him with care duties if at all possible. We moved into our aparetmetn by December. Meanwhile, I was trying to get treatment for my DID/PTSD.

2013: I had an intake interview with a psychiatrist who thought she could treat my DID/PTSD. She ultimately ended up turning me down. It had nothing to do with me, but she was too busy with her physician duties. I moved to my current institution, where i was soon diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I started schema-focused therapy, but this had little effect. My Abilify also got increased some more.

2014: I continued to struggle, but for the most part was quite stable. My Abilify had to be increased one last time in late 2014 (I am now at the highest dose). I did improve in my behavior and got a more cooperative relationship with my staff. I spent a few times in seclusion, but always voluntarily.

2015: I decided I wanted to live with my husband for real this time. We have been making arrangements, though it’s been slow-going. We will be moving to the tiny village sometime in December, so concrete arrangements cannot be made till then. I have been trying to get a med review for a few months now. Though my mind is still very unquiet, particulalry as my discharge out of the institution draws closer, I don’t tend to act out as much as I used to. I was in seclusion for a while last Monday, but before then it’d been over six months.

As I look back, I see that sometimes I take steps back and sometimes I take leaps forward, but in general, I’m moving up. I’ve never had to be moved back to a more restrictive unit, though I’ve sometimes wanted it. My medication did have to be increased a lot, but I don’t see that as entirely negative.

I am linking up with the 1-word blog challenge hosted by Lisa and Janine. The word choices for today are THEN and BREAK.

Deciding to Go on Psychiatric Medication #Write31Days

31 Days of Mental Health

Welcome to day 5 of the #Write31Days challenge. Today I’m focusing on a difficult decision people with mental illness might face: the decision to ask their doctors to prescribe them psychiatric medication.

Of course, patients do not make the decision to get on medication alone. Neither do doctors. Unless the patient’s mental illness causes them to be a threat to themselves or others, they cannot be forced to take medication. The patient decides whether they’ll swallow the pills prescribed to them, but the doctor ultimately decides what to prescribe. In other words, the decision about psychiatric medication is a cooperative process between doctor and patient.

Each time that I went on psychiatric medication, it was my doctor or another mental health professional who’d taken the initiative. Then again, being an informally-treated patient, I each time had the right to informed consent and chose to take my pills.

The first time I went on medication, in the summer of 2007, I was very seriously distressed. Looking back, the timing of my going on medication was about as wrong as can be. If I have to advise other patients on starting medication, I’ll advise them to change as little about the rest of their treatment or their lives as possible whilst trying the medication. I was pretty stupid in this respect, going on medication a week before I moved into independent living. Consequently, I didn’t have the opportunity to assess whether the medication worked. Maybe it did, but it is quite likely that, if it worked at all, it kept me just millimeters from falling off the edge of sanity.

I was also quite ill-informed about the medication’s side effects. The medication I was prescribed was Risperdal, an antipsychotic known for its metabolic side effects (ie. weight gain, risk of diabetes, etc.). Though I didn’t get any of these side effects as far as I knew, I did develop palpitations. The prescribing psychiatrist brushed this off, saying it was probably stress. Could be, but I’d never had this symptom before and never had it again. Since I know where to find reliable medication information, I quickly found out that heart palpitations are a relatively rare but very possible side effect from this medication.

Like the decision to go on medication, the decision to change a dose or to go off a medication again, requires cooperation between doctor and patient. Because I had moved a week after going on Risperdal and I didn’t have a psychiatrist in my new city, my GP was prescribing my medication. Understandably, she wasn’t sure how I’d do if she allowed me to quit the medication, so she was hesitant about this. I eventually just told her I was going to quit one way or another, and she recommended a taper schedule. In general, doctors have patients taper in relatively large steps, halving the dose one to several times and then stopping. It is however wise to taper more slowly.

I landed in a mental crisis four weeks after going off Risperdal. It is not known whether my going off of Risperdal caused me to fall off the edge, but I didn’t go back on medication right away. In fact, I didn’t go back for another more than two years.

I currently take Abilify, another antipsychotic, and Celexa, an antidepressant. People on antipsychotics are monitored for metabolic syndrome every six months to a year in my institution. When the monitoring project started, we were also given a long list of potential side effects and asked whether we had them or not. I had some, but not enough to warrant lowering my medication dose. The most common side effects of antipsychotics, other than metabolic syndrome, are movement disorders, like parkinsonism (stiffness and tremors similar to those in Parkinson’s Disease) and akathisia (severe restlessness and urge to move). There are medications that can counter thse side effects, particuarly parkinsonism. I don’t take any of these medications. However, it is very important to carefully consider the dosage of the antipsychotic and medications against its side effects. After all, most people want as few medications as possible, so it may not always be wise to counter each side effect with another medication.

Psychiatric Medications for Autism #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to another day in the A to Z Challenge, in which I focus on autism. Today, I will discuss psychiatric medication as a treatment for autistic symptoms.

Many autistic children and adults take one or more psychiatric medications. Most of these are prescribed off-label, which means they have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administraiton (FDA) or similar agencies in other countries for the specific purpose of trating autistic symptoms, but the doctor feels they may benefit an autistic person anyway. In 2006, risperidone (Risperdal) got approved for the treatment of irritability in autistic children ages five to sixteen. In 2009, aripiprazole (Abilify) got approved for this purpose too. Both of these medications were originally developed for treating psychotic symptoms in people with schizophrenia, but they are commonly used for treating irritability in people with conditions like bipolar disorder too.

Antidepressants are also commonly prescribed to autistic children and adults because of their potental effectiveness in treating anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive symptoms, all of which are common in autistic people. Fluoxetine (Prozac) has been FDA-approved for treating both obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression in childern age seven and up. Citalopram (Celexa) was specifically studied for its effectiveness in treating repetitive behaviors in autistic children, but was not found to be very effective.

Since many autistic people have comorbid attntion deficit (hyperactivity) disorder, many also take stimulants like methylphenidate (Ritalin or Concerta). Some autistic people take anticonvulsants, usually for epilepsy, but these medications can also be used as mood stabilizers.

Many autistic people have strong opinions on medication. For example, many people feel that medications are too often used in a situation where there is limited support in order to drug someone into compliance. A few years ago, I read of a study on intellectually disabled people in institutions, which compared the classic antipsychotic Haldol to Ripserdal and placebo. Each, including placebo, was equally effective, presumably because the people in the study got quite a bit of attention from researchers and this decreased their aggression. I have mixed feelings about this. I may’ve written earlier that I was prescribed Risperdal a week before moving into independent living in 2007. In this situation, clearly the medication was used as a substitute for proper care. However, since going on Abilify (and Celexa) in 2010, I have also been feeling significantly better and more able to cope. When you get your child on medication, it is important to change the medication only and allow other circumstances to remain as much the same as possible. Otherwise, you won’t be able to test whether the medication works.

Medicating Away for Autism: Dilemmas and Disillusions

A few weeks ago, I saw an old post on autism and medicating and what’s the dilemma being tweeted again. It got me thinking about my own journey on the path of the medication controversy.

I first learned about autism and medication from the likes of APANA (Autistic People Against Neuroleptic Abuse) and Autistics.org. It was communicated clearly on these sites that autistics should only take medications if the right supports are in place, they’re themselves suffering (as opposed to the parents suffering from the autistic’s behavior) and if the medication is not an antipsychotic. I took this information at face value. When I was myself diagnosed with autism, I became an enthusiastic autistic advocate. I was soon disillusioned.

When the option of medication was first mentioned to me, I was miserable. I had the right supports, although I was soon going to lose them due to moving into independent living. An antipsychotic wasn’t the first medication mentioned. But it was what I ultimatley ended up on. I wrote a blog post the next day about really well-informed consent. I wasn’t really aware of the fact that I had truly been mildly coerced into consenting and that 95% of the “really well-informed” bit came from my own Internet searching rather than the psychiatrist.

I quit my antipsychotic eventually when I realized it was being used as a substitute for proper care. I used the side effects as an excuse, but really I was still miserable, only just not miserable enough for increasing my supports. I was really fortunate that the psychiatrist who ended up admitting me to the hospital three weeks later, didn’t consider prescribing me the same antipsychotic, or any antipsychotic, again.

For years, I was without daily medication. I noticed how the use of PRN oxazepam was coerced, and I wasn’t going to go along with it – unless I was truly miserable. Or unless seclusion was touted as the only alternative.

In late 2009 and early 2010, I had the worst irritability I’d had in years. I knew that I might benefit from more support, but I also knew this wasn’t feasible, and my support was okay at least. So when my psychologist proposed I talk to the psychiatrist about medication, I consented. The psychiatrist gave me plenty of inforation, including many of his reasons for and against particular drugs (mood stabilizer vs. antipsychotic and if an antipsychotic, which one). He also gave me a week to think, and I consider the consent I gave this time for taking the antopsychotic Abilify to be really well-infomred.

My dose, however, had to be increased several times. I remember once telling the substitute psychiatrist, a much less considerate doctor than my regular psychiatrist, that I felt I needed more support, but I was bluntly told off and prescribed a higher dose of Abilify. Of course, legally I could’ve refused, but the irony of informal hospitalization is that you’re mde to believe you have a choice, only you don’t. I had, after all, been threatened with forced discharge if I didn’t consent to seclusion a few years prior, and this time, I didn’t even have a home to go back to, so what choice did I have?

For three years, I did fine on a moderate dose of Abilify. I did get a low dose of the antidepressant Celexa added, which forutnately never had to be increased. Then, in the summer of 2013, I moved to my current institution and soon found I had more meltdowns. I was threatened with the locked ward, in the kind of way where nurses don’t really mean it but just want to scare the crap out of you, so what choice did I have but get my Abilify increased again. And again?

I’m now at almost the highest dose of Abilify that can be prescribed, a five-fold increase from my original dose. I’m feeling really drugged up lately and in a kind of agitated state where I’m too drowsy to get out of bed yet feel irritable nonetheless. I’ve raised this issue with the staff and my psychologist several times, but nothing has come out of it.

Currently, I’m taking an antipsychotic to manage behavior that other people suffer more from than myself while I don’t have proper support. After all, proper support isn’t needed when you aren’t a pain in the neck of the staff, and when you are a pain in the neck, it’s all “attention-seeking” and “overreactivity” and they’ll treat you like crap until you’re begging for a PRN pill. Is this what Autism Daddy means? I’m assuming he wants the right support for his son, but he doesn’t care that other people are drugged up for a dentist’s appointment. Now I know that his son is more severely aggressive than I was when I gave my really well-informed consent to the original dose of Abilify, but I’m still worried.,/P>

As I wrote in my previous post, my psychologist considers medication to be a substitute for proper support. I disagree, but I’m afraid that I just got to go along with it, and the fact that I’m an informally admitted patient only makes this a little harder.

When I Shouldn’t Reach for My Meds (But I Do)

Today, I had a discussion with my psychiatrist. I’ve been feeling okay overall, but, when my therapist and social worker got talking to me about going into supported housing, it caused me to be irritable for days. I notice this a lot lately: when I’m able to stay in the present and just do my thing, I’ll still have some mood swings, but they aren’t nearly as severe as when I need to focus on the future. My therapist and I are clearly not on the same page in terms of my goals, and this causes me intense frustration. I’ve reached for my PRN medication almost everyday last week, even though it isn’t effective. At least the though that something would be numbing me and I had some control over my emotions was there.

My psychiatrist pretty much said that situational frustration is not a reason to reach for meds, and he’s right. That’s one of the main reasons I stopped my Risperdal, which had been used to make me just numb enough not to have a crisis while living independently, but not so numb that I didn’t feel the intense pain anymore. In a way, I want nothing to do with my increased dose of Abilify either. It wasn’t increased now, but it’s been increased twice since I came here seven months ago, while I’d been stable at a moderate dose for three years before I cam here. Medication isn’t a cure for shitty circumstances.

Yet I reach for medication everytime I feel frustrated. It’s probably what I’ve been learning to do. I can’t get more support if my therapist doesn’t want me to get it, and it’s still a fact that in psychiatric institutions, patients have little say in their treatment, unless their treatment goals are in line with the latest treatment philosophy. Back when patients had to be locked up for the rest of their lives, people wanting to move into the community, were medicated, secluded and otherwise forced into submission. Now that psychiatric services have to face budget cuts and their philosophy has changed to rehabilition, patients like me, who cannot cope with this pressure, are, albeit more subtly, still forced into submission. Still, the only way to numb the agitation that I feel at people trying to control my life, is to reach for my meds. It isn’t going to get me out of this vicious cycle, but then again, what is?

Antipsychotic Use in Autistics

Someone in a support group for pathological demand avoidance (a form of autism that is mostly only recognized in the UK) asked about using Risperdal (risperidone) for aggression and anxieyt. This prompted me to write about my experiences of medication use, and I want to elaborate on them, particularly as I made an interesitng self-observation today.

There is a lot of controvery surroudning the use of medications, particularly antipsychotics, for autism spectrum disorders. I personally do not disagree with the use of antipsychotics. They have a relatively solid evidence base, especially Risperdal and Abilify (aripiprazole). I have used both myself and currently take Abilify in a fairly high dose.

I have pointed this out before, but I want to say it again: if there are other changes in treatment, placement or support happening near the time you’re wanting to start medication, that’s not a wise moment to start medication. I started Risperdal a week before my move into independent living, and, if it had any effect at all, this was annihilated by the effects of the move. Also, don’t expect antipsychotics to get someone through a rough time These drugs are designed for long-term use and usually take several weeks to kick in. Benzodiazepines are better in this case, but don’t expect medications to cure support needs. Autistic people will always need support.

Antipsychotics are commonly used for aggression and irritability, but I made this interesting self-observation that my Abiilify also seems to help with rigidity and the resulting asocial behavior. I remember a few years ago reading a case study on the use of Abilify for core symptosm of Asperger’s (I’m too lazy to look up the reference). This may pose its own ethical dilemmas, cause what do we want to change about a utistics (especially children or others who are incapacitated) and what falls within the realm of acceptable neurodivergence? I wont’go into this right now.

To Medicate or Not to Medicate?

Yesterday, I was searching for autism bblogs and stumbled across Pam Byrne’s blog. In one of her latest posts, she writes about her son’s increasing and then decreasing behavior problems. One of the things that stuck out to me was the tough choice Pam made to medicate Alex.

Back when I first learned aobut autism, it was through Autistics.org and other autistic advocacy sites. I was a firm opponent of medicating for behavioral control, believing that an autistic child or adult should be helped with proper supports, not dulling meds. Particularly neuroleptics (antipsychotics) can cause severe cognitive dulling and other side effects with autistics, so I reasoned one should stay away from those especially.

That was in like 2006 to early 2007. In July of 2007, however, I was about to move to a new city and into independent living. I was having terrible meltdowns related to this. My community psychiatric nurse suggested a psychiatrist’s consulttion, and I agreed. The psychiatirst listened to my story and thought for a bit. Then she started to describe what she thought medication should do for me, and I paged my inner pharma encyclopedia to find out what she might be thinking of prescribing. She suggested Risperdal, an antypical antipsychotic. I had little opportunity to change my situation in any other way – the move, that was one of the worst moves in my life, had already been scheduled for the next week -, so I felt I had no other choice but to consent to the medication.

This was a bad choice: I had quite serious side effects that weren’t being taken seriously, and the med was used to dull me into submission when in fact living on my own was not suitable for me. I tapered myself off the Risperdal two months into my new living situation. Three weeks later, I landed in a psychiatric crisis tht led to hospitalization.

The psychiatrist who admitted me into the hospital recognized the need for better supports rather than medication. I agreed and was med-free apart from a PRN tranqilizer now and then for over two years.

However, supports have their limits. Especially in a society that relies on massive budget cuts, it’s not like you can actually get perfect supports. I at least can’t. Also, I have always wondered whether medication could somehow help me reduce the overlaod that is actually quite inherent in my experience of autism. Medication should not be used to manage behavior in an unsuitable situation, but what if one’s support situation is as suitable as can be? Could meds actually calm the autistic mind when it is nonsituationally unquiet?

I asked to be put back on meds in early 2010. The medication suggested by my psychiatrist this time was Abilify, another atypical antipsychotic. And to be quite honest, I like it. I started at a very lwo dose, which had to be increased three times. Not always did I agree to this, in the sense that on occasion I’ve felt that supports could’ve been improved, but they won’t whether I’m on meds or not. I have minimal side effects even on a pretty high dose of Abilify, and I can tell, three weeks after my l ast increase, that I’m happier this way. So is Pam’s Alex. Of course, with a child or non-communicative or intellectualy disabled adult, it’s harder to tell whether the person is truly happier than with a person like myself, who can communicate reasonably well. This is why I still advocate taking proper care when thinking of putting a child or communicatively impaired or intellectually disabled adult on an antipsychotic. These meds do dull cognition, and it can’t be known in these cases whether the person is truly less irritable. I strongly oppose the idea that this is not important, except when a person is severely aggressive or self-destructive. In cases other than this, a person should only be put on meds if they’ll actually be feeling better. I do, and going on Abilify was therefore one of the better decisions I’ve made in my life.