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A Hard Pill to Swallow
Gloria Williams
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My story is simple. It's about therapy and how it can sometimes help people. It's also about how being put on medication when you're not communicating well with your therapist can lead to some twisted turns.

When I was 5, I had to go to therapy. It was in this cool little spot right next to a white house (huge). It was kind of like a house itself, you know, living room and stuff. The secretary played classical music and they had the most cool kids' books. Back then I liked books about Clifford (the big red dog). That dog rocked!

My therapist was cool. She would say, "Hey, what's happening?!" and our little get-togethers would go as smooth as whipped cream. She had nice eyes, blonde hair (you can bet it was hers), and I could tell her things without feeling like she would tell my business.

We would talk about Mommy and Daddy (who were not together). They became the main subject-that and Mommy's sickness. She would say, "What's up with school?" and, "How are you feeling?" (You know, the questions your parents would ask but you'd never tell the truth.) Then she would say, "Tell me more."

We would talk for two hours or so while I played with the doctor set and this huge doll house (it was off the hook). I went to her for five years. She was a big help with a little girl's problems. Having her to talk to was a big relief.

I Missed My Old Home

After five years of seeing her, I moved and that meant a change of therapist. I loved my foster home and neighborhood where I'd lived and it killed me to leave. My new home was small, a shack next to my old house. Plus, my foster mother was fake and had a 5-year-old son straight out of hell. I missed my old foster sister and brothers. I missed my therapist a whole lot, too.

I tried to push out the fact that this was my new home. I just stayed with my brother and chilled with him (24/7 man), but everything felt like it was from another planet.

I went to a new therapist, and she was not as good as I thought she would be. In fact, everything was worse than it had been at my old therapist's.

The building was painted white with little paintings of children in fields on the walls (let's say very plain) and outside was this dark brown type of stone (dull and nasty). I did not like going there.

Starting Over Hurt

I didn't want to start over with a new therapist, but part of me thought I should give her a chance. When I tried, though, I just couldn't connect.

When I told my therapist something, she would almost always reply, "OK," in this tone that made me think she was really thinking, "Should I care?" Or she'd just nod, and in my mind I'd be like, "Hmmmm," or, "Whatever." She always seemed distant and uptight, not laid back and chill like my old therapist.

Then, every few weeks, she would not be there and I'd have to talk to some old geezer. He would just stare at me, then ask another question. He made me uncomfortable, but he still expected me to share my world with him (please).

Sometimes I would talk, but other times I wouldn't say a thing. I knew I was wasting my time, but at that time I really needed some type of outlet. Therapy was the outlet given to me, but it was not working.

Time went on and it got worse (in therapy and my life). I hated my foster parents and my sister was getting in trouble. Mommy got sicker and my father stopped coming by.

I tried to make the best of things. Sometimes I'd be my regular happy self, doing my thing and chilling. But other times I'd get upset. I would throw stuff out the window and watch it smash, or I'd cry real hard. My tantrums would only last a few minutes, but they'd happen often. I just wanted everything back to the way it was.

'Maybe We Should Try Something'

A lot of the time I would stay to myself. I would sit in my room and think about all the things I would do if I were an adult and I could do whatever I wanted. Or I just wanted to be with my mommy and stay there, far away from reality's problems.

After eight or nine months, my second therapist left and I got a new one, and then I got a few more. Let's say I got a few too many (four or five in all). The more they changed, the more I hated therapy.

Then, one of them decided I was depressed. She told me, "Maybe we should try something." She wanted me to go on medication. She said it would help me have a "normal" attitude toward things.

I was 12 and at that age I was like, "What the hell did I do?" She asked me how I felt about going on the medication. I said I didn't want to take it, but she told me it was mandatory. I felt like I had no rights at all.

image by Michael Tempro

The whole thing seemed so unreal, and I didn't know how it would be, so in the end I just said, "Yeah, whatever." If I kept protesting, I didn't think it would matter. My mom told the therapist that she didn't want me on medication, but they put me on it anyway.

They Put Me on Meds

The first drug they put me on was Wellbutrin. I took it once a day, and my foster mother would check my mouth every time to make sure I'd swallowed it. For me, the side effects of Wellbutrin were sleeplessness, headaches and nausea.

I could not sleep at night at all. Instead, I would play with my toys or read my books. I would think, "I sure hope I don't turn into a potato tonight." I'd also get sick to my stomach almost every other day for up to an hour.

Then, after taking the drug for a while, I felt my moods begin to change. I'd get hyper and then I'd feel low. I told my doctor. She said, "That's OK. That's the way it is," or something. But eventually I guess she heard what I had to say because after about a year she took me off that drug and put me on some different ones.

...And Then They Tried Some More

She put me on Lithium and Prozac, which are stronger drugs. I remember my doctor saying it was going to help me be "OK." This time I asked, "Is this mandatory?"

She said, "Well, I feel that you should be on it because of this in your life and that in your life." Basically she was telling me that it was mandatory. I was used to being a good girl so once again I thought, "OK, I'll take it," even though I didn't want to.

I took both drugs three times a day. I felt like my moods were no longer my own. I felt like they were trying to turn me into their robot.

For a little while of almost every day, I would be out of it like Alice down the rabbit hole. I would be low, just cut off from things. Then the roller coaster would go up and I'd be crazy, like I'd just drunk a million gallons of coffee and was going to the stars. I felt like I had two heads with different personalities.

I felt so different from before. Sometimes I really did feel happier. But when I was low, I felt so low I didn't even have the energy to cry. Then I felt lost in an endless cycle of regret. My main regret was that I had ever opened up to anyone.

I saw my psychiatrist every few weeks, and I told her I didn't want to be on the medication. I told her it was nasty. A few times they changed the dosage, but usually the psychiatrist just said I should keep taking them and they'd make me feel better.

I Ditched the Drugs

By then, my foster mother trusted me and didn't check whether I was swallowing the pills nearly as much, so I began to hide them or throw them away any chance I got. I ditched the drugs about every other day.

That probably made the drugs do even weirder things to me. But at the time, I felt like no one was listening to my protests, so that was my only way.

I was on those drugs for almost two years. Eventually, about two years ago, they sent me to a residential treatment center in upstate New York, where I live now, because the therapists decided that that would be best. When I got here, I did not like it. You can't go anywhere unless you are on a special level. We do not have our own rooms. Back then I didn't even have a radio so I couldn't listen to K-Rock (talk about pissed).

What I Needed Was Good Therapy

But I did get off all the medication that I'd been put on and the doctor who took me off them said it had been unnecessary to put me on them in the first place. He said that I didn't act depressed. That, my friend, was a beautiful thing.

I've been off medication for about a year, and I don't ever want to be on them again. I know that some kids are helped by medication, but I also believe that sometimes kids are put on them when they shouldn't be, mainly because there just isn't anyone who knows how to help them open up and deal with their problems emotionally.

I also know from my own experience how important it is, when you are taking medication, to have someone who you're sure will take your feelings seriously, so if something doesn't feel right, you can tell that person and that person will help you.

After the experiences I've had with therapy and medication, I'm not sure I will ever really trust a therapist again. But I still say my first therapist was off the hook. She didn't treat me like a lab animal. She was real and upfront and helped me out. She was a real outlet for me. I believe that's really what I needed.

Are you a caring adult looking for more stories to help your youth? Go to HeretoListen.org, a resource for the front-line staff in schools and community based programs to help teens who are struggling with difficult emotions.

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(FCYU-2001-03-14)

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