I am not a doctor. I can only share my experiences with medication for PTSD, dos and do nots. Never stop taking your meds without informing your doctor of that decision first. If you are concerned about what the medications could do to you physiologically, express those concerns with your doc and see what you can do together to mitigate those effects.
OK, now that we have that out of the way, let me take you on a little trip back to 2004 when I first got home. As soon as I got into the VA system, I was put on meds. I was put on trazodone for sleep (the nightmares were nightly for months after I initially got home), Citalopram HBr for mood, and Gabapentin for jitters. I took them religiously for two years. I honestly think that the compassion of my teachers and staying on my cocktail were the only reasons I made it through college.
In March 2006, I met my wife, I made the classic mistake that all properly medicated people make at some point in their treatment. I felt so good, I went off my meds. I stayed off them until December 2007, I think. There may have been little spurts where I took them, but it wasn't consistent. I had graduated from college in May 2007 and the stress of having to find a good paying job was killing me. I found a job at a local bank and without my meds, I went belly up and out the door in six months. I went back to the VA and they put me on my meds again in December 2007. In May 2008, my wife graduated from Massage Therapy school. Somewhere along the way I had stopped taking my meds again. Part of the problem is that my PTSD was really out of control and I was having issues with loss of my sense of the passing of time. My wife would ask if I had taken my pills and I would tell her I had because I really thought I had. My head was a mess.
In June 2008, we moved down to Georgia and things got really bad really fast. I had not access to a VA hospital that I trusted and, therefore, had no meds. We had moved down because there were supposedly a lot of jobs to be had down there. Unfortunately the economy was in full recession mode and there were no jobs to be found. I worked temp work here and there but my wife couldn't practice massage therapy because the state of Georgia never, in six months we were there, sent her a licence. Our finances were at a straining point, my PTSD in full episode (all I did was play Call of Duty 4, 12-16 hours per day). In December 2008, I took a contracting job in the Middle East out of pure desperation. We moved my wife back home to be near family and I went over to Qatar. I lasted about a month without my wife before I had to bring her over. The separation was too much. Keep in mind, I am still off my meds. Shortly after my wife got over there, we moved to Manama, Bahrain. And that's where my PTSD got dangerously bad. Without going into details, I was the worst I had ever been. I was drowning. Out of desperation, my wife put her foot down and we went home in September 2009.
I knew I was screwing everything up and I was determined to get myself straight. I went back to the VA and got put on meds. I started attending group sessions. I got a job at a local grocery store and still work there. I haven't gone off my meds since. It's the only period since I have been home that I have enjoyed a true sense of stability. Over time, the docs augmented my cocktail with Lorazepam (for anxiety), and Wellbutrin (additional mood med). The reason the changes were made was because I was noticing changes in my behavior that I didn't like. The previous meds didn't seem to be working the same as they had been. So the doc evaluated me and changed it up. Brain chemistry changes over time, so there will the potential need to 'tweak' the cocktail.
So what are the lessons to take away from my mistakes?
- If you are on meds, make sure you take them every day!
- If you do not like the way your meds make you feel or don't feel like you need them anymore, talk to your doc first. DO NOT stop without supervision.
- Stay involved in process, be aware of how the meds make you feel. If something feels off, tell your doc.
Now, I can say that meds are not for everyone. Some people will do better with natural alternatives. Some won't benefit from either. No two veterans are alike in their emotional needs. Regardless of what decision you decide to make, I ask that you consider how your potential change in emotional stability and change in demeanor could adversely affect the ones you love. It's not fair to put our loved ones through the emotional meat grinder because we are too proud to admit we actually need our meds/natural alternatives to stay stable.
So, there you have it. That's my lowdown on PTSD and Medication. I encourage you to educate your loved ones on the meds you are taking, including side effects. Having extra eyes looking for disturbing changes in emotional and physical health will help you stay healthier too.