CONTENT WARNING: Severe Depression & Self Harm
In 2006, I found myself sitting on the bathroom floor of a psych ward, trying to figure out how to cut my wrists open with a plastic knife.
It was my second hospitalization in less than a year, after finally giving into my psychiatrists and trying some prescription antidepressants. I’d suffered from cyclical depression and anxiety attacks since I was fifteen years old; the same year my mother was permanently institutionalized for bipolar and schizoaffective disorder (after a decade-and-a-half of pharmaceuticals and electric shock therapy had failed her).
I know now that I suffer from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, but I had been misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2003.
I had been a good, compliant patient.
Unlike my mother, I had taken all my medications as prescribed: Effexor, Topamax, Lithium, Cymbalta, Strattera, Geodon, Lexapro, Xanax, Ambien…so why was I not feeling any better? I didn’t want to commit suicide, but, every cell in my body was telling me I was worthless and a waste of space, and I should do the world a favor and get rid of myself and be done with it.
When I’d been prescribed my first pharmaceutical antidepressant, I had a successful position as a hospital administrator in some prominent hospitals. Within about two years and four prescriptions later, everything started falling apart. I had strained relationships with my superiors and coworkers and couldn’t keep a job.
I’d never been hospitalized before going on antidepressants, and had now been hospitalized twice in eight months. I was in financial ruin, as I ended up needing to declare bankruptcy after my first hospitalization, even though at the time I’d been “fully insured”, and paid my $550+ premiums on time every month. I’d wanted to go to nursing school and had been accepted into an LPN program, but my credit was so bad after the first hospitalization, I couldn’t get a loan.
So, while I was sitting on the bathroom floor of the psych ward with the plastic knife, it dawned on me: I lived in California, and medical marijuana had been legal here since 1996. There were doctors advertising the benefits in L.A. Weekly Magazines all over the city.
I’d never been a big smoker, and had bought into all the “Just Say No” Reagan propaganda of the 80’s which I’d grown up with. However, I did try it recreationally a few times in high school and college, and didn’t understand what the big deal was. I found it had a relaxing effect, but always felt guilty afterwards because it was illegal, and I should “just say no”.
But, nothing else that standard medicine had to offer seemed to be working for me, and it seemed silly to continue to torture myself if I could obtain and try cannabis safely and legally under a doctor’s supervision. What if it worked?
So, that day on the bathroom floor of the psych ward, I decided to take control of my mental health. I pulled myself together and walked out of the bathroom. The next time the doctors and nurses met with me, I said all the right things to get discharged.
The following Monday, I picked up the newspaper and found a doctor in the ad section advertising medical marijuana recommendations.
In his office, was the first time I’d heard about the differences between “Sativa” and “Indica”, and how I could use one type of strain to deal with the depression, and the other to deal with insomnia and anxiety.The doctor wrote me a letter stating I was under his care and he felt cannabis could benefit me, by using it to treat my anxiety, insomnia and depression. I was required to make another appointment with him in 3 months so he could follow up with me. With that letter and my California Driver’s License, I could walk into any legal dispensary and purchase what I needed immediately.
Cannabis worked wonders for me, and without any of the negative side effects of standard pharmaceuticals. Although I had a healthy appetite when I used cannabis, I didn’t gain weight and lose all my energy the same way I had on Lithium and Effexor, or the other combinations and “cocktails” I’d been on.
Also, my friends no longer seemed afraid to be around me. Standard pharmaceuticals had exacerbated my mood swings, and my friends seemed to be coming around less and less when I was taking them. In fact, a former supervisor of mine, who’d watch me go through the psych-med merry-go-round, admitted to me one day, “I’ve seen you on nothing, I’ve seen you on pills, and now I’ve seen you on cannabis. I think this how I like you the best, on cannabis.”
After becoming a cannabis patient and going through some horrible withdrawals from Effexor (which seemed to literally last forever), I was never admitted to the hospital for psychiatric treatment again. I quickly became a believer in the medical value of cannabis as a psychiatric medication.
I had pretty much lost faith in Western Medicine, and I ended up taking a job at a dispensary in Los Angeles. Before my experiences, I really had only considered cannabis to be more of a comfort measure, but after three years of seeing what the miraculous plant did for everyone suffering from insomnia to cancer, MS, and a large range of neurological and immunological diseases, I realized this plant had more to offer than just relief from pain and depression.
I decided to go to nursing school after all, so I could educate and help others navigate the healing powers of cannabis in the framework of a healthcare professional.
I’ve been a Registered Nurse for three years now, specializing in Psychiatric Nursing. I will continue to advocate for other patients through cannabis activism and education. People need to know, there is another option out there. It’s time for medical and healthcare professionals to start learning about, and talking about cannabis with their patients.