Is It Me or My Meds?

Fifty people – from teens to retirees – speak out on life with antidepressants.

by David A. Karp
Harvard University Press, 293 pages, $25.95
Purchase Is It Me or My Meds?

Have you ever wondered whether ADHD medication has altered your sense of self? Do you worry that part of what makes you “you” has been lost in the quest for the “right” medication? Then you’ll want to read Is It Me or My Meds? Living with Antidepressants.
Although the author, David Karp, professor of sociology at Boston College, focuses on depression, much of what he writes is relevant to adults and adolescents with ADHD. At least 35 percent of ADDers have experienced major depression – and many have been treated with antidepressants along with ADHD meds. It’s common for the ADDers I treat to tell me that they wonder whether taking these medications – stimulants or other drugs – affects their personality.

According to Karp, “The important point here is that, in contrast to other medications, psychotropic drugs have as their purpose the transformation of people’s moods, feelings, and perceptions. These drugs act on – perhaps even create – people’s unconsciousness and, therefore, have profound effects on the nature of their identities.”

Karp begins by relating his own “uncertain journey” with antidepressants, which lasted 26 years: “There are no maps. You’re driving on dimly lit and poorly marked roads that require constant guesses about which turns to take.” Most of the book, however, is devoted to giving voice to 50 people, of various ages and backgrounds, who take psychotropic medication.

Karp is exquisitely attuned to what mood-alteration might mean for adolescents who are struggling to figure out who they are. The teens he quotes in Is It Me or My Meds? speak candidly about their reluctance to let others know about the pills they take. “People would think of me differently,” writes one 14-year-old. “People would think that I was this out-of-control guy who can’t live without this medication.”

Karp’s clear-eyed view of “biological psychiatry” offers a challenge to mental health practitioners. By no means is Karp suggesting that one should not take these meds, but it’s clear that he understands – and he beautifully communicates – what a complex decision it is to start taking them, and to stay on them.
You may want to buy two copies of this terrific book – one for yourself and one for your psychiatrist.