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Those Little White Pills

Updated on June 5, 2018

Ah, Prednisone.

"We're going to start you on an 18 week Prednisone taper." my doctor says soberly.

My stomach sinks and I start to cry. I beg and plead. "Please, isn't there another way?"

My life over the next 18 weeks flashes before my eyes: Raiding my fridge at 3 am. Hiding in a closet with a tub of Betty Crocker chocolate fudge frosting while tears roll down my face. I look up at my wardrobe, filled with cute clothes I've been building up over the past three Prednisone-free years, knowing it will be months, maybe even years before I wear them again.

And the rage. Oh, the rage.

What are they?

Prednisone is a synthetic oral steroid used for...well...everything. It could be the closest thing in existence to a miracle drug.

Also known as:

The Physical Effects

The first thing that happens is I feel great. I mean, I could lift a school bus great. Nothing can touch me. I can go for days! And I like this feeling.

Then comes the not so fun effects like "Moon Face."

These steroids make us retain water, and the first place this becomes evident is in our jaw line. Mine completely disappears.

Then the acne. Oh, the acne.

On my face. On my back. On my chest.

And this isn't just your regular acne. No way. It goes deep. And it's red. And it's angry. And it gets huge white heads on it. Almost worthy of being called blisters. And when they pop it feels glorious.

Then there's the hunger.

And I don't mean "I can snack all day" kind of hunger. I mean "eat nine meals a day then snack through the night" kind of hunger. I can't ignore it. If I don't eat, I'll be the next candidate for a Snickers commercial.

I eat everything in sight. I once made a dozen chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. I gave two away. I ate the rest over a weekend.

On The Psychological Side...

Here's where the effects can get scary.

I take prednisone for a condition called Pyoderma Gangrenosum. Soon to be a hub of it's own. My uncle sometimes has to take it for Multiple Sclerosis, and my dad has been on it in the past for pneumonia. I'm not kidding when I say it's a miracle drug.

My uncle was hospitalized and given a boost of pred. He later called the police to report the hospital was holding him hostage and he needed a rescue.

My mother once phoned me near tears. "I don't know what's wrong with your dad, it doesn't matter what I do, he's angry and yelling at me."

I can tell you through lived experience, that prednisone is like having two halves to myself. Literally like Jekyll and Hyde.

If, Mr Hyde was the love child of a menopausal woman stuck in her 16 year old drama queen days and the Incredible Hulk.

I'm manically happy. Then I'm angry. Then I'm sad. Then I'm manically happy again. Then I spin out of control for two days until I burn out, then I need to rest for two days because that was exhausting.

I make decisions that I think are really good, only to taper down a little bit and ask myself "Why? Why did I think taking Dave the fish for a walk was a good idea?"

I've found my milk in the cupboard, and my coffee pot in the fridge.

I once got into my car, put it into first gear, and started panicking because we weren't going anywhere.

My seven year old then reminded me you need to start the car first.

Word retrieval is hard.


I don't know how many times I'm talking to my little girl, I want her to pass the salt, so I'll ask "Please pass the..."

And the word "salt" just completely vanishes from my vocabulary.

It's not that I don't know what it is. Of course I do. But the word just won't come to me right now.

Or I'm out at the grocery store having a conversation with the cashier. She hands me my receipt and I thank her. "Have a great pineapple!"

In my head I've told her to "Have a great day." Someone else will have to tell me I put pineapple into the sentence.

And the depression.

I've never been diagnosed with depression, but I experience it heavily on prednisone. To the point where I'm convinced my life is over and I maybe shouldn't keep fighting my illnesses so hard. That's pretty scary.

I've been coherent enough to call my parents to take my girl for a night, then made my way to my best friend's house and cried about how "broken" my head felt, and she has listened to every distorted messed up thing that had been running through my head before gently reminding me: "You have prednisone brain."

The Good News Is:

We can survive.

A few helpful tips to help you get through your time with prednisone include:

Eat foods that are high in potassium. Prednisone causes your body to hold on to excess sodium and flush potassium out.

Drink lots of water and sleep when you can. Just trust me on those two.

Go for gentle activity. I get this feeling where my joints don't have enough WD-40 and they're starting to cease up after a while. Walking and swimming keep me semi-active.

Calcium Supplements. It will cause bone density loss!

Get support. Make sure you have at least one person you can call if you start feeling like you're experiencing any of the nasty psychological effects. Have a plan so they know how to deal with it.

© 2018 Amber Joy

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