Breaking the Stigma: Meds

In the past I’ve been pretty adamant about finding alternatives for medication, and I still am to some extent.  Medication is really tricky and it’s difficult to know if it’s right for you, which is why it’s so important to have a good psychiatrist or other medical professional who can prescribe you medication.

I’ve been taking medication for 16 years and yet I still sometimes have a problem with it. There was a five year period where I was off medication completely but that ended three years ago, and I’ve been back on ever since.  I felt some sense of pride that I didn’t need medication, which is really stupid because there’s nothing wrong with taking medication.  But this was 8 years ago and the mental health movement was still far from taking off.  I was so embarrassed of my medication that I used to hide it in vitamin bottles so my roommates wouldn’t know.

Not everyone with a mental illness needs medication, but for those of us who do it can sometimes be a hard pill to swallow (no pun intended) to know that you may very well be on medication for the rest of your life.  For me, it makes me feel like I’m sick and I hate that feeling.  Most of the time I’m ok with the fact that I have a mental illness and I need to take medication to manage it, but sometimes it can be really hard to deal with.  I get this idea that I need pills to be normal and that somehow makes me wrong or broken.  But really that’s not the case.  So many people take medication for so many reasons and I would never judge someone for taking their medication so why should I judge myself?

I currently take two medications, one as a mood stabilizer and one to help with depression.  Recently I added a third to help with anxiety, which for some reason I had been very hesitant to take.  I’ve struggled with anxiety since high school but over the past several months it had become unmanageable.  I found myself having a hard time having conversations with people or reading because I could’t stop my mind from racing.  I had so many irrational fears and found myself performing rituals, similar to OCD, like checking the door lock more and more.  Sometimes the anxiety about locking the door got to bad that I would get to work (which is a 40 minute commute) and turn around and go home to check the door.  I’m sorry to say I did that more than a few times.

Even though anxiety was clearly affecting my life in a very negative way, I was hesitant to talk to my doctor about it.  I would casually mention it but always downplayed it and said it was probably just because of work.  But finally it got to the point where I couldn’t enjoy being with other people because I was too anxious about literally anything that I finally said something to my doctor.  He gave me a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication and I am not kidding when I say this – it was LIFE CHANGING. It felt like someone finally silenced the constant chatter of my mind that was incessantly and relentlessly pestering me with things to worry about.  I can’t fully explain how helpful this medication is to me because it’s that amazing.  I feel like I got my life back.

My point is not to push drugs on people, but to say that it’s important to be open to treatment.  There’s no need to suffer is silence.  If you’re taking medication and something isn’t working, tell your doctor.  If you think you might need medication, talk to  your primary care about finding a psychiatrist.  It’s amazing how medication can change your life and there’s no reason to feel ashamed that you need to take a pill (or two) to feel like yourself.  I’m trying to erase “feeling normal” from my vocabulary because what does feeling normal even mean?  I like feeling like me, and being riddled with anxiety is anything but that.  I wish I had said something sooner because anxiety got in the way for lot of things for me over the past several months.  But I’m happy I finally said something and found the help that I needed.  For me, natural remedies don’t work and I need medication. And there is nothing wrong with that.

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Warning: This is PSA

I’ve been writing more about medication recently because meds have always been a part of my battle with mental health that I’ve had mixed feelings about.  I think that one of the reasons I’ve also been apprehensive and skeptical about medication is because of the stigma that comes with it.

When I was in college my mom gave me this little capsule to put on my keychain so I could “discreetly” keep my meds with me and hope that people just wouldn’t notice.  Mental health is a lot better understood and accepted (well, it’s sort of better) today than it was in the early 2000s, so I grew up thinking that I was broken.  We didn’t have the Internet like we do today.  There weren’t all these online support groups to validate my experiences and show me that I wasn’t broken, I just needed a little extra help to stay together.  We all do at certain points in our life.  But because of this lack of an unseen, understanding network of people just like me, I thought medication made me different and weird.

It’s hard when you’re 18 and you think the world revolves around you to get your head out of your ass and see the bigger picture; we ALL have problems.  Just because your brand of crazy doesn’t have a label like depression or bipolar, doesn’t mean that you may not need a little extra support from time to time.  And medication can give that.

While I do fully believe that we are in an incredibly overmedicated climate thanks to Big Pharma convincing everyone that they have depression through their stupid commercials, I also believe that medication can really help some people.  Like me.

Several months ago I put myself into a position that could have ruined my wedding day for me.  It was also because I was stubborn and didn’t want to deal with medication.  One of the problems of having dealt with this issues for so many years is I’ve become jaded about certain things, particularly medication.  I’d say that 90% of the psychiatrists, psychologist, and therapists I’ve seen over the years have been TERRIBLE.  Like, they should have their license ripped away from them.  And then be punched in the face.  But I digress.  I finally found a good one, thanks to my mom.  Still, I was hesitant to call him when I noticed a problem because I was afraid of going on a new medication right before my wedding.  What a mistake that was.  I was still able to have an incredible time (and I credit that mainly to the fact that we got married at a spa.  Best decision ever), but I put myself and my beloved husband at risk.  If one of us is upset, it’s almost impossible for the other not to feel it.

Right after the wedding, the happiness and stability I was somehow able to create for that weekend came crashing down.  I spiraled right back to that unpleasantly familiar  depression I was just getting used to (Editors note: NO. DON’T EVER DO THAT).  I finally called my doctor and he lectured me, in a kind and caring way, that when I feel off I need to call him.  As he said, “If I had you on heart medication and you started to feel sick, wouldn’t you call me?”  Touché doctor.   So he changed my medication about a month ago and I actually feel like a person again; a person that I’ve haven’t been able to be in what feels like a very, very long time.  It’s amazing, it feels like getting my life back.

So my point is this – if you feel that you may need medication, whether you have a diagnosis or not, talk to a doctor.  Don’t google it and don’t just ask other people who take medication because there’s a whole science behind it that the vast majority of us can’t begin to comprehend.  But definitely do your research on your doctor; there are a lot of assholes out there who just look at you as a paycheck and not a human with real problems.
Medication doesn’t make you crazy.  Your erratic behavior makes you crazy.  Kidding!! You have to joke about this stuff or it will be a very long and arduous life.  If you don’t have anyone to talk to about this stuff or just want some advice or even just to vent about how Wellbutrin made you think that everything is vibrating, or getting of Effexor was (apparently) just like getting off heroin (anyone? No, just me?) then leave a comment to get a conversation going or email me at kate@thebrochick.com.  I’m on your side.

Keep fighting the food fight.