Let’s talk about psychiatric medication.
Over the last few years, I have had many conversations with friends and family about various mental health diagnoses of ourselves and loved ones (both confirmed and speculation) and only a few times medication has been part of the discussion. Most of the time when mental health is discussed, I hear the story of how someone becomes diagnosed due to a breakdown or Stage 3 or 4 symptoms and then that’s the end of the story.
When medication is part of the story, it’s often spoken about in a negative way:
“You can’t just pop a pill to be happy.”
“She was all doped up on all kinds of meds.”
“He self-medicated with drugs and alcohol.”
“The medicine prescribed just made things worse.”
“I felt like a zombie.”
“Someone could have punched me in the face and I would have smiled and thanked them.”
“Mental illness is spiritual warfare, so medication is not the answer.”
Mine is a somewhat classic story, in that medication was not part of it until I had been struggling with mental illness for many years.
I first experienced anxiety as a young child, which evolved to an anxiety disorder and depression as a teen. I attended talk therapy sessions from 14 until I moved away to college and from those four years of therapy I mainly learned that talking about feelings and a 20 minute walk daily should ward off depression and anxiety. No medications were suggested as I was coping and seemed resilient.
During college, my anxiety increased and I began to develop OCD and have panic attacks. At 21, I was prescribed my first antidepressant after I had a silent, nearly undetectable panic attack in my new internal medicine doctor’s office. I had become practiced at hiding my anxiety in public since I had no idea it was a medical condition and had a name. I tried hard to hide my symptoms and feelings because I thought I was just mentally weak.
The doctor prescribing me the antidepressant did not give me any referral to a therapist, or psychiatrist, or make any follow up appointments with me to manage this medication, unfortunately. I took the low dose antidepressant for a few months while living alone at college, but later stopped it on my own when I was feeling better. (Rookie mistake! Always talk to a doctor when changing your meds).
About a year later, I went to my student counseling center, on my own accord, and signed up 15 sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy to help treat the OCD and anxiety. These sessions made a tremendous impact on my functioning and mood. No meds were required at this point in my life.
Fast forward to today and I have been taking medication for panic disorder regularly for about seven years. I attend talk therapy regularly and have regular check ups with my psychiatrist. I love to read articles that help me tweak certain areas of my life relating to mental health and relationships.
In the last two years, I have become well-versed in self-care. I believe that caring for myself through managing stress is key when living with any mental health issue. I am continuously working on becoming more comfortable with my diagnoses and am beginning to find the courage to speak more openly about my experiences in order to fight mental health stigma.
Mainly regarding my anti-anxiety medication, I have had to use self-talk to teach myself that I am not just “popping a pill” to make me happy, but that there are times that I truly need this life improving medication.
I am grateful that I have been able to receive the necessary pharmaceutical treatment for my anxiety disorder. While cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was life-changing, so was the relief of being able to alter my fight-or-flight response chemically with a medication, as needed.
I am not a doctor, so this is a disclaimer to please consult a psychiatrist or doctor when making medication or any healthcare decision.
I felt the need to share my personal experience here so that it might be helpful to someone reading this who has been taught to have a negative attitude toward medication or doesn’t realize that other options such as CBT are out there.
Whatever self-help tactic you choose, I hope that you receive the help and support you need so that you can life a happy and healthy life.