Thursday, April 14, 2016

How Your Assumptions About Medication Hurt Us All

I am not sure how it has happened, but somewhere along the line of today's views of medication, the world of mental illness has taken a hit.  I have wondered if I missed the boat on this, if sometime back meds were different and had a reason to feared, or worse, hated.  For some reason I always believed myself that medication was 'bad'.  I don't know how that was ingrained into my psyche or if it was taught, or just assumed, but it seems like medication for a mental need is treated much differently than the rest of the body.

Have you ever rolled your eyes at someone who needed medication for their cancer?  Have you ever wondered if someone was 'faking it' for attention if they needed medication for their heart? Or did you tell someone with diabetes to 'think positive' and skip the insulin? Of course not! But these are reactions that happen all the time in the field of mental health, and these reactions are hurting all of us.

Let me clear a few things up, because I have battled depression for close to 30 years, and some years were harder than others, some episodes simply didn't clear until I relied on my doctor and medication.  In fact, I am sure it has saved my life a number of times.

Anti-depressants are not 'uppers'.
I am not a doctor so I am not going to go into the explanations  (you can Google it when you are done here), but there is something physically different in the brain of someone with mental illness. It can be serotonin uptake or a problem with neurotransmitters or maybe something else, but it is REAL and it usually doesn't just go away.  In fact, one person I talked to who works for a pharmaceutical testing company told me anti-depressants won't help you if you are not struggling with some of these issues in the brain. So if you are sad after a death taking an anti-depressant most likely will not help you. However, if you do take an anti-depressant and you notice things looking better for you, chances are your brain physically had something going on. It's not like speed and it doesn't make you weird. Let's get that notion cleared up.

Anti-depressants do not make you void of emotions.
Someone close to me once said they were afraid if they went on medication they wouldn't have spiritual experiences any more.  I have heard people say they were afraid they wouldn't be able to feel anything if they went on a med.  Some people start meds and are shocked to learn they still have bad days and feel a little depressed occasionally. All of these ideas are misconceptions society has picked up along the way.

 Your soul is still in tact, your heart still beats, you still get excited and disappointed. Sure, it may not be a disappointment to the extreme (like a depressed person might be used to) but bad days can still happen.  In my life I still feel like ME- just a better, less-reactionary me.  I can observe my worthless feeling and let it go, reminding myself of the good around me.  I can have a thought of death enter my mind and SEE IT, and have the mental power to deal with it in a healthy way.  I cry if I'm sad.  I laugh when I am happy.  I feel things every day.

Staying on medication is not a sign of weakness. 
This one I wish I could shout from the rooftops: "If you need medication, stay on it!"  Too many people take their medication and 'feel okay', and tell themselves "I can go off this now".  I have felt the shame in admitting I take a medication, and I have had times when I didn't speak up when someone else was bad mouthing prescriptions around me. (Keep in mind, I am in the field of alternative healing, so I hear this all time.) I feel like I am aware of this general feeling that medication for depression, anxiety, ADHD and the likes has become a dirty secret, and because of that parents want to pull their kids off the first chance  they get, and adults want to stop taking their prescription at first sign of normalcy so they can quietly slip back into the world of the healthy, non-medicated society. This assumption is probably the most dangerous of them all.

 First of all, there is a reason you started medication and a reason it worked. There is a physical need here, and because of our shortsightedness we forget that.  If you are in this situation please reflect on what urged you to actively treat your illness, and honor that.

Secondly, pulling yourself off meds is risky and dangerous.  More risky and dangerous than people are willing to talk about (and they should be talking about it more).  It should be treated as seriously as the heart, diabetic, or blood pressure medication. Please, please, please, don't just go off  'cold turkey' and wreak that havoc on your brain. It can cause chemical changes, relapses in extreme thoughts, and even withdrawal symptoms that affect the brain.  Again, I am not going into the science of it, but it is real. I am in awe of how embarrassed people are in regards to medication for mental illness. The need to hurry and be done with it is palpable. I don't understand how society has created a scenario where every illness is acceptable except for the one that deals with our most precious and vital  working part. If we lose our brains we lose everything. I get it, because I feel it. It is a real stigma and chances are at one time or another in your life you have said or reacted in a way that added to this stigma.  That is the tragedy of it.

While it's true that medication can be a temporary thing and does not have to be a life sentence, any change in dosage or phasing out of it should be done under the care of your doctor and with lots of help and support from those around you. It is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

I have tried to be braver in my conversations about my mental illness. I have started telling people how I treat it, talking about it more, and sharing my experiences with a little more courage.  I'll admit, I have contributed to this stigma most my life through my fear to speak up and speak out.  As long as those who deal with mental illness are ashamed of it, and those who don't deal with mental illness give them reasons to be ashamed, our society will continue to see the rise in suicide and other erratic behaviors.  I just happen to believe we are all to caring and all to connected to let that happen.


Monica said...

I have loved these recent posts. You are an amazing writer, and I love your non sensitive treatment of a topic that should not be considered so sensitive. I have been on anti-depressants for years. They were crucial for pulling me out of the blackest hole I could have ever imagined. I have felt pretty stable for quite awhile and at one point asked my doctor what he thought about me stopping the medications. He spent the time to talk with me and asked if I was having side effects or the reason for stopping the medications. I explained that I didn't experience any negative effects, I had just been thinking that since I had been so stable, I probably didn't need them anymore. He gently reminded me how rough of a position I had been in when I started the medication and recommended that I not make any modifications and risk a crash. I appreciated his advise and didn't change anything. I could share a bunch of anecdotes in response to this post, but this was the first thing that popped into my mind.

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