Admittedly I can be a bit of a keyboard warrior, which sure beats being a plain old worrier, but something really bugged me today. There is a lot of stigma surrounding mental health, and even more around pharmaceutical support, some of us will experience it more than others, but it is there, you don’t really even need to look that hard.
Today while browsing through some amusing meme’s about mental health (nothing like a bit of dark and sarcastic humor, I’m not easily offended), I found one that was dangerous as much as it was offensive. The top was a beautiful picture of a rain forest, the bottom, a photo of medication, the caption worded to say that all someone suffering from depression needed was to get out in nature, and that they were going to ruin their lives and brains if they allowed themselves to be drugged. Somehow it made those who take medication seem lazy, weak, stupid, with just a few stigma filled and choicely placed words on a picture.
There are a million frightening stories about psychiatric medications on the web and many more that suggest they are nothing more than dangerous addictive placebos, put on us by big pharma, given to those too lazy and stupid to fix their own mental health by smelling peppermint oil (something I love by the way, so refreshing and calming), or going for a walk. Sadly that one silly, uninformed picture is not alone in spreading fear and paranoia among those of us who are so anxious already that we can barely function let alone hope for a pharmaceutical support to help us survive.
When my doctor first suggested that I needed medication to help balance me out, I flatly refused. In years long gone, I had tried almost every type of antidepressant available and had horrible side effects on each and every one, some worse than others. There was no way in my then current state that I would put myself through that again. The stories I had read on the internet only increased my fears and validated my own thoughts.
Along with my fear of side effects, there was also the fear of judgement, the stigma, the fear that I had failed, deep shame. I’m self admittedly stubborn to a fault, if I can’t do it myself, I darn well don’t want it done (unless it is making a phone call, but that is the subject of another blog post for another day). Taking medication meant that I had not succeeded in fixing my own health, that I was the biggest failure of all because I’d not tried hard enough. Surely I should be able to let go of the past, the traumas that haunt my dreams, surely I should be able to think more positively, why couldn’t I simply be happy with what I have in life?
However, wisely, my psychiatrist (and my husband) gently persisted, slowly easing me into the process by giving me a low dose antidepressant that’s key side effect was drowsiness, this was to be a welcome relief for a chronic insomniac and I agreed to give it a go. Once I had accepted that there was at least one medication that didn’t give me horrid side effects (but also no relief from my depression or anxiety), then came the slightly stronger push to put me onto more effective medication, it was described to me as a “crutch”, I remember my doctor telling me I needed help, more help than I could give myself even though he could see how much I was trying.
The thought of going on to full strength antidepressants was very difficult, again all those fears and self loathing thoughts flooded through my mind. As I sat there in his office, and did the one thing that I try never do in front of people, I cried. I cried and told him that he might think that medication was going to help me, but the only thing that would help me was to stop existing, to die. Kindly and reassuringly he insisted that the side effects I was most likely to experience were nothing compared to what I was already feeling, and may even be an improvement on the symptoms my anxiety and depression were giving me, but most of all they could be life saving.
I left his office, taking the prescription with me, but after a visit to the pharmacy, I left without filling my script and came home to fall apart in hysterical tears. My fears of side effects that would make me feel worse than the mental illness was already making me feel were consuming, the research I had done online filled me with terror, and the pharmacist had been little help, clawing at me was also shame, the shame that I even needed to be considering taking these horrible little pills. I felt as though the walls were closing in around me, pressing in, in a panic I shot an email off to my doctor, full of frantic words explaining how scared I was and that there was no hope for me, it was pointless for me to take them.
Then I sat and penned a goodbye letter to my dear husband and our children, I started to get my things in order, trying to find money to help my husband pay our bills and the funeral expenses. I was so tired, and so exhausted from fighting a battle I just did not feel I could ever win. Medication seemed to be the only option left to try again, and I was so certain that this one too would just fail me that it seemed totally pointless to even put myself and my family through the effort of trying it.
A few days later my dear husband walked me through the doors of a private psychiatric hospital, where lovely nurses admitted me, and ushered me off to meet my doctor who wrote up the medications I would be started on in a controlled environment. Somewhere that if I was sick or reacted in poor ways, immediate adjustments could be made for me, in part this was to try and soothe my almost paranoid anxiety, but also to give me and my husband a break from trying to keep me from acting on the deeply seductive suicidal thoughts that were becoming harder and harder to ignore.
Amazingly there were no side effects worth mentioning, as my anxiety and depression leveled out a little, so did the symptoms they were presenting me with. I am now medicated, my mood has balanced a lot, and my doctor, still aware of my fears and concerns with medication slowly has increased from the lowest dose to almost the highest. No amount of walking in the forest was going to help stabilise the brain chemistry that had gone awry, no smelling the salty air was going to remove the constant barrage of suicidal thoughts. No, it is the medication, and a lot of hard work from my husband, my doctor, and even myself that has kept me alive.
Remember when you read stories on the internet about how bad the medications are, how “big pharma” is turning us into zombies, how the side effects can make you feel, that yes, they can have side effects, they can make you feel horrible, they are probably not even a good first line of treatment, but there are times when they are definitely needed, where they save lives.
The internet can be helpful in many ways, but something I find good to consider is that those who have success with their medications are out living their lives, feeling better, more energetic, and well, they are less likely to be posting negative things about it online. They most certainly are not comparing medications to a walk in a park, or forest, or shaming those who need to take them.