I decided to write this blog because there is still a huge stigma around taking medications for anxiety and depression and even more so if you go to someone who actually knows all the options of those meds (a Psychiatrist) as opposed to a general practice Doctor. People think therapy is enough, and it may be, at first or it may be for you, and if so, you’re one of the lucky ones whose brain chemistry is only slightly off and can fix it through behavioral changes only. Others think the “all-natural” approach is better. I’m all for all-natural when I know it works, like Valerian Root in my sleepy time tea to help me sleep, or when I know it won’t hurt to take it, like arnica for bruising. But I would never take an all-natural treatment in place of something like an antibiotic. If for some reason, the bacteria had not already evolved to resist the effects, the treatments are inconsistently dosed and would eventually cause resistant strains. I am science-minded and I like to know that when I really need a medication it’s going to work and has been backed by science.
For me, I tried to go med-free for a long time. I had troubles finding a medication that worked and the one medication that seemed to make a difference, also caused me to vomit and sweat profusely, which is not too effective at giving anyone a normal life. There were some meds that didn’t work at all and others that caused me to be worse. And I’m sure anyone reading this who is resistant to trying medications for their mental health is thinking “See, meds are bad” but please, keep reading. I stopped trying and tried to just go the therapy route to little avail. I would have a few upswings, but for the most part I was struggling in a daily fight with a brain that wanted to hurt me and I knew I didn’t have the energy to fight it forever. Finally, my current psychologist encouraged me to see a psychiatrist friend of hers and just talk to her about my issues with medications. She listened and knew much more than my primary care doctor about all the medications available and what the main side-effects were and methods of action. She knew that the med that would have worked had it not made me sick was an SNRI as opposed to an SSRI (Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor as opposed to a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) and that there was a newer form of an SNRI that was gentler on the stomach and she thought it might work. Just to be safe, we started me out on the lowest dose and very gradually increased to the highest dose available. The highest dose would have been enough if I hadn’t been hit with, what I can best describe at the moment as a big bag of emotional shit. That will be another blog someday. But for the purposes of this blog, I needed something more than the max dose of the only medication I ever had success with and I was frightened that I’d be back at square one, but my psychiatrist knew of several drugs that can work together with my current medication to boost the effects safely and picked a low dose of an anti-psychotic used to boost the effects of anti-depressants. I’m impressed at how well it worked! I still go to therapy, because the best program is a mix of learning good coping skills while having your brain chemistry better balanced through medication. The work in therapy is so much more effective now that I have medications helping me. I’m finally becoming more confident and I made huge strides in trudging through the emotional shit storm I got hit with and I couldn’t have done any of that without the help of a healthy brain chemistry.
So if you are suffering from mental illness or you know someone who is, please don’t discount the effectiveness of medication and of seeing a specialist just because the word “psychiatrist” scares most people away (a stigma that really needs to go away). Mental illness is just that, an illness, and most cases do require a certain amount of medical intervention to successfully lead a good life. I know some people have tried every medication out there to no avail, but more and more medications become available each year and hopefully one of those will help. Don’t give up.
If you are on a medication that is successfully treating your mental illness, be proud of it. Help end the stigma by telling your story of how it worked for you. I’m on an SNRI and a low-dose anti-psychotic and I’m proud of it! My brain finally isn’t constantly trying to hurt me so I have more energy for living a real life.