A few days ago I shared that every 3 months I get shots for my Cerebral Palsy. They make me feel pretty awful for the first 72 hours. Recovering from the shots this time got me thinking about medication in general.
Before I go any further, I am going to assert that I am pro-psychopharmacology. I believe strongly in treating mental health issues with psych meds. I know that there is a wide range of points of view on this topic. That’s a good thing. It means we’re talking about it, and engaging in an ongoing dialogue. This is how we learn and keep growing. Getting back to my own point of view, since it is my blog, I believe that meds play an important role in the treatment of mental illness.
I began treatment with a psychiatrist after having had my psych meds prescribed by my general practice doctor for years. (I'd tried off and on for a few years to find a psychiatrist, but that's another entry.) After about 6 months of seeing this new doctor, it was clear that a medication I was taking had become problematic. I was really scared to talk to my psychiatrist about it. I really like this doctor, and was afraid of being judged. Instead, I was heard and understood. Being heard and understood is a human need. Shame is one of the most stifling emotions we can have, and the problem I had with the medication made me feel awful about myself. A great weight lifted from my shoulders when my doctor replied to my tearful explanation with, "Clearly this is the wrong med for you. There's nothing wrong with that!"
If I'd kept my pain and anguish to myself and just tried to power through how the med was making me feel, I could have been in some very real trouble. All it took was speaking up.
All medications have side effects. Some are so mild, the patient doesn't even notice them. Others are easily managed, and some are tolerated for the benefit of the drug. When a medication is causing side effects that feel as bad, or worse, than the symptom it's supposed to be treating, PLEASE say something!
Now, here’s the thing about psych meds: they work by treating chemical imbalances in the brain. For example, a person with Depression has a lower amount of certain neurotransmitters, like Serotonin. Medication works to fix this. For a person with Depression to see the best results, however, medication should be part of more comprehensive treatment.
In addition to my psychiatrist, I also have a therapist. My therapist and I work together to see patterns in my life that contribute to Depression, and patterns in Depression that affect my life. We have worked together to help me identify when I am having a depressive episode before it becomes so severe it takes over my ability to function. When I’m able to identify an episode early on, I can take steps to keep it from getting worse. From there, my therapist and I look at what I need to do during a depressive episode to start feeling better. If I don’t do anything at this stage, the symptoms will progress and make it much more difficult for me to reach out and access the help I need. One of the first things I do is call my psychiatrist, and tell her that I’m having symptoms. She can then work with me to see what can be done, medication wise, to help me work on feeling better. My therapist and I work on breaking things down into manageable tasks so that life doesn’t feel so overwhelming. My Depression tries hard to tell me terrible things about myself, but talking them out with someone keeps me from getting sucked into believing them, or worse, acting on them.
Medication alone will not fix a mental health issue. Behavior alone will not fix a mental health issue. Friends and family alone will not fix a mental health issue. Therapy alone will not fix a mental health issue. Here’s the big one though: You alone will not fix a mental health issue. No matter how many times I go through it, I am always pleasantly surprised at how much easier it is once I get my support people involved. This doesn’t mean it’s easy. But every time I get through it, I prove that nagging voice in the back of my mind wrong.
Please don’t be afraid of the meds. You can’t drive a car without gas, but you still have to do other things to make the car move. Mental health issues can be made manageable if you can take care of the different components so that they all work together. One of my first feelings when I start experiencing symptoms is fear. I am learning that this fear is just my Depression trying to take over before I can send it back from whence it came. It takes work, but it’s worth it. You matter.