Thoughts of Medication
Updated: May 24, 2018
It all comes down to quality of life.
I've given some thought as to what I'd like to share around medication. This topic has been on my mind for some time and, I know, is an issue many others face. I feel that it's important to address to alleviate perceived failure if we are not able to fix an imbalanced brain with a jaunt around the block or avoiding that sugary snack.
I take medication. Not everyone with a mental health concern needs to. I choose to because it helps me. A lot. I know people say things like get some extra sunlight, take fish oil, exercise, do yoga, meditate, cut out sugar. I could go on. And I've done (and continue to do) all of it. Unfortunately, it isn't enough. And it often isn't for so many people like me. Even more unfortunately, hearing that these things should help me or even rectify my brain's chemical imbalance only served to make believe I should be able to do this on my own, I shouldn't need medication and basically.. I'm a failure.
The choice to take medication for a psychiatric reason is very personal. In my practice, I never pressure anyone to take a med, we all have the right to pursue stable mental health using the methods of our choice. I typically work with all my clients around sleep habits, diet, exercise, mindfulness practices and so on, which, for some, alone makes a world of difference.
I have tried various medications throughout my life time. Unfortunately, I was not diagnosed with bipolar disorder until my thirties. Without a clear understanding of what is not working right, it can't be fixed, so the ones I tried were mildly effective, made no difference at all, or, perhaps, made the problem worse. Yes, the wrong medication can make the problem worse, but does this mean I should have decided that all of it was bad?
I recall when I finally met the person who helped me. I was in grad school and just barely making it. The moods I experienced were taking me on a roller coaster ride every day. I sat across from this woman, yet another psychiatrist, and had only a glimmer of hope that maybe she could help me. I explained the many, many years of vicious mood swings; periods of depression followed by periods of wild grandiosity; the anxiety and depression that were ruling my mind at the time. She said, with reassuring confidence, "it sounds like bipolar," (what it was like learning I have bipolar disorder will need to be saved for another time, that will take up an entire post all on its own).
I was very tentative about trying medications because I had not had any luck in the past. She explained that a medication is not meant to simply alleviate symptoms, it is meant to allow the brain to function normally, to access all of its natural potential without being confused and bogged down. And I wanted that.
Unfortunately, psychiatry is not as exact of a science as other medical practices. Brains are like finger prints; individual and unique leaving trial and error to determine what will work. This can be an arduous and frustrating experience, yet, I can tell you that once we discovered the right medication for my brain, my world changed. All those aforementioned activities (walking, running, sunlight, meditation, yoga, and so forth) I was finally able to enjoy.
Throughout our lives our bodies change, which includes our brains' chemistries meaning some people may only need a medication for a period of their lives such as postpartum, when coping with grief, or during adolescence. It could also be that a medication may cease being as effective or stop working all together. In the last few months I've been exploring adding another medication to the one I've been taking for years. It was a difficult decision because of my own personal judgement, I should be totally together by now at nearly forty years old. Of course, I am very aware that my brain changes just like everyone else. Simply because I'm a therapist does not make me exempt... even if I believe it should. I was excited when we discovered one that provided me great relief, yet, after only a few months it stopped working. Since then, I've been on the same roller coaster ride that many of my clients are on as well.
While I've had OCD for a lifetime, after having my daughter two years ago I began to experience postpartum OCD (which will be the topic of another post). However, it didn't just go away a few months after her birth. Not in the least. When she was nearly a year and a half old I finally conceded I needed more help. Yet self judgement was getting in the way.
One evening, when scrolling through an OCD Facebook group, I came across a post written by a woman with this very concern; taking more than one medication. There was a response to it that was meaningful to me which read something like this, "who cares what anyone else thinks or the number of medications you need. This is your life and you want to feel good, to enjoy it, to LIVE it. If another medication helps you do that then so be it".
I'm still tentative and cautious about taking another medication, to try another hasn't been an easy decision. And once again I find myself on the roller coaster of trial and error, which is not a fun experience. Yet, I continue to hold hope that something will help me for the long term. Some people disagree with leaning on medication to assist in rectifying emotional issues, considering it a crutch or avoiding the real problem. For some who take a medication this may be true. However, not experiencing these debilitating disorders first hand may make it difficult to understand.
Medication enables me to be me, not dictated by impossible waves of moods. However, I also take care of myself beyond simply taking a pill; exercising, practicing yoga, eating the best I can, drinking a lot of water, getting regular sleep, going for walks, talking to people... I could go on. It takes a lot of effort to care for a mental illness, and I put more than my fair share in. But, for me, without medication, it would be much, much harder.
It all comes down to quality of life. And that is what I advise my clients. Medication or no medication, it is important to seek out what will improve your life so that you can enjoy it. After all, our time on earth is very short and I want to live mine peacefully content, yet my natural brain chemistry does not quiet line up with that. Sometimes a pill allows those of us living with mental illness to access a fuller and more serene inner world ... and I want that.