To Medicate... or Not? 💊
This question is definitely one of my FAQ's.
I'm not sure why anyone would think that it's up to me or anyone besides them and their doctor on whether or not to medicate themselves but hey, sometimes it's nice to hear someone else's opinion and experience. So today I felt like sharing my experience with medication and what my advice around it is.
When I went into treatment for Anorexia (couple that diagnoses with depression and anxiety - just like everyone else my age), it was obvious to the doctors that I should start some sort of anti-depressant/ anti-anxiety medication. And I was very resistant. I said no over and over again as they respectfully reminded me that it's always available to me if I change my mind.
A few months later after one too many nights of self harm and intense thoughts of suicide - I'd had enough. It was almost summer time and I just wanted to enjoy time with my friends. Everyone was so worried about me. I was worried about me. I wanted to kill myself. And I knew that wasn't a normal or healthy way of thinking. I don't know what force carried me back to the health center that day, but I'm grateful for it. I sat in my NP's office telling her I've change my mind. I broke down crying, "I just can't have these suicidal thoughts anymore. I feel stuck and I need relief from this." She smiled and seemed relieved too that I was finally open to chemical support.
So, she put me on an SSRI called Zoloft. The tricky thing about SSRIs is that you have to consistently stay on them, every single day. If you miss a day or a few days, you could risk a serious episode. So I was very serious about taking my pill every day. And, well the pills worked. That whole summer in Oregon I stopped having episodes of grief, I stopped self-harming, I stopped having suicidal ideations. The meds really numbed out those feelings and I was able to act like a normal college girl around my friends.
However, I don't remember much of that summer. Or the year that followed. I'm not sure why this is but I've found that most people who have been on SSRI's have the same experience. What I realized is that I wasn't feeling the lows - and I also wasn't feeling the highs. I wasn't feeling joy or love or even excitement. Like I said, I was just numb. And my memories of that year are so foggy, However, the memories aren't frightening, gory or traumatizing. So I'll take foggy.
By the end of that year, I was ready to wean off the meds. My doctors weren't stoked about it, but I really wanted to be done with them. If I forgot to take a pill one day, the withdrawl was HORRIBLE and I just didn't like having a small little pill have so much control over me. I didn't want to be numb anymore. So, over a few weeks, I slowly got off the meds. It wasn't easy. It was really painful actually and kind of scary. But I had to do it.
*** If you are on SSRIs and want to get off them ONLY DO SO WITH A DOCTORS GUIDANCE.
The best part of getting off those meds - learning to FEEL again. Wow! It was amazing! Slowly but surely, all the feels started to come back into my body. I felt incredible love in my heart when I looked into my partner's eyes. I was moved to tears by watching movies I had already seen. My empathic abilities towards the world around me came online again. It was incredible, and all so much to feel at the same time.
But let me tell you, feeling HAPPINESS and HEARTBREAK is how we create memories. I have no memories of 2014 because I was numbed out everyday. And that's my problem with SSRIs. The answer shouldn't be to numb us out for the rest of our lives. It should be to use the medication to teach our brains to become stable again. And that's what I think western medicine is here for.
If the doctor's had their way, I'd still be on those meds and I would not be the happy, glowing human you see today. Luckily, I had a strong enough ego to tell my doctors, this is how we're going to do ti. And they listened. And that's why I'm sharing this with you.
If you are reading this, perhaps it's because you're thinking of going on medication, or you already are on medication and maybe you don't feel great about it. I didn't tell one soul that I was taking SSRIs (it was the era of Jane keeping secrets) because I felt ashamed. I thought my best friends would judge me.
So here's the thing: No one cares if you take medication. If they do, you don't need them around you.
Fast forward to my big relapse of 2015 where once again, the doctors were pushing the SSRIs. However, this time, I wasn't suicidal or depressed. I couldn't eat. The anxiety rushing through my body everyday was so intense that getting meals in was nearly impossible and my body started to break down fast.
This is when talking to your doctor is really important. I told her, I don't want to go on any medication that I have to stick to. I told her, I need something that I can take when the anxiety is really bad, so that I can eat and move on with my day.
So, she wrote me a prescription for Buspirone - a great anti-anxiety medication that isn't addictive and can be taken whenever needed. Here's the funny part of the story. She prescribed me 20 miligrams morning and afternoon. So, I get my new pills, I pop one and head to class and my friend looks at me and says, "are you high?" I laughed with probably squinty hazy eyes and said, "no, but I feel high as fuck!" I realized the meds were not great for me and called my doctor immediately after class.
She was very surprised by my sensitivity to this medication and she re-wrote me a prescription for 5 milligram doses, three times a day. I tried it and bam - it worked. I didn't feel high, but I felt that intense edge of anxiety fade away into nothing. It felt easier to face mealtime as I was in my second round of eating disorder treatment. And the best part was - there's was no side effects or addictive qualities.
Eventually, as I got better, I didn't need those meds as often, but I always kept them close by just in case I did. And today, I still have that bottle of pills at my bed side for peace of mind, really. If I'm having a day where I feel like my anxiety is really unmanageable and I really need to focus on real life shit, I'll pop a 2.5, yeah - half the tiny pill and immediately be able to get back to work. I've probably done that three times in the last year. It's not often that I need them, but it's nice to know they are there if I do.
So, here's my dig with medication. If you are deep into a mental illness and you really don't want to live to see another day - I'd recommend medication. It could save your life. If your mental health feels really unmanageable right now and you're not seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, why not try medication?
It's not so much that I recommend it, it's more that I want whatever stigma there is around using medication for mental health to be erased. We shouldn't be ashamed for using medication. We shouldn't have to keep it a secret. We should always do what is best for us and our mental health.
Here's why I'm so happy that I did choose to medicate - the SSRIs taught my brain to become balanced again. They really did. The suicidal episodes completely went away as the medication helped my brain's chemicals come back into balance. Once I felt that balance was there, it was like I was ready to take the floaties off and swim into the deep end on my own. I then devoted myself to meditation and any other modality that would help me heal my mental illnesses without medication and pretty soon, like today, I'm completely medication free. Nothing to be proud of, just part of the journey. And next time I have a full blown freak out and feel and anxiety attack coming on? Well, now I have a whole tool box of not only medication but also herbal remedies, breathe work, visualization, self care and support systems to help me handle whatever is coming up. There was a time when all I had was the pills, and now I have such an abundance of tools to support myself.
I think when it comes to mental health there are so many amazing ways to take care of ourselves. There isn't a right or wrong way - there is simply the way that feels best to you in this moment. There's absolutely nothing wrong with using medication to support yourself and there's also absolutely nothing wrong with using alternative methods to support yourself.
I hope this message felt supportive and loving to your soul. If you are going through the depths of hell right now, I feel for you, I'm here for you, you are not alone. It always get's better if you believe it will.
I'm proud of you.
With love, Jane ♥️