Friday, 3 June 2016

Lets Talk About Meds.

I don't usually consider myself a particularly angry person. I know that it's good for my mental health to remain calm as much as possible. I've learnt to let go of most things fairly quickly, or at least allow myself to be open about the problem. I'll admit, and I know i'm not alone in this, the very first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check my phone. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Facebook tends to irritate me on a daily basis without doing anything specifically wrong, but on this particular morning, a post I came across caused my heart rate to hit dangerously high levels. Furious. Fuming. All the 'F' words really. 

I worked by way back through shares to find it was originally posted by the Facebook group "Earth. We are one." which bizarrely describes itself as an "educational website". I found myself so angry I couldn't so much as send a screen shot accompanied by a lengthy rant to my friends. I tried to compose myself before beginning on a journey through the comments left by others. Thankfully, the vast majority were as furious as I am, unfortunately some were equally as ignorant as the original picture. I saved a few to share. 


This anger sat with me for the entire day. I had intended to just let it go, try to ignore the twisting sensation in my gut, but as the day went by it became clear that I wasn't going to let this one die. Medication for mental illness has been a big topic for me lately, I am currently in the process of increasing my own dosage, which is rough to say the least, but it left me with a lot to say about medications. And then this horrendous post came into my life and it all came pouring out.

This picture, this concept, is so incredibly damaging. So incredibly ignorant. There is so much stigma around the idea of having to take medication for a mental health condition, mostly due to the belief that its origin is simply faulty thinking rather than chemicals. This kind of harmful message put out into society leads people to refuse medications, or even go so far as to lie to their doctors to get away with not taking them. There is this image of medications making you "weak" or that reliance on a medication means you're too lazy to put in the work to get better on your own. I believe wholeheartedly that being outside, meditation and enjoying small pleasures is very beneficial to achieving good mental well-being, but I also believe that sometimes you can work yourself to the bone and still have nothing left to give. I was one of those people. 

After living with Agoraphobia for a year, with 6 months clocked in intensive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), I hit a wall of depression. Prior to this I never really would have described myself as "depressed", sure I got sad, living with anxiety isn't exactly a joyful experience, but shortly after my 18th birthday I spent the entirety of summer 2015 unequivocally depressed. Everyone's experience of depression is different, please remember that, while some describe feeling numb, I felt everything but numb. I was manic, I would cry for hours on and off, unable to express why in any other way than to scream "I cant do it anymore" into a parents shoulder. This episode lead me to the realization that I needed help, more help, biological help. This was a decision that kept me awake at night, I am terrified of side effects, I am terrified of my body feeling and doing things I didn't plan for but by September, with the support of my therapist, my parents, and now a certified psychiatrist just for extra input, the choice had been made, I told my GP about my summer and she prescribed Citalopram, an SSRI (which essentially helps your brain release and uptake more of those good chemicals). Unfortunately, although I wouldn't have thought so at the time, I was back on my feet by the end of the summer. My confidence caused me to decide by myself that I did not need the drugs. They stayed hidden and unopened at the back of our medicine cupboard for months. 

Between September and December I suppose you could say I was doing well. I was making progress, and I wasn't particularly sad. The medication sat on its shelf in the cupboard though, screaming my name every time I walked past. It was a silent pressure, a constant reminder that I needed to work harder, harder than my body could handle in reality. We had organised for my extended family to stay with us over Christmas, I love very much when my whole family is around, don't get me wrong, but it is a very stressful experience. The demands to be social and active are a lot of pressure on me, and sharing my house with others means finding an escape isn't easy, and that's the core concern for an agoraphobic. As the holiday rolled closer, bundled with the general stress that is Christmas, I stopped sleeping. I would lie awake in bed until 2am, not thinking about anything in particular, but definitely not calm. The less sleep I was getting, the more I would panic, until I was awake at 4am having uncontrollable panic attacks, On the worst nights when I would sit awake, pondering whether death would be a better idea than being awake, I would have to shuffle along the corridor with tears blurring my vision to wake my mother, the only way I could get back to sleep was with someone beside me. A low point in my life for sure. I spent the entire Christmas holidays in a state of mania, I was tired and terrified 24/7, I cried 3 times on Christmas day alone. I was a mess, and I spent a large amount of time considering whether life was worth living anymore, "the sweet relief of death" as I described it. This was the general continuing mood as time progressed. Finally I asked my parents about sleeping pills, I was desperate for relief, the idea of being essentially unconscious sounded like paradise to me. My Mum chose to remind me that instead of sleeping medication, I should be taking the full time chemical altering medication that was waiting patiently for me. Of course I aggressively rejected this idea, full meltdown, screaming that I couldn't do it, that all I needed was some "time".  This was when she chose to take it upon herself to make the decision for me, for which I am eternally grateful. I was no longer able to make my own well informed choices, my mental stability was out the window and floating away fast like a child's balloon in a hurricane and this is proven by the fact that I have very few memories of that week. I can remember feelings, and hazy blurs of important moments, but my anxiety and depression were in overdrive and that means your mind forms very few solid memories. She allowed me to calm myself down, and then we discussed the reality of being medicated, I agreed to give it one more week and promised I would start then, but the very next morning I felt brave enough to bite the bullet and start there and then. 

Maybe it was a placebo effect, honestly I don't really care, from that very first day I felt better, I am on a low dosage, slowly attempting to increase it to a more efficient level, and I very much still get panic attacks and sadness and a terrible fear of just about everything but I feel different. I feel more in control of myself, like my core is a little stronger than it was for the first year of my illness. I truly believe this medication has changed everything for me. There is this myth that being on this kind of medication "numbs" you, so you're essentially like a zombie, If it does, you're supposed to change your dosage or the type of drug altogether. I haven't felt numb at all, most of the time I feel more stable and somewhat colourful, that's the positive I am sure I've gained from my medication. My dreams are weirder now,  trying to cut tablets into tiny pieces is beyond stressful, and my Citalopram and I certainly aren't on the best of terms yet, but I am forever grateful that I have it. I am also grateful that I was given the freedom to try to fix my illness on my own, even if I wasn't sucessful

My point of this long and way too personal for the internet story is that choosing to be on a  medication is not "giving up", it is not "weak". I gave blood, sweat and tears to my fight against having to take anything for my illness, no one will ever have the right to tell me that taking medication means I haven't been trying hard enough. My only weakness in all of this was trying to convince myself I didn't need any more help. In no way is medication a cure, it is simply a tool which allows us to feel a little stronger in ourselves while we continue to work hard to get our lives back on track. There is no place in my world for people who take it upon themselves to shame those who choose to use medications to assist their recoveries. Ridding your life of things which make you feel bad is smart, getting outside more is smart, eating healthy, getting more sleep are all smart ideas but in reality are not always possibly to achieve, especially whilst in the grip of a mental illness. Sometimes the extra help is necessary and there is no shame in that. You are not weak, you are not giving up. Choosing to take a medication, any medication, is one the bravest decisions you can make for your well-being and no one has the right to tell you otherwise. 

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