There is a huge stigma around taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication to treat mental health issues. Part of this is due to the general stigma around mental health and the fact that it isn’t considered as serious as physical health. Some people also feel embarrassed that they require medicine to feel “normal” (although what does normal even mean, really?); they feel like they are defective or that something is fundamentally broken within them. Alternatively, some believe that medication is just a “quick fix,” one should be able to manage their mental health on their own, they just aren’t putting in enough effort.
I’m tired of the stigma and the myths and the embarrassment. I’m tired of feeling ashamed for how I attempt to help myself heal. So here is my story.
I was first put on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication when I was admitted to my first treatment center at eleven years old. One thing that doesn’t sit well with me looking back is the fact that I was never given a choice of whether or not I wanted to be on medicine. Suddenly a nurse began to bring me a cup of pills in the morning and at night without explanation. Though I was only eleven, and thus not in charge of my medical decisions, and also not in a good frame of mind, I feel that employees of a treatment center should have an obligation to explain the potential impact on a patient’s body and give them the opportunity to make an informed decision.
In treatment everyone was on medication and most of us were on the same one. This is an issue with treatment centers in general (and one that I want to talk about in another post soon). There was one psychiatrist responsible for about 30 patients and we each had a short meeting with her sporadically. Time was never taken to individually assess each person and monitor them on different medications. They did do a gene test to attempt to figure out which medications we would react poorly to, but until that test, I was kept on a random medicine as I worked with a therapist and nutritionist.
After 3 years in and out of hospitals and treatment centers, I was medically stable and my psychiatrist decided to try to wean me off of medication. It… did not go well to say the least. I struggled through debilitating panic attacks and depression until I was put back on a different medicine. This one eased my depression slightly, but I was still really having a hard time. For the most part, though, I felt okay. However, I soon came across a downside of medicine. I randomly started to feel horribly ill without any reason. I had a constant migraine, hot flashes, heart palpitations, severe nausea, dizziness, and every time I moved I felt like an electric shock was shooting through my body. We figured out that I had forgotten to take my medicine for a few days and my body was shocked when it didn’t have access to the same concentration of that compound, so I was going through a mini-withdrawal, which was terrifying.
The next year, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, so my psychiatrist tried to change my anxiety medication to better combat my OCD. This medication was flagged on the gene test done at my first treatment center as one that would not work well for me, but my psychiatrist decided we should try it. Soon enough, my appetite disappeared and I had to fight through constant nausea, fatigue, and insomnia. So, we changed my medicine again to one that did not produce a difference in my anxiety levels or mood, so we changed my medicine AGAIN.
This has gone on for years: changing my medicine, increasing it or decreasing it, discovering side effects or determining that it’s ineffective, changing it again, adding new medicines on top of old ones, switching the combinations, etc. Most recently, my antidepressant was increased to the highest dose and I started to feel emotionally numb and detached, so we decreased it slightly and then added another anxiety medication on top of it to boost the effects. So far, it has been working without any side effects.
I have been working tirelessly for six years to find a medicine that works for me consistently. I don’t see medication as a crutch, but a tool to help me stabilize my mood enough to do the real work in therapy or on my own. Medication isn’t just choosing a random pill and then suddenly feeling better without putting in any effort, its working hard to find something that works for you, and doing difficult emotional work simultaneously. I will never stop doing my best to do what is right for my health.
It’s okay to need medication, whether it be short term or long term. It’s okay to ask for help. Do I want to be on antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds forever? No. Ideally, I’d like to get off of them eventually. But for now I trust the opinions of my doctors and I trust my body and my mind. This is what is working for me right now. The truth is that the treatment of mental illness is so complex and specific to each individual, so this perpetual cycle of shame and judgment is keeping us from making progress in improving the widespread opinion of mental health care and mental health care itself. Even in the “wellness” community, we must do better.