Let's Talk Meds -- National Mental Health Awareness Week -- Volume Five

Just when I was worried that I wouldn't have anything to write today, I read Nicole Kepper's post about psychotropic medication, and who she believes has the right (?) to discuss said topic.

At first, I thought she was telling people who don't believe in psych meds to sit down and shut up. And I was on board, especially since I run into enough people in coffee club that like to think that a belief in God and recovery is enough to handle every problem, including "grave emotional and mental disorders," even though the literature of 12-step programs clearly states that the God in question has given us psychiatrists to help with such matters. It's a rant I'll leave alone for now, but one that I take very seriously, since people die when they should be medicated and are told they should get off the medicine that keeps them sane. You wouldn't tell a diabetic -- hey, you just need to work a spiritual program of action, fuck off that insulin, you know?

But as I read further on in her post, I got the sense -- "...in conclusion, shut your pie-hole about psychotropic medication unless someone asks you your opinion, and if they do ask you your opinion, state it as such – an opinion. And then suggest that they find a doctor who can help them with their choice by providing them with fact-based research and professional experience and therapeutic support, because guess fucking what? Psychotropic meds are not a cure all. They work best when used in conjunction with some type of supportive therapy..." -- that she didn't think anyone should be talking about meds (but her?).

Yeah, I'm not one for following directions. Here's the thing. I was going to comment on her blog, but then it started to be longer than I wanted, and thought I'd just blog it out. So, here's my take on why I talk to people about psychotropics -- psych meds.

First of all, I always tell them that my experience is that -- MINE. It's my personal story and the only thing I have to go on. I always encourage people to find a good psychiatrist to work with. BUT -- here's the thing. Fact-based research? Are you serious? All the psychiatrists I've ever gone to have never talked to me about research. Most of them have thrown the latest drug at me -- pens with that drug's name are often found around the office -- and no one really honestly knows what's what. They either go old school (Lithium, Depakote) or they go for the newest school thing they've got (Abilify, Geodon, some other shit). I never hear anyone talk about the research. I don't even have anyone ask me if I'm having sex or on birth control (the Topamax I take diminishes the efficacy of birth control) -- the *pharmacist* is usually the one to ask me things like that.

So, I don't have a lot of faith in the psychiatrists and doctors, really. I don't CARE if they went to a fuckload of medical school. I am the one who's been negotiating this road and these meds for the last 12 years. They are just writing scripts like whoa, and don't really seem to know or care what happens afterward.

Add to that equation the fact that most manic-depressives (and I'd gather most people in general, despite our proclivities for loving to get drunk and high) really have NO interest in taking meds in the first place, and I like to give people a sense of what they're getting into -- let them know that it's okay -- that they won't lose themselves. That the side effects don't have to be awful. That they can try something out for a month, and if it's atrocious, there are a BUNCH of other meds they can try before giving up.

Despite my general grr on docs and big Pharma and meds, I DO believe that they are helping me and if someone is diagnosed with a serious mental illness, chances are they're going to need a little help with the re-wiring of their brain, too. So, I want to make them see that their life isn't over. I want them to have a good experience. I want them to know they have choices and options, and they are in control. They need to advocate for themselves and educate themselves about what they need and want.

This is why I talk about psych meds. I want people to know that it doesn't have to be the end, but can be the start of something good. It can be the turnaround and can help them really be the person they always have been and were meant to be. But, they need to really stay on top of things. They need to be honest with their doc. They need to not just stop meds cold turkey. Communication is key. If their doc is a super shithead, then they need to try and find a new one.

THIS SUCKS SOMETIMES. Getting on meds. Trying new ones. Finding a doc (especially with no insurance and low income). Maybe finding a new one. Trying to do therapy (especially with no insurance and low income). Trying to make friends, family and jobs understand what's what. Sometimes, it's a real drudgery and a real slog -- especially if you're depressed or manic/scattered or just FUCK! But it's important and it's doable.

This is why I share my experience. This is why I talk about psychotropics and my experiences -- that's what they are. My personal experiences. Sometimes, it's really comforting to hear someone go, "Yeah! That happened to me too! Yeah, that made me really sluggish, too! Or yeah, that works really well for me, too." Sometimes, it's nice to hear what docs are good or what therapists are awesome or what extracurriculars work for people (exercise, meditation, eating, sleeping right).

So, I get it -- some people are saying things and dictating things that are truly none of their business. I'm not telling anyone what to do, but I'd like to share what I've learned along the way. One of the things that is most awful about having mental illness is how fucking lonely it can be. How isolating and ridiculously separate it can feel. If I can let someone know they're not alone in some aspect of it, I will. And I won't stop that, ever.

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  • I agree wholeheartedly with you. I've been dealing with depression for 30 years but only been on meds consistently for the past 12. In all fairness though, I didn't want to be different and take meds. It took a lot of soul searching and a reality check for me to come to terms with it and I'm a much happier person because if it.

  • In reply to Pelepua:

    No one wants to be "bodily and mentally different from their fellows." It is true of alcoholism and it's true of mental illness and it's just true, period. Seriously. Who wants to be different? No one. We just want to be like everyone else and get along. But I believe (on the good days) that it's what makes us different that makes us awesome. It just is hard sometimes -- I'm not going to lie about that. Sometimes, I feel like I'm 5, and am like, WHY ME? Why do I have to put up with this extra bullshit? I also believe the people that look great from the outside also probably have some "extra bullshit" I can't see. :) Hope you're doing well on your journey.

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    I responded to Nicole Kepper's post...and it led me here, as well. You are right about the story being "mine." Each individual has their own experiences and makes decisions based on that. I don't tell my story often, because it took me FOREVER to ask for help (thought I just needed to suck it up and be strong)...SO glad I did. I consider myself a well-adjusted, smart woman (ok, not just consider...I am), but some days the "noise" just takes over. So for me, standing in front of a closet full of clothes in tears not knowing what the hell to wear to work was the "noise" that made me ask for help. When it is too much, the simple things are immobilizing. That day, picking an all white uniform (I am a nurse) solved the problem. For each after, it was knowing that there was balance if I talked about things, handled what I could and kept up with the medication regimen.
    Today, some 10 years later, I say "thank you" to the initial doctor who heard the cry for help and "amen" to my current doctor (even though she looks 12 years old to me:-)) who keeps up with the literature and asks the questions--not just doles out pills. There are those that need the balance of medication, and I can't think of anyone that doesn't benefit from a steady, rationale "ear!"

  • In reply to Michele Andrews:

    Love this. The "noise." I call it "the static." And yeah, sometimes, I'm like -- how the hell did you possibly go to med school, I know I've got like 10 plus years on you. :) I also related to "the simple things are immobilizing." It's so hard to get people to understand that. Just reading that gives me some relief -- that even one person understands that. Cheers!

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