PSA: I am in no way trained to give medical advice, and this post is in no way meant to do so. This is not an advisement for or against medication for mental illness. This is an account of my experience with medication as directed by my psychiatrist and primary physicians.
Ah, medication... The debate that keeps on debating.
Before I get into this, there are some things you should know:
- I love natural remedies and alternatives, and I use them whenever possible.
- As much as I love holistic and natural alternatives, they have not given me safe results for managing my mental illness. The risks of prescribed medication are, for me, an acceptable risk when compared to my experience using only natural approaches.
- My medications are closely monitored by my psychiatrist and primary physician, on a monthly to quarterly basis. I’ll explain that more in a bit….
So- if you are looking for natural alternatives, keep checking back! I have a few posts planned about how I use natural approaches to compliment my medication.
If you are curious about medication, I hope this post offers some insight!
In order to tell you about my medication and my experience with it, I think the first step is to tell you about my past and current diagnoses.
A bit of history....
My first experience with medication for mental illness was at the age of 15 and, to be honest, I don’t remember much about it. But I can give you the gist. Between the ages of 15 and 26, I was treated on and off for depression and ADD. These diagnoses were never given by a psychiatrist, only physicians, and my treatment was off and on. Sometimes I had insurance, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I was capable of taking my medication responsibly, sometimes I wasn’t. The best experience I had in these nine years was when I asked my physician if I could try Cymbalta. At the time it was new, and I had heard it helped with chronic pain- something I also struggled with, inexplicably. I had (and still have) scoliosis, but not a case significant enough to account for the amount of pain I was in. After tests for everything from Lupus to Muscular Dystrophy, it was decided that my pain was probably a result of depression. For several years, Cymbalta was very effective for me.
Then I lost my insurance.
My physician, who was an absolute saint, gave me samples every month. We were able to get away with this for a year, but then she moved to an ER and could no longer provide me with the samples, and without insurance Cymbalta would have cost me more than $600 a month. So I went without.
During this time, approximately three years, I gained 40 pounds, had erratic mood swings, and went through alcohol dependency. At one point I was drinking every day. The worst was during my bachelor’s work in 2011. I would go to work at a breakfast joint at 7am, get off around noon, and drink mimosas until I could bring myself to go home.
Do I consider myself an alcoholic? No. Because it wasn’t about the drinking- I didn’t want to be drunk. What I wanted was to NOT be depressed. Maybe those are the same thing, but with regular medication my desire to drink is solely recreational. I love margaritas- I don’t NEED them.
During these years, Joey and I were both in college working shit jobs. We were WELL below the poverty line, and medication generally was not an option. I checked into state programs several times, but they don’t really exist in Oklahoma. And the ones that did, wouldn’t offer me help because I was a student. I was unqualified for assistance because, as they put it, “That’s what student loans are for.” It was a difficult time, to say the least.
But in 2012, several wonderful things happened. My husband and I both graduated with bachelor’s degrees, and Joey got his first full-time position is his field. It was like we were rich! And best of all- INSURANCE!
From my diagnosis to present...
As soon as our insurance kicked in, I knew I needed to see a psychiatrist. 2011 was THE WORST year of my life. My mental health almost ended my marriage, and could have ended my life. While I was not suicidal, I drove drunk ALL the time- basically the same thing. I knew if I didn’t take this opportunity, this blessing, I would be doing myself a major disservice. So I made my first of several appointments.
After trying three different doctors, I finally found a good fit. I still see this doctor five years later, and I am so grateful for her! She gave me the following diagnosis:
Major Depressive Disorder with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder.
I know- it’s a doozy.
And for the very curious, my meds are the following:
60 mg of Cymbalta daily for MDD.
15 mg of Buspar twice daily for GAD.
20 mg of Adderall extended release once daily for ADD.
I also take multivitamins, iron, and vitamin D supplements.
I see my psychiatrist every month to three months, depending on how I’m doing. If I’ve had several spells of depression, I see her monthly. If I’m good, I see her every three months.
I KNOW, RIGHT!? It’s a lot. But after being completely off-meds for pregnancy twice, and off Adderall for nursing, please believe me when I say that this IS the best course of action, for me.
If you’ve read my story about Antenatal Depression, you know that life without medication is, simply put, dangerous for me. Plain and simple. I tank, I flounder, I barely survive.
And so, I choose medication. Does it eradicate my mental illness? Nope. But what it does do, is let me manage it. It allows me to function and live life as normally as possible. It gives me the best opportunity to have a life fully lived. And so, despite the controversy, I take my medication with a grateful heart. I do not judge those who chose a different course of action, but I do not shame myself or others who chose this route for themselves. I wouldn’t feel guilty or shameful for taking medication for a heart disease, and so I also refuse to be shamed for taking medication for a brain disease.
So what is my general opinion of medication for mental illness? For some it is an absolute necessity, and for others there may be an alternative course.
There are three things that I want to make crystal clear:
- Medication should monitored and chosen by you and a psychiatrist. Physicians are wonderful- but for mental illness, psychiatrists are better. They know more about a diverse range of medication, and are therefore less likely to put you on what is popular or easy. My OBGYN put me on Zoloft while I was pregnant with Lux, and I became suicidal. If I had seen my psychiatrist, we could have avoided the lapse in my Cymbalta, and I may have never gone through what I did. If you think you need medication for mental illness, see a psychiatrist.
- Make this decision FOR YOURSELF. If you are not taking anything and you’re struggling- try medication. If you’re taking medication and it’s not working or making you feel worse- ask for another course of action. There are SO many medications out there. If you decide to give them a try, be patient. Try several. You’ll find the right one with your doctor eventually.
- Medication is not one-size-fits-all. Just because something works for me, or someone you know, or your mom or your sister, does NOT mean it will work for you. Keep your mind open, and be patient.
This is longer than most of my posts, but this is a big topic! If you have any questions, ask away! I will answer to the best of my ability. If you feel like sharing your experience with meds, please do! The more we talk about it, the less power the stigma holds. We’re medicated. We’re mighty.
Oh! And a very Happy Mother’s Day to all you wonderful Mommas out there!
From my light to yours,