#BellLetsTalk

I always look forward to #BellLetsTalk day. A day where everyone makes kind posts and offers their support and love for those who struggle with mental illness. Seeing all of the inspiring pictures and glimpses into the lives of friends and acquaintances I didn’t know struggle(d) makes me feel both comfort and heartbreak in knowing I’m not alone.

Though so many people show support for those struggling with mental illness, I believe the stigma surrounding medication is still so strong. I’ve taken medication for over a decade. And, even I have internalized guilt and judgments around medications. Not because I think they don’t help people or because I think people who take them are weak… simply because I wish I didn’t have to take them. I have no problem opening up and talking about my experience with clinical depression and anxiety disorders. But, I seem to have some sort of barrier when it comes to discussing my true experiences with medications to help manage my mental illness.

My Experience With Medication (Anti-Depressants/SSRI’s) 

As of now, I am on 100mg of Zoloft per day. My highest dose was 150mg per day and my lowest was 50 mg per day… At my lowest dose, I spiraled into a depressive episode where I couldn’t leave my house and was afraid to go to work. At my highest dose, I felt like a zombie with no ambition and suicidal thoughts entered my mind again. This is what people don’t think of- that even when on medication, suicidal thoughts may still be present and finding the right dose is excruciating and comes with a handful of side-effects, sometimes almost as bad as the mental illness.

Consider the side effects of any medication. Now consider the effects of a medication that directly affects your brain chemistry. Not to mention how hard it is for some of us to find a medication that actually helps. I tried nearly 10 different combinations of anxiety medications and anti-depressants before finally trying Zoloft. I’ve also been prescribed Ativan for panic attacks and a few different sleeping pills.  Through trial and error, I’ve found what seems to help me. Unfortunately, there’s no handbook to finding the right medication.

Although I truly believe medication has saved my life, I still suffer from side effects such as: dizziness, changes in weight (weight loss when I go to higher doses), shakiness and overall dullness. But, without it, the side effects of my mental illness are far worse.

****This being said, please please please give extra support to those who are sharing their choice to use medication to manage their mental illness. It isn’t easy to admit in a society that promotes all natural remedies. Though those can be helpful for some people/illnesses, they aren’t always enough.

IMG_0753.JPG

How to Survive When You Miss Your Medication

Worst. Feeling. Ever. Am I right?

I don’t often miss my medication but, when I do, I sure do feel it. My head feels like electric shocks are pulsing through my synapses and my stomach feels like it’s being shredded. I feel exhausted no matter how much sleep I get. I’m irritable, angry and impossible to be around. And it’s really, really hard to ground myself and remember this will pass.

So, from my experiences, here are some ways to survive when you miss your medication:

  • Cry: Just allow yourself to cry a good body shaking, lip quivering cry. Personally, the only time I can really cry is when something terrible happens OR when I forget my medication. So, if I miss my medication, I just allow myself to cry. Not all day or anything. But, a half hour cry never killed anyone.
  • Get Creative: I try to use my missed medication day as an excuse to channel my negative energy into something creative. Whether it be writing, drawing or even just listening to music. I try to get in tune with my creative energy. It helps to distract me from how bad I feel, and also helps make me feel accomplished.
  • Organize: When I miss my medication, I feel like I don’t have control over my body and emotions. This very quickly can turn into a negative thought pattern of not having control over anything in my life. What do I do? Find something small I can control. I’ll often organize something in the house that I’ve been wanting to organize. Today I organized my art supplies and it, for some reason, made me feel in control of my day.
  • Rest: This ones important. Your body is going through something. Be kind to it, allow it to rest and try not to feel guilty or “lazy.” Put on your favourite movie (My go-to is Elf) and cuddle up on the couch. Remind yourself that mental illness is equal to physical illness. If you had the flu, you’d allow yourself to rest, right?
  • Try not to push people away: This one is hard for me. I find it extremely difficult to be around people when I haven’t taken my medication. I’m really quick to snap and get angry/sad and usually seclude myself during these times. But, it’s important to allow loved ones to hold you, help you and listen to you. Connecting during these times can really help. Remind yourself that you are loved, and try to be kind to your loved ones and to yourself.
  • Distract: Distracting yourself when you feel physically and mentally ill is one of my favourite strategies because, in my opinion, it’s one of the easiest.

    Here are some of my favourite distractions:

  • Hand Lettering Worksheets
  • Online Magazines 
  • Knitting
  • Yoga with Adrienne 
  • Gratitude Journalling

I hope this is helpful and reassuring to anyone going through the medication madness.

Love

5da269ab603f567983415a9229fa9ecf.jpg

Medication and Mental Illness

Taking medication for mental illness has always been a struggle for me. Not because I think it makes me weak, but because I know most of society thinks so. I’d like to raise the argument that taking medication isn’t for the weak, but for the fighters, the people ready to battle the side effects, judgement and spend years trying to find a medication that doesn’t make them sicker than the mental illness itself.

I have been medicated on and off since the age of 12. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression with components of OCD and insomnia. The doctor prescribed me a baby dose of Effexor. It made me sick, paranoid and put me in a lull of numbness. But, as a young teen, I thought that’s just what my life was going to be like on medication.

I spent 10 years trying to adjust the dose so I could function properly in school, without hyper-paranoia and constant shaking. Eventually at 17 I tried to get off the drug all together. The side-effects were so unbearable, I decided I’d rather battle the mental illness than the medication.

Getting off Effexor was the hardest thing I’ve tried to do. Physically I was nauseous, weak, shaking so badly I could barely get out of bed, my brain zapped and I couldn’t hold a train of thought. I felt like my brain was crumbling and I worried it would always be this way. I got down to a low dose but couldn’t get off of it completely.

In my last semester of High School I tried to end my life. The battle of getting off such an addictive drug, and fighting depression proved to be too much. I felt alone and like the world was a harsh, judgemental space that I had no place in.

Luckily, I got placed in CHEO’s mental health unit, they immediately helped me wean off Effexor (little did I know what I was doing was super dangerous). I tried a handful of different medications under supervision of the Drs at the hospital. Some made me sick, and some made me sicker. I began to lose hope of ever finding relief. Until they tried me on Zoloft. It didn’t make me as sick as any of the others. And eventually, it started to reduce my anxiety and I felt able to face the world again.

I have been on Zoloft since. I have tried to go off of it countless times due to my internal shame and perception that society won’t accept me if I’m on medication. But, I’ve been working to challenge those thoughts. I’d argue that medication is not for the weak, but for the people who are ready to fight for their lives.

I am open about my medication use and mental illness now. At work, I’ll disclose my anxiety and depression with close co-workers. And for the most part, I have experienced only support. Many of them will share their struggles, or open up about family members who have struggled through mental illness. I find this empowering and motivates me to stay stable so I can continue to connect with others who are fighting their way through.

Once we share our stories, we can empower others to do the same.