The Anxiety Diaries: The Medication Deliberation
Medication is a tricky one when it comes to mental health. On the one hand, it’s my saviour. I’ve been taking a beta blocker for four years now, and it allows me to go about my life without palpitations, or shaky hands, or constantly feeling like a swarm of bees is trying to burst out of my ribcage. I felt so thankful when I started taking it, and bitter that I’d suffered for so many years when this easy solution was right under my nose the entire time. And so, why is it that when my doctor suggests I start new medication, my heart drops?
I think there are a number of things at play when it comes to medication, particularly ‘mind meds’. First of all, there’s what other people think. The judgement that comes from others when you have to take medication for your brain to function like other people’s. It’s the same way that when I tell people I’m in counselling they assume I’m having a breakdown, not that I’m just trying to improve things and strengthen my health. Seeking treatment doesn’t mean you need to be worried about me, I promise. In fact, in reality the opposite is true. The worse I feel, the less I can be bothered to phone the doctor, or arrange therapy, or try new medication. The fact I’m actively taking steps to feel better is a good sign, that I’m in a healthy enough place to work on my wellbeing.
Secondly, there’s the judgment from myself. This is the real kicker. No-one outside of myself really judges me — especially as I’m surrounded by friends with similar experiences of mental illness. But I’m my own worst critic, and no matter how much I advocate for others to feel no shame about taking medication that helps them, I struggle to apply that same compassion to myself. No matter how much I preach on de-stigmatising medication, and being open about mental health, sometimes taking my meds does feel like a failure. That critical part of my brain tells me that I should be able to handle things on my own, without the help of a little round pill. Upping doses or adding a new pill into the mix feels like a step back, not a step forward, and there’s a level of guilt that comes with that. Am I just being melodramatic? Do I even need these meds at all? Maybe I just need to get a grip and handle things myself. None of these are logical or helpful thoughts, but they rattle around in my head nontheless.
Silencing that internal critical voice takes time, and work. It’s about learning to trust my own judgement, and know that I am capable of making the right choices about my own health. Only myself and my doctor know what care or medications I need, it doesn’t matter what anyone else might think of it. It comes with learning to believe in yourself more widely, in knowing that you are capable and smart enough to make those choices. Self-belief and self-efficacy are difficult to develop, but the more I work on it the less I doubt my own decisions.
The final hurdle to taking my brain meds is they’re not the only meds I take. When I look down at my handful of pills and inhalers in the morning, it’s easy to feel concerned. The pile of contraceptive, iron supplement, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, an anti-histamine and a steroid inhaler is not the most exciting sight. I’ve dubbed it “the breakfast of champions” in my head, because the alternative (“breakfast of sad woman who is in pain if she doesn’t ingest lots of chemicals”) is less exciting. It is scary to be taking lots of medications, and to feel dependent on them. I can’t go one day without my beta blockers without feeling sick and panicky. It’s also a faf, to bring them when you stay over somewhere, and to make sure they’re all taken consistently, at the right time, every single day. But it’s a faf that’s worth it, to keep me healthy and give me a life that I can actually enjoy. Because that’s what medication gives me, when push comes to shove. It takes some of the weight of anxiety off of my shoulders and allows me to just enjoy my life.
Medication isn’t a perfect solution. Some are rife with side effects, as I’m currently finding out trying to find an SSRI which doesn’t make me feel ill and knackered. They’re definietely over-prescribed by an overburdened NHS without the therapy provision that they need. But, ultimately, I gain more than I lose. It might not be right for some people, but it’s right for me. Whilst that’s hard to rememer in the midst of a sertraline-induced migraine, my medication levels the playing field a little, allowing me to go about my day with a slightly less wonky brain.