This blog is not FDA approved
I’m not a medical professional. The views and opinions expressed within this article should not be confused with either medical advice or a replacement for it. Consult only your doctor for medical advice. I’m here to share a story and an opinion. Don’t sue me.
I was recently invited to write a guest post on Black Box Warnings, and asked to share my opinion on medications used for treating Anxiety disorders. I encourage you to read it. There’s a positive message attached to it.
Consider it one of my gifts to you for the holidays. [Insert smart-ass grin emoticon]
The Fruitless Pursuit of a Permanent Fix
Those that have dealt with Anxiety and/or Depression are already aware of the feelings of desperation that accompany these two conditions. There’s no sense going into details. The bottom line is that both can have a serious impact on an otherwise happy and productive life if gone untreated.
I’ve dealt with both for the majority of my life, but there was a point when I was unaware of all of the above. I didn’t really know anything about either of the two conditions. All I knew was that there was something wrong with me and that I needed to have it fixed.
About eight years ago I learned about Anxiety and Depression while talking to my drug dealer Doctor. I was relieved to find out that all of the symptoms that I was describing had a name; but more importantly, relieved to know that there were treatment options available.
All of the things that were happening to me were easily explained by a chemical imbalance in my brain. It sounded like a reasonable enough explanation to me at the time.
Obviously, brains have chemicals. Imbalanced Chemicals = Anxiety. Sounds logical?
At the time, I didn’t feel the need to start debating brain chemical theories and what constitutes a balanced set of them. I just wanted my life back. I trusted my Doctor. After all, his background was in Medicine. Mine was in Deceptive Advertising. He knows how brains work, and I know how to manipulate people into buying things. (We’re all experts of some kind or another) Looking back, maybe he also had a background in Marketing?
I’d left the office that day with a vague understanding of my condition(s), as well as a couple prescriptions for medications to treat both individually.
I began taking the daily Anxiety medication immediately, but decided to handle the Depression on my own. It seemed to be the answer to my problems. Life returned to normal for awhile. I started dating again, socializing more, and stopped flaking out at work and school. Problem solved?
Over the course of the first year however, I noticed that the drug was starting to wear off and became less effective. I found myself back in the Doctor’s office with the same complaints. The solution: double the dosage. It was time for a brain chemical overhaul!
It was at that point that the side effects of the medication became really noticeable. I didn’t feel like me anymore. Sometimes it felt like I didn’t have the ability to produce certain types of emotions. I could remember the emotions, but I couldn’t actually produce them. I felt disconnected; sedate. The so-called “highs” didn’t really exist anymore. That’s when I started to ask myself questions like: Was this really the solution? Am I truly chemically imbalanced?
After about a year and a half I decided to stop taking the drug. I went back to my Doctor and he explained how easy it was to get off the drug: gradually reduce the dose each day for one week. At the end of the week, stop taking it.
I found myself in front of a Pharmacist a week later, jittering off questions about why I was experiencing a complete nervous meltdown after the “weaning period”. That’s when I learned that a week isn’t long enough to taper off a long-term pill regiment. I went back on the meds long enough to level my head, and then gradual tapered off the drug over the course of the next month.
After I got off the medication my original problems returned tenfold. It was unbearable. Every day it felt like I was on eight cups of dark roast coffee, and my mind wouldn’t turn off. Every single morbid, fucked up thought that I could possibly imagine was running through my head – all of them simultaneously. I also remember getting these weird electrical sensations inside my head. It almost felt like my internal computer was re-booting. It was a quick flash of weirdness and an extremely unsettling feeling.
During that period was when I experienced my first Panic Attack. What fun!
At that point, no matter what I tried I just couldn’t seem to get a grip. It felt like I was completely out of control of my body and mind, and I didn’t know what was causing it, or how to stop it. Within a few short months I was at my wits end. I decided to get help from somewhere else.
And How Does That Make You Feel?
There are a lot of misconceptions about therapy. From my experience none of them are true. Going to a therapist doesn’t mean you’re crazy, and I’ve never witnessed or heard of anyone being strapped to a straight-jacket and wheeled to the nearest Psych Ward after a visit to one. To my knowledge they don’t do the foam baseball bat thing either.
I will say however, that there’s nothing more uncomfortable than the first few visits with a therapist. Well, maybe a prostate exam. Spilling your guts to a complete stranger about all of your darkest personal matters takes some getting used to. However, it doesn’t take long to establish a personal relationship with one – and he doesn’t have to put a lubricated finger up your ass in order for that to happen, either.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy covers a lot of ground. For me, the experience was about becoming aware of my self-destructive thoughts, and finding ways to change those negative thoughts into positive actions. It takes a lot of balls to look deep inside. Addressing your issues is a lot harder than pretending they don’t exist.
Each visit was full of introspective dialogue. It’s definitely challenging at times, and some days were harder than others. During that span I learned a lot about myself on that familiar brown leather sofa. I discovered so much that was hidden deep — things that I’d repressed, things that I wanted to forget about, and things that I didn’t even know existed. However, the most important thing that I discovered was that all of this stuff couldn’t be fixed by a pill.
Medicine wasn’t the cure-all that I thought it was supposed to be. It didn’t solve my problems or help me to understand what had caused them; it was only a band-aid. All it did was cover up the symptoms that my unaddressed issues were not only creating, but continued to create.
Without therapy I would have never noticed all of the life-sucking vampires I’d surrounded myself with, nor would I have realized that I was living my life for the benefit of everyone else but me. I would have never learned about the importance of loving myself unconditionally, and I would have never become aware of the power of intent.
What we think, we become.
I know what you’re thinking right now, “Sounds like a bunch of bullshit to me.” My response to that statement is that you’d be a prime candidate for a little introspective journeying yourself, Negative Nancy.
My thoughts on Medication?
I don’t think a vague label like “chemically imbalanced” really says a whole lot about anything. It doesn’t address the individual or the underlying cause.
I’m starting to wonder if maybe a lot of the problems that are being diagnosed aren’t really medical problems at all?
Maybe we need to call into question the pace that we’re living our lives, and learn to identify the kinds of people and things that are toxic to our well being Maybe we need to learn how to be more accepting of ourselves and others. Maybe we need to learn how to be more responsible for our thoughts, actions, and behaviors.
I believe these things are contributing to the *epidemic chemical imbalance* in our society, and a lot of the time they’re never really challenged, or addressed.
I’m certainly not denying the fact that mental illness exists. I’m also not denying that some medications may be required for brain-related conditions. I am stating however, and comfortably, that I think we’re being over-prescribed, and needlessly diagnosed with conditions that might just be a product of the high stress, fast-paced, unforgiving, and highly competitive world that we live in today.
The reality of it is that therapy didn’t make my life problems go away. But, it did help me to become aware of them, and it did help me learn how to manage them better.
Some days still suck. Some days I’m still a nervous wreck. Some days I still feel hopeless about the future. Some days I still lack creativity, and some days I still doubt my abilities…
…but life isn’t perfect. And that’s just the way it is.
At least I’m comfortable admitting that now. And when things aren’t going the way that I’d like them to go, I try my best to force a smile and say to myself,
“Some days are just better than others.”
- [Happy] Blogging