{Content Warning: Did You Take Your Meds Today? contains references to mental health, medication, suicidal ideation, depression & anxiety, and mental health stigma as well as brief mentions of childhood sexual abuse. If these are challenging topics for you, please proceed with caution.}

Hey folks, I have an idea: let’s normalize discourse around medications. Let’s talk about it, let’s be open and learn to be more accepting of the range of ability that we exist within. How, in the year 2020 is there still a stigma surrounding taking meds, especially medications for mental health? The concept that the only truly valid bodies are the ones that need no support or intervention is outmoded, at best.

“Did you take your meds today?” is one of the most loving and caring phrases I can hear from the people I love. Not only does it mean that they are invested in my wellness and my ability to manage it, but that they are also completely accepting of the fact that every morning I swallow five pills from three prescriptions and without them, I would really struggle. It took me awhile to get comfortable with the idea of medication. I was afraid I wouldn’t feel like myself, that it would change me. It did, change me, and it does make me feel unlike the “me” I was before I started managing my mental health through pharmacology, but that’s a very good thing. Looking back I can see that in the six months or so before I got my first prescription I was at my most depressed and anxious. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) was a cause, for sure, but it became clear that it was more than just rainy day blues. I was burnt out and exhausted, constantly fighting to do more, be more, and to overcome the heavy fear I carried all day, every day. Fear of what? I don’t know. But I was walking a knife’s edge and having near constant suicidal thoughts. I felt hollow – so hollow that it didn’t seem to matter if I lived or died.

Did You Take Your Meds Today?
Five pills from three prescriptions, once a day, every day. Sertraline (yellow), Bupropion (white) and Propranolol (yellow) treat a variety of disorders.

 

I was so scared to start medicating for mental health but I am so glad that I did because I can say, without hyperbole, that I likely wouldn’t be here to write this if I hadn’t. Medications saved my life, and they save it every single day that I take them. That’s a hard thing to admit because mental health is so demonized in our culture, and even though I would never judge anyone for their prescriptions and self care, I still fall prey to feeling shitty about it sometimes. It makes me feel like the real me, the natural un-medicated me, is so broken. That’s why I feel like transparency is important. If I had cancer or lupus, or chronic pain, would I feel shame about taking life saving medications? No. But because the meds I take are all for my mind and emotions, I sometimes feel insecure. I know I shouldn’t, and I hope if you’re in the same boat, you don’t either.

I take three drugs daily:

Propranolol (blue) is a beta blocker that I take because I have chronic panic disorder. It works by suppressing my fight/flight response by lowering my heart rate and basically giving my body and brain some breathing room so that I’m not caught in a feedback loop of my own anxiety. Without it my anxious mind manifests itself with tremors, panic, hyperventilation, constant unease, dissociation and dread. The side effects are not insignificant, but are manageable: if I stand up too fast I get dizzy, it upsets my stomach and my hands and feet are always cold.

Sertraline (yellow) is a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) that helps regulate my serotonin levels and shepherds that serotonin from point A to point B in my brain. Without it, my serotonin levels are low and it is not produced or managed effectively. Sertraline specifically helps with my C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) and keeps my focus and mood in a good enough place that I can function. Treating anxiety and depression with Sertraline makes me well enough to make cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) possible and effective in part because it decreases obsessive rumination and worry. The side effects for me are nausea within the first 20 mins of taking it and on previously higher doses, I experienced difficulty orgasming, which is apparently quite common. I also have to avoid being in strong sunshine for more than 10-15 minutes or I break into an itchy rash.

Bupropion XL (white) is a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI) which does for my dopamine supplies what the Sertraline does for my serotonin. Having major depressive disorder (MDD) means that without pharmaceutical support, I struggle to, well, ‘be’. Tweaking my brain chemistry makes all the difference in my quality of life, and Bupropion XL has had a fairly profound effect. It’s side effects are in part positive: it suppresses appetite and encourages weight loss, it also increases libido which is nice, especially since the Sertraline causes some sexual dysfunction. It also gives me night sweats and will keep me awake at night if I don’t take it early enough in the morning. Small prices to pay for being able to get up in the morning.

My list of diagnoses is hefty and I have to remember not to get caught up in the terms and definitions. If I don’t keep myself in check, I can get a bit brooding over the weight of the words that describe my mental condition. As much as mental health is a part of my every day life and requires consideration and attention, it doesn’t define me. So much of what I grapple with now is the result of experiences beyond my control when I was much younger, primarily domestic violence, neglect and long-term sexual abuse. It is a lot of work to stay focused on the incremental progress I achieve and I couldn’t make that progress without the meds.

Feeling fucked up by abuse and trauma really sucks, but I feel enormously privileged that I have access to free psychotherapy and the neccessary medications for less than a latte costs, per month. I want to be “all better” but that’s not how it works, so in the meantime, I want to be open and transparent and part of empowering discourse around mental health. I want to share my stories and hear the stories of others. It can be limiting and dark to live with mental illness, the least we can do is be there for each other. I’m so grateful that I have understanding people in my life who take the time to ask me, “Did you take your meds today?”.

Did you take your meds today?

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