To Medicate or not to Medicate

People are opinionated.

And I’ve found that many of them are not shy about sharing those opinions, even if they aren’t necessarily well informed on the subject.

Mental health is not exempt from opinionated people. Specifically, mental health and medication seem to be a rather polarizing topic, one in which people feel strongly about on both ends of the spectrum.

One time, early on in my struggle with anxiety, in the midst of the throes of one of the greatest challenges of my life, I shared some of what I was going through with a close friend. Her immediate response was to advise me to go to the Doctor and get on some medication.

“It’s probably chemical,” She said, “an imbalance of some sort.”

She was well meaning but she, unknowingly, made me feel a lot worse. I didn’t want to go on medication and I didn’t want to feel like there was something “imbalanced” about me. I told her it wasn’t that simple and that the “chemical imbalance” theory was just that: a theory. She argued with me. It hurt. I felt judged.

Then, years later, speaking with another dear friend, the subject of anxiety and medication came up organically, not in direct relation to anything I was going through, but just a general conversation. She shared her thoughts with me.

“I just don’t think people with anxiety and depression usually need medication,” She said, “Therapy worked for me.”

I nodded and sipped my coffee.

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

My primary care Doctor, at the time, tried to push me on medication too.

Meanwhile, the organization my Therapist works with, errs more on the holistic side and views medication in a negative light. It only masks the problem. It comes with side effects. It doesn’t work for a lot of people.

It can drive you crazy. The judgement. The know-it-all’s. The well-meaning advice.

I was wholly against medication at first. I wanted to overcome this naturally. While I’m so grateful for modern medicine, I am typically drawn to the ideologies of functional or holistic methods. I didn’t want to be “medicated”. To be honest, I still don’t. It’s why I went almost 9 years before trying an SSRI (although I do have a prescription for Ativan on an “as needed” basis).

I did a lot of healing without medication. It was hard work, but I learned and I healed, but not completely.

I got stuck.

I beat myself up. Why couldn’t I fully overcome this? How come other people could do it and I couldn’t? I must be weak. I’m not brave enough. These were just some of the thoughts I allowed to berate me.

Granted, I wasn’t where I was, but I wasn’t where I wanted to be either. Stuck.

I agonized over the decision of whether to try a daily medication. I discussed it over and over with my Therapist who finally said, “Neither decision is the wrong one.” Wise words. It was what I needed to give myself a break, to allow myself the freedom to try something new.

As compassionate and caring as the mental health community has become, I still see a lot of judgement regarding the “evils” of pharmaceuticals and the push to heal “medication free”.

Meanwhile, the medical world views medication as the first course of action.

I believe we have to get away from this all or nothing thinking. I feel alienated from both worlds, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one. I don’t align with the idea of “chemical imbalances” and I don’ t believe medication is a cure all. I also don’t think it’s fair to say that people struggling with mental health disorders should avoid medication.

Why can’t we let everyone take their own journey? Healing isn’t linear and anxiety isn’t easy. It’s a complex, multi-factored issue that we probably don’t fully understand yet.

I’ve been on Zoloft for about 10 months now and, to be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think it’s helped me to feel calmer overall, but it’s subtle. It’s not a miracle drug for me. The side effects have been tough, especially the insomnia I’ve experienced. But, I’ve also noticed some positive changes in my thinking patterns. So, I’m conflicted. The jury’s still out.

Maybe the world won’t ever stop judging. People will always have opinions. But I know one thing for sure, I’m done judging myself. This is my healing journey. I will be my own health advocate. I will pray and seek counsel, and then I will make the best possible decision for myself. And, I will not beat myself up. Judgements may come, but they won’t be from me.

What those of us suffering from anxiety need is compassion and understanding. When it comes to medication, seek advice, do your research, talk to your Doctor and your Therapist, and then remember the words of my Therapist:

“Neither decision is the wrong one.”

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