Daily dosing

by Jane Barber

Asthma_Medication_InhalerImagine that I have asthma.  Imagine that I was diagnosed about two years ago, and since then I’ve been using an inhaler everyday and though my life probably isn’t totally awesome all the time, I’m heaps healthier than when I was first diagnosed, which makes me happier, and more fun, and better at my job.

Now imagine that 75% of the time, when I tell people I use an inhaler, they tell me that it isn’t right to take a drug every day to make me feel better, or that maybe I should try not taking it, because maybe I’ve miraculously stopped having asthma. Or my absolute favourite, that it’s fine for me to use an inhaler, but that if they had asthma, they wouldn’t.

Now replace asthma with an anxiety disorder, and replace the inhaler with the anti-anxiety medication that I take every day. If I had asthma, no one would tell me that taking medication was a bad idea, or suggest that I might want to stop taking it for a while “just to see what happens”.  No one would make me feel guilty, and certainly no one would make me feel weak.  No one would tell me that they’d never use an inhaler every day, because they “prefer to sort their own problems out”. People wouldn’t suddenly start treating me differently because of the inhaler, or comment on how it “makes me different”.

Yes, the medication does make me different. That is the point.

In the same way that using an inhaler means my asthmatic father can walk up the hill from the bus stop to his house without keeling over, and can mow the lawns without getting short of breath; my anxiety medication means I can get out of bed every day and go to work, that I have the motivation to prepare myself proper meals, and that I’m not afraid I’m going to be fired every time I have a meeting with my boss.

Last year, after about 18 months of daily dosing, I gave in to all the talk around me and stopped taking my medication. I told my doctor I was going to do it, he wasn’t happy about it, but he helped me wean myself off it. I’m very lucky that when I went back to see him three months later, barely able to get myself to work each day, he just shook his head a little, and helped me go back on.

Though looking back on it, and how close I got to being back at the very dark place I was in when I was first diagnosed, I feel a little stupid but I am glad I did it. Because now I feel even more strongly that taking this medication is the right thing for me. Because I’m not weak and I’m not stupid. I have an illness, and one of the things that helps with the symptoms of that illness is taking medication.

I want to make it clear that I really really wish I didn’t have to take medication. I wanted SO badly to stop, and keep doing all the other, easier, more socially acceptable things I also do to control my anxiety, and to be fine. But I wasn’t.

Yes, I do think that some people are medicated unnecessarily, but this applies to the common cold just as much as it does to mental illness.

And for many of the most common medications prescribed for mental illness, if you don’t need them, they do nothing except give you side effects, like antibiotics. Sometimes I wish that someone would prescribe me something fun like Valium, but no such luck.

We need to give mental illness the same status as other illness. Much like a diabetic person’s body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or has trouble processing it, my body doesn’t produce enough certain neurotransmitters. And in many ways I am lucky – I am lucky that there is a medication that works for me, and that it was only the second one I tried.

It has taken me long enough to come to terms with taking medication every single day, and I’m really tired of being judged for it.

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14 comments

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Janine May 1, 2013 - 1:22 pm

Well said!

Taking a seratonion inhibitor for anxiety for four years was the best thing I ever did, and I faced (and still hear) the comments above… ‘Oh if I had anxiety I would never take medication’, or ‘What about the side effects?!’!

I can tell you that being in the place I was before I started on medication was worse than any side effect and that the only reason I waited so long to start taking the medication was because of societal pressures.

I’m one of the lucky ones that was able to come off the medication after intenstive counselling and a LOT of environmental changes. This is not the same for everyone and I have friends who couldn’t leave the house without medication.

People need to think long and hard about the words that come out of their mouths before they start banging on at someone who is trying to be a functioning member of society.

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Jane Barber
Jane Barber May 1, 2013 - 2:16 pm

Thanks Janine.

So glad to hear that things are easier for you now. I hear you on the benefits of medication far outweighing any side effects as well!

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GoodGravey May 1, 2013 - 2:44 pm

Excellent post, and thank you.

I’ve been on fluoxetine more than half my life now. I tried coming off it once, and it was not pretty. I went through a particularly bad patch last year where it seems PTSD got triggered as a delayed result of bullying at work. I had pretty much constant suicidal ideations.

The fluox was increased and the silence in my head was just blissful. Health concern trolls are an interesting bunch. I have neurofibromatosis and have often been told by people they know of a cream that’ll clear it right up (the missed the bit about it being a genetic mutation). And had people recommend cures for my asthma.

I am a big fan of pharmacology. These things work for some, not for others. But if you find something that works for you, and doesn’t have any side effects that bother you, then the drugs do work.

One of the worst things about these sort of attitudes is that those of us with mental health issues are struggling as it is (even with medication) to face the day. And to have such trivialising crap flung our way…it really is so disempowering.

Anyway, thank you for this. A lot.

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Jane Barber
Jane Barber May 1, 2013 - 3:59 pm

Thanks – I really appreciate your comments.

Health concern trolls really are the worst. At least with mental illness, I don’t have strangers coming up to me on the street to offer advice like I did as a teenager with severe acne. As if I hadn’t noticed it. Or done anything about it.

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Wendalls May 1, 2013 - 3:13 pm

This is a great post, agree with all of these things. I’ve been on medication for over 10 years now and at various times have tried to come of my meds because it seem that it was what you had you do. Also after a few years of taking them my friends would sometimes say “oh you probably don’t need to be taking those anymore” so after quite a lot of goes at coming of them or reducing my meds and then left wondering why i feel like crap after a few weeks i have decided that i am at one with my meds whoo!

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Jane Barber
Jane Barber May 1, 2013 - 4:05 pm

It is really amazing to see how many people have had the same experience as I did with feeling the pressure to come off medication. Not that I would wish it upon anyone, but it is nice to know that i’m not the only one.

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knoxrofl May 1, 2013 - 4:43 pm

Totally agree with all of this, mental health is more life altering and life threatening than most physical illnesses and ailments. YAY for modern medicine and it’s ability to help both! Although, I don’t think people are very accepting of others taking daily medicaitons if it’s for asthma – I have to take a lot of asthma meds now (thanks to living in a cold, broken, deconstruction zone of a city) and totally get told it must be bad for me to take them, and I should try not taking it / take some natural alternative / do the miracle cure their friends’ sister’s boyfriend tried, etc etc. What’s worse for me is not being able to breathe, but people find it easier to imagine that something is all in your head than to try to conceptualise something they’ve never experienced. But as you say, even more so though when they can’t see the effects as an obvious physical phenomenon like with mental illness. The whole ‘medications are evil’ attitude isn’t helpful to anyone, despite how it is seen as a kind of cool, counter culture anti-establishment stance. I’m grateful every day to science for making my life more enjoyable by fixing me up from various accidents and illnesses, physical and mental, and will take whatever medications I am prescribed by doctors (who know their shit), to make it more productive and enjoyable! And that should totally be shame-free, regardless of the type of illness.

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Jane Barber
Jane Barber May 1, 2013 - 5:01 pm

I totally agree. In fact, using asthma probably wasn’t the best example, now that I think of it – i’ve seen a fair bit of the whole “maybe you just need to get more exercise” bullshit go down which is super frustrating.

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Asher May 1, 2013 - 7:20 pm

I’ve never been prescribed or on any psychiatric medication myself, but I’ve always found it bizarre hearing the common opinion that people shouldn’t take psych meds.
As though psych meds don’t have to go through the same sort of testing that any other meds have to go through.
As though patients on psych meds never thought for themselves about whether they should take them.
As though patients on psych meds are taking them against medical advice.
As though patients on psych meds never wished they could have a better experience of life without being on pills.
Voicing these opinions is patronising, it’s presumptuous, and it’s hysterical – most of all it’s just unhelpful! Thanks for your article, I suspect it’s helped a fair few people already.

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Anita May 1, 2013 - 7:56 pm

Absolutely!

When I was on antidepressants (and mood stabilisers or downers to manage the side effects of the antidepressants) to manage the symptoms of my (then undiagnosed) brain tumour I used to get the occasional feedback that I should be able to live without them and should just try harder.

No-one has ever said that about the meds I use to treat me (now diagnosed) brain tumour.

It’s the same illness with the exact same effects on me, but a brain tumour is acceptable (and considered tragic and overwhelming and worthy) while chronic severe depression… not so much.

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Anita May 1, 2013 - 8:08 pm

Oh, also…

A brain tumour is a totally acceptable reason to spend two years on the sickness benefit (and even most of the small government right will say it’s a necessary backstop for that), say you were on the sickness benefit for two years because of depression tho… even some of the centre-left are dubious.

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ThinkIt Through May 30, 2013 - 11:58 am

OCD has played an unfortunate role in my life for over two decades now and manifests itself in highly anxious, obsessive thoughts. I was put on medication in my mid 20’s and found it made me very sleepy, probably more unmotivated and it was very difficult to wean myself off it. I think medication can be essential to get you through a very terrible time in your life but I also think it is valuable to learn cognitive behavioural therapy in conjunction with this. The brain is a very powerful tool and if you can manage to pull yourself out of the dark, downward spiral by stepping back and shutting the door on your negative thoughts you may find daily medication may play less of a role in your life.

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Ingrid September 15, 2013 - 11:29 am

Jane it is generous of you to share your experience openly. Friends, colleagues and family of mine have suffered with a range of mental illnesses. Many have had success with prescription drugs, counselling, faith, psychiatry and life changes to improve their wellbeing. Whatever choices they have made to find ways to heal or some better equilibrium have been theirs. Prejudice perhaps coincides with ignorance and becomes judgement for those with limited knowledge, empathy or compassion, looking on from the outside.

The analogy you make to asthma is ok. I have had asthma most my life, and had some prejudice but recognise that it most certainly doesn’t carry the stigma of mental illness. There are two factors at play there: more lay information is available about asthma and it has shrugged off the psychosomatic label more recently. But I think there are still useful parallels – capacity to accept that a full life can be had living with disabling or life threatening diseases and in the face of widespread and unconscious assumption of perfect health being the result of virtue. You’re living proof and so am I. 🙂

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JS April 7, 2014 - 1:47 pm

I really appreciated reading this, thank you for writing it. I’m sorry people are such jerks sometimes.

I’m an asthmatic -who doesn’t take a daily inhaler. Most of the time I’m okay. I’ve also had some episodes of depression and haven’t sought out medication for it. But then I’m also a person who grew up in a family where you didn’t ask for help and certainly didn’t let on if you didn’t know how to do things or weren’t coping. I was meant to know and meant to cope. Sometimes I could and sometimes I couldn’t. Either way I managed alone.

Reading about your experiences I wondered if part of the spectator’s objection to medication is somehow tied up in the idea that you shouldn’t ask others for help. Except of course that there’s a vast difference between the rules for needing help for the mind and help for the body, and ignoring how physical and bodily chemical so many ‘mental’ experiences are.

It’s like there’s some confusion of scale in there too- as if feeling a bit anxious is the same experience as having an ongoing or daily struggle with anxiety. My only brief experience with anxiety was awful, exhausting, and extremely physical. It wasn’t like being worried or ‘a bit anxious’ but bigger and more more often.

Right now I’m in therapy and finding the overall improvement in my wellbeing is teaching me something about seeking out other people to help me when I need help. That is the solution that makes the most sense to me (and I can afford it). It doesn’t take much effort to understand that it won’t be the best solution for everybody.

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