Let's Talk About Mental Health Medications.
"I use to fear that taking medications would change my personality; now I fear that it wont" - David Levy
I take medications for anxiety and depression every day and I don't care. Yes, you read that right. There is so much stigma when it comes to mental health and especially psych medications. For months, I felt ashamed and some type of way because as I'm trying to normalize mental health in the community, here I was hiding the fact that I am on medications. I felt like a fraud because I mean, aren't mental health professionals suppose to have their lives together? The short answer is no. We are all humans with emotions and our own sets of problems. Everyone reacts to stress and problems differently.
I felt ashamed and some type of way because as I'm trying to normalize mental health in the community, here I was hiding the fact that I am on medications
Mental health and recovery are not linear. This means there isn't a one size fits all way to think of mental health and how it affects us. As a mental health professional, I know that diagnoses are constantly changing because our lives and situations are constantly changing. Change is ongoing. We might take two steps forward in our "recovery" today and then take three steps backward tomorrow. This is ok and so is taking medications to help along that recovery journey.
I never thought that I would ever be on any kind of mental health medication for myself. I've always been the one sitting on the mental health provider side of things; listening to client stories of being on medications and why they do/don't like them. I've heard things like, "my medications make me too tired", "I don't want my medications to change my personality", "my medications make me nauseous", "I don't want to get hooked on medications", and so many other things. I have also heard positive things like "I feel so much better", "my medications help me sleep", "I feel more energized and less depressed", "the voices have gone away", and "I feel less anxious". I've encountered clients who feel way better after taking medications to the point where they decide to stop taking medications (sometimes prematurely). On the other hand, I've encountered clients who feel way better after taking medications to the point where they are afraid to get off the medications and want to keep taking them forever. Every situation is different. I can only speak of my own personal experience.
I never thought that I would ever be on any kind of mental health medication for myself
I first noticed a change in my mood when Covid started and we had to stay home 24/7. This was a big change for me. Like HUGE. Before Covid, I was driving to work in downtown L.A every day from the Inland Empire. If you're not familiar with the area, that was approximately a 1 1/2 hour drive each way for a total of 3 hours of commuting (sometimes more). Thinking back now, I'm not sure how I did it every day. Waking up extra early in the morning to get ready for my long commute and getting back home late in the day to hang out for 3-4 hours before going to bed. I really hated the daylight savings periods where I was getting home in the dark. This was my routine for 3 years and had become so normal in my life.
At my job, I was dealing with burnout on most days. I had a caseload of 150 clients at one point that I was expected to meet for therapy, case management, or emergency situations. Yup, that's the county mental health system for you. How is it possible to even help clients create change when you can really only check in with them monthly and have so much to keep up with. Buts that's a whole different blog. My point is, that life was busy and I hardly ever had time to breathe. Well when you are used to and have normalized this extremely busy routine, change can be a struggle. We all know how Covid happened. Offices shut down, freeways were the emptiest they've ever been, and mental health services went virtual. Our lives changed in such a dramatic way in what seemed like an instant.
Adjusting to Changes
So here I was, "working from home" and had a very difficult time adjusting. For one, I had a really hard time separating work responsibilities and parent responsibilities. Working while knowing that Emma was just in the other room sucked. Secondly, going from being around your partner a few hours per week to 24/7 was driving me insane. I just needed my space to recharge. Lastly, I really missed seeing my clients face to face. Aside from the horrible drive to work and burnout, I really enjoy working in the mental health field. I miss running my Spanish mental health group, getting ready for work, and feeling grown/ independent.. lol. I didn't want to sit in my pajamas all day. Not to shame anyone who does enjoy it of course. Everyone is different. Being around my partner 24/7 was also causing us to become irritable and argue more than before about minor things.
I felt my anxiety and depression intensify. I knew I had to seek help when one day while we were driving to the beach, I had a panic attack in the car. Yes, I did. This is something that I haven't shared with anyone besides my partner (he was there). I remember I began to feel numb, dizzy, sweaty, hot, and just had a feeling of panic overwhelm me. I just felt like I needed to get out of the car and take a walk. I nearly opened the vehicle door in the middle of the road as I anxiously repeated to my partner that I needed to get out of the car. He pulled over, I was able to just walk, and stretch. The residue of the panic attack lasted for a couple of hours. I still didn't feel 100 percent myself when we spent the day at the beach.
I remember I began to feel numb, dizzy, sweaty, hot, and just had a feeling of panic overwhelm me.
After that experience, I got connected to a therapist and psychiatrist. Btw, a psychiatrist is a doctor that prescribes mental health medications. Not a psychologist. I've heard that get mixed up a lot. Although my relationship with my therapist wasn't a good fit, I did get connected to a very attentive psychiatrist and began some medications. When you first begin medications, the psychiatrist will usually prescribe a small dose and then work their way up depending on how helpful or not helpful the medications are. It's important to remember that some medications like antidepressants usually take 4-6 weeks to kick in so you have to be patient. Many people give up on medications after taking them for a few days because they don't feel any different.
Something else that is important to note is that sometimes medications can have side effects and this is something you have to discuss with whoever is prescribing them. For instance, some antidepressant medications can cause side effects like nausea, headaches, and tiredness, which can make you feel like you're more depressed at the beginning when you first start taking them. So once again, be patient and wait until 4-6 weeks to let them kick in.
After I got on medications, I definitely noticed an improvement in my mood and attitude. I felt happier. That sounds cliche but its true. I gained some energy back and worried less. If you are someone who has been thinking about medications or just aren't sure or just educating yourself, remember that mental health medications don't treat the illness. For example, taking an antidepressant isn't going to "cure" depression. Medications help with symptom management. They can help decrease the severity of symptoms and make it a little more bearable. That's why it's recommended to use medications as a supplement to therapy if needed. Just because you have a mental health condition doesn't necessarily mean you automatically need medications. Give therapy a try and see if you can work through things without medications. As I said, every case is different and everyone reacts differently to stress so make sure to speak to a professional to determine what works for you.
I learned to not be ashamed of taking mental health medications. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Whenever I feel sick, my doctor prescribed medications to take care of my cold, upset stomach, etc. When I don't feel well mentally, my psychiatrist prescribed medications to alleviate my mind. I take medications for anxiety and depression every day and I don't care.
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