Why people are afraid of mental health meds

For years there was such a stigma about taking medication for your mental health. The fear of the dreaded drugs was almost as stigmatised as mental health conditions themselves. But the question is, why?

Before I was correctly diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, I had been to the doctor several times to tell them I wasn’t coping and asked for advice on how to help myself. There were suggestions about mindfulness, counselling and doing lots of exercise, as well as not drinking too much alcohol (something I was doing to try and self-medicate). When they agreed to try me on antidepressant medication, my life changed for the better. So why wouldn’t people want that for themselves?

Ashamed

People are afraid of what others will think of them. I was definitely afraid of what people in my profession would think of me if I told them I was on medication for my brain. When going through a bad patch at work, I ended up having to tell my managers about the depression, anxiety and medication. After a week, they asked me if I was better yet. When I explained that I wasn’t and that the medication was making my brain fuzz, they presented me with a verbal warning. However, despite this lack of understanding and my fear, a few years later I told another employer and they were super supportive.

SILVER LINING: The great thing about medication is that no one needs to know you’re taking it. You can keep that to yourself. If you have the fear of people knowing, just don’t tell anyone. Only tell them when you’re ready.

Looking incapable

This was the biggest fear for me. In the industry I was in, I needed to be top of my game, be the ‘swan’ paddling hard to stay afloat and looking angelic and calm on top. I’ve always been good at putting on different faces depending on where I am. I also got very good at hiding my anxiety, depression and panic attacks behind a forced smile and closed doors.

SILVER LINING: Turns out, I’m actually pretty good at my job and was just in the wrong part of the industry. It took years for me to realise but you learn a lot. I learned that I AM CAPABLE and I CAN DO THINGS and that I’M PRETTY AWESOME. Only tell people about your struggles if you’re comfortable. Confide in a friend, a counsellor or your doctor and only tell people when you feel comfortable doing so. Always know that YOU’RE NOT INCAPABLE and that YOU CAN DO IT.

Side effects

A lot of people avoid taking medication because of the side effects. Admittedly, I had some awful side effects from some of my tablets but when I finally plucked up the courage to tell the doctor that, they were able to help me change over from one to another to another. Not all tablets are made for all people, that’s why there are so many out there. My doctor kept telling me there were only a few but my counsellor said there were so many more. So I pursued it, scary but worth it.

SILVER LINING: If one tablet is making you feel sick or giving you the sweats or night terrors, you can change it. Give it the time it needs to work (6-8 weeks apparently) and if you still don’t feel the side effects fading or that they’re not helping, ask to change them. You have the right. It’s your mind and body.

The silver lining

It’s so hard to tell someone to ignore the above nagging feelings and only because, I’ve been there and I know. I’m not an expert or a doctor but I’ve lived through the fear and the shame and being stubborn and thinking I can do it all by myself. Without the anti-psychotic medication I now take for my Borderline Personality Disorder, I wouldn’t be where I am. I wouldn’t be functioning like a semi-human being. When I forget to pick up my prescription, man do I know about it in the way I’m feeling. But they’ve literally saved me so I can cope with the odd hot sweat or night terror.

Please don’t ever be afraid to help yourself. You can do it. You’re stronger than you realise. It might take a few weeks or a few years but if you feel you need a helping hand, ask your doctor about whether medication is right for you.

Book Review: ‘Madness: A Bipolar Life’ by Marya Hornbacher

If you haven’t heard of Marya Hornbacher and haven’t had the opportunity to read her powerful biography ‘Madness: A Bipolar Life’, this is my intervention. And you should.

After speaking to my counsellor and mentioning possible diagnoses of Autism and Bipolar 2, I decided to see if there were any books around these subjects and this was the first of my finding. And I’m glad it was. Although Marya has severe Bipolar Disorder 1, some of the things she mentions doing in her book hit home.

“My brain sometimes departs from the agreed-upon reality, and my private reality is a very lonely place. But in the end, I’m not sure I wish I’d never gone there.”
― Marya Hornbacher, Madness: A Bipolar Life

img_0500The way that she describes her experiences are both poetic and ultimately, sad. She talks about madness as if it’s  “…sitting in an old plaid bathrobe in your kitchen, unpleasant and unshaved. Madness is a rotten guest.”

Don’t we all just feel that way? Those days where you head into the bathroom to get ready for work and the day ahead but you can’t. There’s something stopping you, standing in your way and not letting you move ahead. You want to do life but you don’t. All at the same time.

I have an appointment with a psychiatrist this week and I don’t know how my mind will behave. Do I want it to behave? Do I want it to behave like a naughty toddler, kicking up a fuss so the doctor can see what it’s really like? I’m so nervous. When I was assessed before and was having a bit of an episode, I drove my car into a lorry. It was stationary. It was my fault. I don’t wholly remember it. The Mental Health Team’s response? ‘It won’t be your mind or the tablets. We can’t account for bad driving.’ Hence my fear and anxiety.

“I’m sick. It’s true. It isn’t going to go away. All my life, I’ve thought that if I just worked hard enough, it would. I’ve always thought that if I just pulled myself together, I’d be a good person, a calm person, a person like everyone else.”
― Marya Hornbacher, Madness: A Bipolar Life

I honestly take my mental health hat off to Marya for her bravery and creativity writing this reflection. At times, I felt so sad for her, then angry at the system for fobbing her off for so long, then a sense of association and finally, a wish for her to have peace and find the help she needed.

Ending the stigma surrounding mental health and especially conditions like Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Multiple Personality Disorder and so on, has never been so important. Next on my list to read is ‘Sane: Mental Illness, Addiction and the 12 Steps’

‘Madness: A Bipolar Life’ is definitely a must-read. It’s a tough read but it will just make you admire Marya Hornbacher even more.

The blues, the masks and the light at the end of the tunnel

*Warning: The video in this post may act as a trigger for anyone suffering with their mental health*

So Tuesday was World Mental Health Awareness Day, a time for everyone to look at how they talk about mental health and how as a nation we can improve it. A day for Time to Change Champions like me to be vocal about stigma and reaching out to those who might be in trouble. Instead, I had my lowest dip I’ve had in a while.

Normally, and to the outside world, I’m looking a bit like this…

PICcollahe

We’re talking no sleeping, crying, thoughts of life ending, feeling hopeless and lost and overall, guilty. I put a warning in above because when I was having my meltdown in my partner’s car (literally went to move it off the driveway), I filmed myself. Ballsy move some might say. But, I wanted to show that some people who appear to be jolly, happy-go-lucky people on the outside might need help and support on the inside.

Here goes… (Excuse the giant face to start with)

So, yes it might not make sense and yes, I was very snotty and yes, a serious amount of tissues were harmed in the making of this spur-of-the moment video, but for good reason.

I hate attention, I don’t work well with compliments and pity makes me feel funny. All I wanted to show was that those you think have everything sussed out and be coping, might not be. As a consequence of my meltdown, I did manage to see a doctor at our new surgery.

I was so scared and had already decided that they weren’t going to help me after previous bad experiences. However, my catastrophic brain was wrong. While in a high and flighty mood a few days previously, I’d made a list of things that I experience. I’d also been filling in a Mood Diary too. So I was armed.

The doctor was amazing. She sat me and my partner down (he was there for support, oh, and to provide tissues) and asked me to start from the beginning. She was so patient and kind and really listened. She said what I’d tracked was useful and that I needed to keep monitoring my sleep (or lack of) and my mood patterns. She prescribed me a totally different kind of tablet and explained what it was and how it could help for now. She also said she’d refer me to a psychiatrist. Out of my horrible ‘I don’t want to live anymore’ mood came a light.

My partner has been an absolute angel. He’s been so supportive and kind and let me cry all over his shoulder. He’s given me tissues for my snotty nose and tried to make me laugh to distract from the pain. I feel so guilty that I have this most amazing person, we have our own home and I’m still, in the depths of my brain, horrifically sad. But he makes it better. He shows me that there’s a light at the end of a dark tunnel.

Sometimes, we have to drop the mask, accept the blues and keep focussing on that bright light of hope. I realised how good I was at hiding my feelings when I asked my partner if he’d noticed any change in me in the past few months. He said he had but also said ‘You hide everything so well but you have been more up and down.’ Even those closest to us have no idea. This is when it’s good to drop the act, get rid of the mask and attack it head on.

Never give up on looking after yourself or your mental health. It’s so important. If at first you don’t succeed with family, friends or doctors, kick up a stink. It’ll be worth it.