Medication: I Refuse to feel Ashamed!
I remember the first time I was prescribed medication for my mental health. I was 17 and in the adolescent psychiatric unit (CFU) at Starship Hospital in Auckland. It was my first admission, and unfortunately wasn’t to be my last. In fact, I was to spend over 700 days in four different hospitals over the next 8 years.
I left that first admission with a month’s supply of fluoxetine and quetiapine. Being on medication tapped in to the deep well of shame I had within myself. It took me back to my primary school days of having the nickname ‘freak’. I had always felt different, defective in some way, and here was my proof. I felt the medication meant that I wasn’t capable of handling my life in the ways that I thought others were capable of leading theirs.
Looking back, I don’t recall either medication being particularly helpful for me. High dose fluoxetine did not curb my constant urges to binge and purge. Taking quetiapine morning and night made me hungry and sluggish; I struggled to stay awake during class. I was frustrated that no one seemed to take my concerns about the medication seriously. I felt embarrassed excusing my tired, slow reactions and lateness with ‘I’m on sedating medication’.
I began to have doubts. How did my doctor know which medication was best for me? Was prescribing actually little more than guesswork? It took a lot of trust in both my clinicians and the medication itself to take pills that altered my brain chemistry in unknown ways. Looking back, I think I took all the shame and anger I felt towards myself for taking medication, and turned it towards my treating team. How dare they tell me what to do? I’ll show them that I know best how to care for myself!
Over the next few years, as I was prescribed a litany of antipsychotics, antidepressants, benzodiazepines and mood stabilizers, I went through cycles of stopping cold turkey, overusing medication, and taking it irregularly. Certainly, all the anger and helplessness I held, my occupational therapist and psychologist started to feel towards me too, as they watched me go through the same cycle over and over.
Today, I take 200mg sertraline, an antidepressant, and 30mg olanzapine, an antipsychotic. I take it exactly as prescribed, and those close to me will know what an achievement that is! I tell myself a number of helpful phrases when I get urges to stop taking my medication:
1. Stopping medication wreaks havoc with your mental state, as you have seen time and time again. I know you want to handle life unaided, but we are not designed as fully independent beings. Your doctor has a lot to offer you, if you can let her help!
2. Taking medication is not a shameful secret to tuck away, it is a brave, trusting step that is helping you! 1 in 10 kiwis take medication for their mental health, you are not alone.
3. If others judge you, that stems from their own issues, and you do not need to take those on. Furthermore, chances are, people are not judging you, they are just worried or trying to help in their own way. Ultimately are you going to let others’ point of view determine the choices you make around your health?
4. Not taking my medication as prescribed is a breach of the trust my doctor has in me. If you absolutely cannot bear to take the medication, then talk about it first and evaluate your options!
5. Medication is not a magic fix; it is a tool. You want to get better, and so you need to work at it!