Happy Pills: Medication for Mental Therapy
July 28, 2007
Note: I am not a doctor. This is an editorial about my opinions on medication.
Medication is not as instant cure. I often see people take medication for depression, anxiety, or other disorders and assume that as soon as they pop the pill, their problems will be over, but that's not how it works.
Medication Is a Tool, Not a Cure
Medication is a tool. You use the tool to help you do the work. The tool does not automatically do the work for you. The tools just help get the job done more efficiently.
For example, if you suffer from anxiety, the medication you take to combat anxiety will not completely eliminate your anxiety. It will only reduce your anxiety to a level that will allow you to help yourself through psychotherapy, so you can learn how to handle your anxiety better.
Likewise, even medications for blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, etc. are tools for management. They are not cures. You still have to do the work to change your lifestyle.
To Take Medication or Not
Do you need medication? Possibly, but this is something you, your doctor, and your psychotherapist need to decide together. Some people can work through anxiety, depression, etc. with psychotherapy alone. Some people need medication to balance out their brain chemistry. If you do take medication, don't neglect psychotherapy.
Make sure that you always research the medication you are taking by looking it up on the Internet. Find out what side effects there are (drug companies don't actually list all of them, so search for personal websites and message boards to look at what other people have to say about how it affected them). Pay attention to potential complications and interactions. Look up the side effects of withdrawal (drug companies often don't like to talk about the physical addictive qualities of their products, so look to users of the medication for more detailed information). Only when you feel comfortable with the medication based on your own research, then accept the prescription from your doctor or even discuss alternative medications or doses you would rather try.
If you don't feel comfortable taking the medication your doctor wants to prescribe, remember that this is your body and your mind, and you're the one who will have to live with the consequences, so you can always refuse the prescription.
My Experience with SSRIs
I first started having panic attacks in my early twenties. I thought I was having a heart attack. I went to my doctor who prescribed Serzone. I cried when I realized that my doctor thought I was so crazy that I needed medication. It seemed to help, and I understood that I had a chemical imbalance that needed medication to fix it, so my guilt disappeared as well. After one year, I weaned myself off of it. Soon after I learned that Serzone was causing liver damage in people taking it, and I was happy that I seemed to have escaped the problem.
A couple years later I developed postpartum anxiety in the form of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). I was ashamed and confused, so I didn't seek help. My anxiety progressed again into panic attacks. I was having dozens of attacks a day, and each one felt like a heart attack. I refused to take medication because I was breastfeeding my baby, so I went to psychotherapy instead. It helped. It changed my life in ways I never expected. Therapy was one of the best things I've ever done; it changed the way I approached and dealt with problems and life in general, so I could be more effective in achieving my goals and general happiness.
When I became pregnant with my second child, the postpartum OCD returned. This time the stress, anxiety, and depression mixed into screaming fits of rage, during which I often threw and/or broke things. Each fit was immediately followed by guilt, depression, and eventually suicidal thoughts. It didn't take long for me to realize that I needed the medication to get me through this rough spot, so I wouldn't emotionally scar my children or destroy my marriage. I again tried psychotherapy, but it wasn't enough to fix the problem. Even though I was breastfeeding, I did the research and realized that it would be more damaging to my baby to have an unstable mother than it would to take an SSRI, so I began taking Zoloft. (I'm not suggesting anyone else should, but it did help me.)
The Zoloft didn't cure me, it just turned down the volume of anxiety and depression to a point at which I could again begin to work with my therapist and support group to get back to normal. I finally achieved normalcy, and I began to wean myself off of Zoloft. The withdrawal side-effects were surprising. I felt jolts of energy (almost like an electric shock) that shot through my body every time I turned my head, blinked, walked, or tried to maintain my balance. I would get dizzy and light-headed for no reason. I even developed twitching in my eye-lids and fingers, and twitching episodes in other parts of my body that would happen at least a dozen times per day. My nervous system was confused to say the least. The withdrawal effects were unexpected (they weren't listed as side-effects when I researched it), but I would do it again.