- Sara Mann
Happy Saturday everyone! We made it through another week!
I’ve decided for my first “real” blog back I’m going to take on a pretty controversial topic. MEDICATION!
Before I jump into my experience with meds, I want to say that this blog is in no way meant to convince you to take or not to take medication. I have absolutely no judgement towards anyone on this matter. I’m a big believer in the whole, “to each their own” when it comes to meds. I myself have been on both sides of the fence. If talking about meds triggers you, just pass on this blog today! There are MANY reasons to take or not to take medication and that is always for YOU to figure out for yourself. I’m simply going to share my journey with medication in the hopes that by sharing, someone may relate and feel less alone, or it may bring light to an otherwise hidden/secret part of recovery.
Here it goes!! Pray for me!!
When I first entered treatment I was dead set against taking meds. Now, just to clarify, by meds, I’m talking medication that helps with mental illness, depression, anxiety, O.C.D., body dysmorphia, panic attacks...you get the idea. I would be approached by my therapist, doctor, psychologist, and dietician about it all the time and I would flat out shoot the idea down.
Everyone I knew in recovery was on meds. Seriously. I didn’t know one other person that wasn’t on some sort of concoction for anxiety, depression or something else they were battling. This didn’t matter to me. I wasn’t going to do it. Meds weren’t for me.
I remember even taking PRIDE in myself about not being on meds. I would say how cool would it be if I made it through recovery without the assistance of an SSRI. I’m tough. I’m strong. I can do this! I thought, lets be real....if I can restrict my food and exercise myself to near death, I can recover without needing a pill. Meds are for the people who can’t get it together on their own.
This was my mindset. Yes to recovery. No to meds.
I did this for almost four years.
I’m sure your wondering why I felt SO strongly about not taking meds. Well, it’s your lucky day! I’m going to share the reasons why and would love it if you refrained from judgement! Like I wrote above, each person has their own reasons for taking or not taking meds, I had mine. Some reasons were great, and others not so much.
Reason number one! I am a Christian. Now, not every Christian feels the same way about meds, but somewhere along the line I was given the idea that a Christian does not use meds for mental illness. We have Jesus! If we pray hard enough and turn to Him He will bring us out of our depression, or anxiety. No need for a little pill. To me, taking medication made me feel like I wasn’t trusting enough in the God that I loved and turned to for help. God can do anything right? So I just needed to do what I needed to do and trust Him to bring me through it. In some, not all, Christian circles meds are VERY frowned upon. It’s seen as something that is controlling the mind and only a person without enough faith would need them. I mean, just read scripture, you can make it through anything right?! The thought is lean more on God, not medication. I didn’t know one Christian taking a medication for mental illness and had never heard from the church in any sermon that it was something that was OK. In fact, I had heard the opposite. So, I decided I wouldn’t take them!
Reason number two! FEAR. I was afraid of medication. I had no idea what it would do. I would sit anxiously ruminating on all the bad things that could happen if I took the tiny pills. Would I become a sedated weirdo? Would I slur my speech? Would it change my brain in a way that I can’t change back? Would they make me more suicidal and anxious? Would people know? What if I wasn’t myself on them? I never thought of the positive effects an anti-anxiety med could have on me, I only thought about the doom and gloom and what could go wrong. It scared me enough to not move forward.
Reason number three! This one should probably go in the fear category, but I decided to let it stand on it’s own because I would say it is a BIG deal to those in recovery. I didn’t want to take meds because I was afraid of gaining more weight. We have all heard it before...some mental illness meds can make you gain weight. I would sit in my psychiatrists office, after she highly recommended that I start an anti-depressant after finding me yet again severely depressed and anxious, and simply because she would not guarantee me that it wouldn’t make me gain more weight, I wouldn’t take it. The fear of weight gain in recovery is very real and very frightening. I was already gaining weight at an extremely rapid pace and the thought of taking something that could possibly make it worse was a straight road block for me. I wouldn’t do it.
Reason number four! Shame. I don’t know that I would have admitted it back then, but looking back, shame was a huge reason why I would not try meds that could have helped me with my depression and panic attacks while recovering. I was already ashamed enough for entering treatment in my 30s for anorexia and gaining weight rapidly in a society that thinks all weight gain is bad, I didn’t want to add on the stigma of being “crazy” and needing meds. It’s a very new thing in our society to be open about being on psych meds. Even five years ago I felt like if anyone found out I was on one, I would have just crawled in a corner and died of embarrassment. Meds were a very hush hush thing, which to me meant that if I was on them I should be ashamed of it. Plus, I heard people talk about people on meds and it has never been nice! “Oh, did you know so and so is bi-polar and is on meds....she’s crazy!” “He’s so depressed he had to take medication! I hope he can get off it soon.” I never heard someone say, “She was really struggling and just needed some help to get through it. I’m so glad the medication was available!” There is a stigma around meds, and I was too ashamed of it to try them.
Last reason and then I’ll get on with the story!
Reason number five! Denial. Honestly, I was just in denial about the whole thing. I knew I was crying a lot but was it THAT bad? I knew I had suicidal ideations multiple times a week, but wouldn’t anyone in this situation? I felt the panic attacks day after day and the constant sense of fear and adrenalin pumping if I stepped foot in public or when I had to try and eat a bagel for the first time in years, but hey, I could just power through and be ok right? I could literally be crying in a Target dressing room because I went up yet another size, but I always thought I was just overly sensitive and needed to just GET IT TOGETHER! Why take meds? I had coping skills, therapy, God on my side, I was strong. I just didn’t think I was in a bad enough state to need them, much like I didn’t see that my anorexia was so bad it could and should have killed me.
So the obvious question is did I ever change my view on medication?
The answer is yes. For ME I did end up changing my view on it.
I went through four years of treatment/recovery without the help of medication for my anorexia, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, panic attacks, body dysmorphia and O.C.D. I should almost rephrase that and say I trudged, like in deep, thick, sticky, mud, in constant anxiety, tears, depression and shame without the help of medication for four LONG freaking years. Looking back it was a living hell. Recovery is/was SO HARD, but I was determined to not do it with drugs and I think that determination, fear, shame and wrong viewpoint of my God and His love for me kept me from trying something that ultimately changed my life and helped me tremendously.
What happened was this. Around October of last year (2019) I was in a bad place. I had stopped blogging, I would spend hours in bed surrounded by soaked tissue, I had no motivation, suicidal thoughts almost daily, I was living life, but as I described earlier it was like living in a foggy, slow, stuck in the mud sort of way, but with a racing heart and sweaty palms like I was being constantly chased by a grizzly. I barely laughed. I was having panic attacks almost daily and I just didn’t know what to do anymore. I tried eating less...it made me gain weight. I tried eating more, my weight didn’t budge. I tried journaling, thought logging, praying, walking, swimming, all the tools in the DBT and CBT books. Nothing worked. I felt like giving up. I truly was at the end of my rope. I didn’t want to relapse, but didn’t want to feel like this anymore. Something had to give.
Then my husband came home from his annual doctors check up and wouldn’t you know he started chatting with the doctor about me. He shared with her that we had moved here and I needed a doctor but was afraid of them because of fat shaming or they didn’t understand anorexia. Let me tell you, GOD IS GOOD, ALL THE TIME. This doctor, in small town Chesterland, Ohio, told him that she use to work with anorexics in Reno and was VERY familiar with it and would love to help me. WHAT?! I’ve had some of the best Doctors in DC, John Hopkins and Cleveland Clinic look at my case and a woman in Chesterland was going to help?
So I made an appointment and that appointment changed my life.
I think I had to be at the end of my rope to be able to let go of the fear, shame, bias and stigma that comes along with meds, and here I was, at the end of my rope. My doctor STRONGLY advised me to go on an SSRI. She said I clearly had no problem taking other types of medication for healing my body, why would I not try medication that helps me mentally?
I said O.K. and she filled the prescription.
My anxiety and fear about it didn’t just go away, but I felt like I had nothing else to lose. I also, after a lot of talking with God, prayer, reading and seeking council realized that I, a Christian, can take meds for mental illness. God still loves me, He wants me to heal and be whole and live a life for Him. Something I could NOT do the way things were going.
I remember filling my prescription, sitting on the edge of my bed with one tiny little pill in my hand and just releasing it all. I knew God loved me, I knew I had exhausted everything else, I knew I would be ok. I swallowed it and honestly, it was very anti-climactic! HAHA! I don’t know what I was expecting, an earthquake? Anxiety will do that to you!
Starting my medication is one of the best things I could have ever done for myself in recovery. It has helped me TREMENDOUSLY. I remember two weeks later going into my follow up appointment in tears (good tears for once!) because for the first time in a very LONG time I felt like I could breathe again. I felt like instead of trying desperately to keep my head above water, I was now swimming towards the shore. I sobbed at that appointment thanking my Doctor for helping me!
I’m going to wrap this up because...it’s a long one! Sorry no sorry!
Here’s the thing. No one knows that I’m on this med. Truly. (Well, except for all of you now!) I’m not a zombie. I’m not crazy. I don’t just stare out the window dazed and confused. I’m living!! I’m able to think clearly. My panic attacks have STOPPED. I can sit down to a meal without overthinking every freaking bite. I just feel a thousand times better and I’m not exaggerating.
Another positive side effect (and here is a trigger warning) of taking the medication is my body almost immediately started to lose the overshoot weight. Now, to be clear, this med does not cause weight loss. I didn’t take it for weight loss either. What we think happened is that my mind got out of the fight or flight response and into a place of peace. The mind and body are connected. It didn’t feel the need to continue to hang onto the overshoot weight because my brain was no longer in straight panic mode. I didn’t go on some dumb fad diet, I just started eating more intuitively because the panic attacks about it and my weight were near gone. I didn’t start exercising crazily either. I literally changed almost nothing except I took medication to help my mental illness and now my body and mind are working correctly again.
Do I still have anxiety or bad thoughts. Every once in a while yes. But here is the thing, all those years in therapy learning coping skills, I now can use them better because my body and mind aren’t freaking out. I have space and room to think logically about whatever my ED is trying to throw at me at any given moment. It’s been a true blessing and so many good things have come from me taking a leap of faith and trying something I was determined not to try. Honestly, all those things I was worried about....they just don’t really matter anymore! I’m thriving and recovering. Could I have kept going without meds? Probably, but it was ugly and painful and suicidal thoughts are scary. Couldn’t I have done it on meds alone? NOPE! I still need those coping skills, therapist and dietician and in the end I HAD TO EAT THE FOOD and let my body heal, but man, it sure has helped a lot.
If you are in a place where meds are not for you like I was, it’s ok! I’ve been there. I understand. It’s normal. You need to figure out what is best for YOU. This is just how my journey has gone. Either way, stick with recovery! You can do it! It’s worth it I promise!!
- Sara -