Yo, Dandelions! It’s my birthday! I am now celebrating 39 years above the dirt. So, can’t complain! Just sayin’ I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Is it too late to apply to be an astronaut? Can I take my cats? Anyway. When, I started blogging openly about my crazy bipolar life, I’ve mentioned a couple of times I take medication. And like being bipolar, being medicated is something I’m not ashamed of. And you shouldn’t be.
I’d like to add, this is going to be a Pro-Meds post, if you manage your mental illness in some other way and don’t think this post would be of use, no harm, no foul. But if you want to stick around and see a side you haven’t considered before? Come on in! Pull up a chair! Here we go.
Before I was medicated, I was psychotic and had auditory and visual hallucinations. I also had night terrors and was a cutter. I was bullied, and I retaliated. When I had enough of one middle school bully picking on me, I threw him against an air conditioning unit where the corner hit him in the crotch. He didn’t fuck with me after that. I felt I was a danger to people I loved and planned to run away to protect them from me. I was cruel to animals. Considering how much I love animals this terrifies me I once felt this way. I had the potential to be homicidal, think about that. I was suicidal, I was just done.
And I didn’t care.
I just wanted it to stop.
Sound familiar? Maybe like yourself? Or anyone you know?
In the stark raving—pardon the phrase—sheer lunacy of homeopathic remedies from paleo, to keto, to raw veganism, to juice cleanses, to even eating placenta and apricot pits, to inhaling raw sunlight that will supposedly “cure our minds,” this shit is dangerous.
Let’s break down what medication is. And it’s really simple. Ready?
Medication is medicine.
That’s it. Done deal. End of discussion. Exit through the gift shop.
Still need more?
How about some examples you, or someone you know might be able to better wrap your head around. Asthmatics have inhalers, diabetics take insulin, and amputees have prosthetic limbs. You yourself might wear glasses. Or you’ve had dental work. Or you’ve gotten the flu.
All of these things involve medicine. You wouldn’t deny an asthmatic an inhaler, would you? A diabetic their insulin? Or an amputee their prosthetic? Drive without glasses? Let your teeth rot out of your head? Brave the flu without Tamiflu?
These things are not only lifesaving, but they also improve the quality of one’s life.
Case in point, people have actually died from the flu this year.
And people living with mental illness have died from being denied medication. They have either lost the war inside their minds, or they’ve taken a more outwardly violent turn. There’s a reason it’s called “suicide by cop.”
Marinate on that.
Like your lungs, liver, spleen, heart, and every other organ in your body, your brain is an organ too. The lovely thing about the brain, is there’s so much we have yet to understand how it all works. Stuff like where does consciousness actually come from? What happens to our brains when we die? Where do we go when we dream? Fascinating, right?
Despite the philosophical puzzlements, we do know quite a bit about the brain and the chemicals it produces to keep it functioning. For mental illness, which surprises no one, we don’t brain so good. Like heart patients, their heart doesn’t work so well.
But with medication, we can get better. We can manage our symptoms, and we can live happy and productive lives.
My bipolar brain doesn’t make certain chemicals in the right amounts. Too much from Column A, too little of Column B, and none of Column C. With medication, the meds correct all of that and keep me stable. And often, these medications are used to treat completely different conditions. Like blood pressure, epilepsy, or even acid reflux. The funny one about blood pressure is, what a shock, your brain works better when blood is efficiently flowing through it. Surprise!
It really is that simple. Take it from someone who grew up on a therapist’s couch. I’m even the lucky duck who gets the ultra-rare side effects that effect 1-10,000 or 1-50,000. Every. Damn. Time.
If you’re ready to have the discussion about medication, or your doctor is suggesting it, here are six tips to keep you feeling overwhelmed.
Make sure you’re informed.
And informed by an actual medical professional and not an internet diagnosis. Or diagnosis from a friend with zero experience. WebMD and others do so much more damn harm than good these days it sets my hair on fire. Actual fire. Flames and everything!
Tell your “well-meaning” friend who knows better than you to kindly shut the fuck up.
Medication-shaming is actually a thing. And I just now made up the phrase, so we need to make this a thing. When asked about the medicines I take, I’m promptly shut down with told how X chemical will give me cancer, or Y medication is a placebo created by Big Pharma, or according to the “Goddess Mommy” blog, Z medication gives turns your skin purple. If you thought anti-vaxxers were bad, oh man. People who are medication-shamers will give them a run for their money. Looking at you, Gweneth Paltrow.
Ask your doctor about the side effects, the pros and cons, and how rare the side effects are.
We’ve all seen those commercials. Where a medication can bless you with kittens but goes on for ten minutes with how it can turn your body into a cancerous, festering Hellmouth for summoning an Elder God. These commercials are also whoa harmful and scare everyone into running to the eager arms of Gweneth and her snake oil. (Can you tell I have no love for this woman? I don’t know.) I won’t lie and say there won’t be any side effects. Everyone gets them in some way. And if you get one of the negative ones, tell your doctor ASAP, and they can find you an alternative to try. Take it from someone with the ultra-rare effects. A few I’ve had over time are: weight gain, weight loss, hair falling out that grew back curly, tremors, stomach problems, increased mania, insomnia, too much sleep, gum disease, suicidal thoughts, and the super not-so-fun one for 13 year-old me, hypersexuality.
It takes time to find the right combination. A lot of it.
Our bodies are different, our chemistry is different. So, what works for me might not work for you. You need to be not only patient, but vigilant. If a doctor tells you a medication takes a certain amount of time to fully hit your system, ride it out and see if you get better or worse. If it’s worse? Then say something. Don’t take something for a day and decide it’s not for you. Ask your doctor how long a medication takes to hit your system. One of my meds is Clonidine, and it actually works within the first hour I take it. But others, like my Lamictal, took weeks to build up and adapt to a safe level. I was diagnosed at 13, and it’s taken years to find the right cocktail for me. And it’s even had to be adjusted and changed as my body changed with puberty, or my life had changed with new situations and new challenges. Finding the right meds overnight is the rare exception, not the rule. It takes time, and more time than you think.
Listen to your doctor and make sure your doctor is listening to you.
You have to want help. You have to want to listen. If you don’t want to, you’re not benefiting anyone. Same for your doctor. If it feels like they’re writing you off or they’re only pushing pills? Find another doctor. And if you get more of the same lip service, find another, and another. I’ve been there, sadly. Keep shopping for a doctor you click with and trust. I’ve been seeing my current therapist for over ten years. And we met under trying circumstances. I was fresh from a mental breakdown in art school, and he came highly recommended. Nothing he could say could get through to me, and honestly, I didn’t give a fuck for what he had to say. But he worked at it, and Mom kept making me go, and we came to understand each other. Now we shoot the shit about books I’m writing, or movies we’ve seen, with the occasional dealing with the crisis of the week, or hash out topics for this blog.
Do not, under any circumstances, stop taking your meds.
Understand, medication is not a cure. Medication is what makes your brain and body go. It makes you “feel better” but that feeling is maintained by staying on your medication regimen. Like a diabetic on insulin, they feel better when their sugar is managed. Don’t ever quit because you think you don’t need them. And don’t quit if someone tells you they’re bad for you. Or if you’re changing. I’ve been down that hole too. My friends in middle school insisted I was different. And already being an outsider among a group of outsiders, this was terrifying. So I flushed my pills to keep them happy, and keep my friends. Yeah. I wasn’t terribly bright.
Remember, spitters are quitters, and you don’t seem like a quitter to me.
Wait. No. Uh. Moving on.
And here I am, years later, older, (maybe) wiser, and it’s been a hard road, but the benefits have been numerous.
I’m stable, and full disclosure, I’m on the max dosage of a handful of strong anti-psychotics. I’m not on the gentle stuff. Or the stuff that people only take as needed. My meds are every day twice a day. Now you understand why I am heavily pro-medication.
I still feel emotions, and you should! Yes, I still get mad, I still get sad, but it’s no longer such a rage that I could hurt someone or myself, or a sadness that I may never come back from. I still have manias and depressions, and sometimes they suck, and sometimes they’re a blip in my day. Like that three note cord of a song you don’t remember you can’t get out of your damn head. AKA Every damn Hans Zimmer score ever.
I’m productive, I’m an author and artist. I put the fire in my head to the page for others to enjoy. My creativity goes hand in hand with keeping me stable. It’s how I make the world make sense to me. I explore issues and themes through fictional characters to explain what I personally can’t adequately put into words. Issues like trust, fear, feeling othered, finding self-worth, finding life may not be perfect but it’s what you make of it. Of all my books, I always have a soft spot for my Screw-Up Princess and Skillful Huntsman trilogy because despite the main characters being magical beings, they’re also incredibly ordinary with everyday problems and feelings and relateable. Something we can all find ourselves in.
I’ve been able to enjoy life again, appreciate the little things, and see this world can be pretty goddamn magical if you take a moment to look around.
Don’t listen to the naysayers, don’t let the negativity in that medication is poison or mind control from Big Brother. Don’t listen to others saying all you need to do is go take a walk in the woods and be cured. (Though enjoying nature just to enjoy it is lovely but curing mental illness it is not.) Stay away from the medication-shamers. Or kindly tell them you know your body, and you know what your body needs. Or if that doesn’t work, tell them to fuck right off. No fucks given.
If you’re just coming to this post in a crisis or looking for advice on the pros and cons of medication. It works. It actually works. I’m very, very pro. Take it from someone who had and still has the potential to hurt people? Talk to your doctor, discuss your options.
There is help. There are people who care. I care.
I want you to choose you and choose living over the alternative.
You don’t need to hurt yourself anymore. Or let yourself keep hurting.
Never feel ashamed of meds.
Never feel ashamed period.
You are my dandelions, and dandelions never feel ashamed of the sun.