Monday, May 2, 2016

My beautiful life on and off meds.

Ijeoma Oluo over at The Establishment has a great piece up called My Beautiful Life On And Off Meds.

If you've had any experience at all dealing with your mental health, you've most likely dealt with medication. Taking it or not taking it. Changing it. Upping or lowering a dosage. The questions you have about it. The judgement you feel for needing it. Weaning on or off. Forgetting a dosage or two and feeling like you're losing your mind. Side-effects. Existential self-questioning about the nature of your mind, your brain and your self. Medicare. The cost of your medication. Questioning the actual difference between the seemingly endless choices. Questioning the validity of clinical trials. Questioning long-term side effects. Questioning dependence. Wondering if you can stop. Knowing (in some cases) that you can't. There's a lot that goes through a mind, even a medicate one.

Oluo's piece talks about her experience weaning off of her meds:
I went off my depression and anxiety meds a few months ago. I had a feeling that with the medications, I was doing better, but I missed things that my medication had denied me. I missed wanting friends. I missed wanting sex. I missed feeling really happy or excited. I missed crying. I wanted to be able to feel sun on my face and feel it warm my soul instead of just my skin. I had spent a month or two romanticizing my unmedicated life before I decided to wean myself off the meds again.
I think if you spend a significant chunk of time on meds, romanticising your unmedicated life is nearly an absolute.
When the weather is nice, when nobody in my family is sick or in crisis, when I can pay my bills, when my physical health is good, I can manage my lifelong anxiety with exercise, meditation, and engaging hobbies. For me, “managing” means a few pretty bad days a month and a few pretty bad moments a day, but I’m out of bed and moving and able to get some joy from the world.
I think for those living with neurological privilege, there is a deep lack of understanding of how much  work "managing" is. It takes an enormous amount of energy, planning, and "spoons." It takes so much to just engage in your life. There's an extra step for the chronically ill that only the chronically ill even see. It's a new language to learn.
That may sound like a chaotic and frantic life, but it’s not. Chaotic and frantic was before, when I couldn’t understand why I acted the way I did, when I would let waves of depression pull me into months of self-loathing, when I was at the complete mercy of my brain’s chemicals with no idea when my brain would turn on me or for how long. Anxiety and depression can be chronic illnesses. And just like any chronic illness, they are improved greatly by regimen. For some, that regimen is running and yoga; for others, it’s therapy and meds. For me, sometimes it’s therapy, sometimes it’s meds, sometimes it’s long walks on the trail by my house. And like with many chronic illnesses, sometimes no interventions work, and those are some pretty dark times. But even then, I have the comfort of knowing why.
I have to say, though I'm sometimes very hard on myself about my "status" and where I'm at in life, especially regarding my "lost 20's," I am cognizant of my ability to use language to describe my life, my illnesses and my limitations. I have friends with whom I have a short-hand for certain kinds of pain and struggle. It took a long time and a lot of work for this to happen, but I do have it now.

Knowing why, and having the language to talk about yourself, and for yourself is hugely powerful. Understanding the nature of my illness, and being able to stand-up and actually set people straight about their bias or judgement is important to me. I am able to talk clearly about my condition (when I'm in a good place) and that helps. I am not lost to myself.

Oluo's piece is a good representation of some of the considerations we have when on or off medication. Check it out.

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