I write about my bipolar, eating disorder and addictions on regular basis and sometimes I fear my readers might assume that I’m pessimistic and maudlin. When I’m well, which is most of the time these days, I’m pretty cheerful. The trouble with talking about mental illness and depression is that it’s a bit, well, depressing. The conversation around mental health has opened up and people are now speaking with candour and bravery. But now it’s time to push the discourse forward to the next stage. Instagram is littered with posts about mental illness, insisting that suffering from depression is no different to having the flu or a broken leg. This is undoubtedly true but the assertion has become so common place that it is now a touch clichéd. In order to effect meaningful change, we need to address the subject of treatment. There is still a vast amount of stigma surrounding medication and therapy, fuelled by ignorance and misinformation. I am a champion of medical intervention because my quality of life has drastically improved since I was prescribed the correct combination of drugs.
Psychiatric medication is misunderstood and much maligned. I’m still asked by concerned friends and acquaintances if I am ever going to come off those pills. I nearly got into a row the other day with someone who asked me when I was planning to stop taking my meds. When I said that I would probably be on them for life, they looked at me askance and asked if I wasn’t worried about all the nasty chemicals? I did my best not to role my eyes and explained that the presence of chemicals in the body is not necessarily a bad thing, after all every living organism on the planet is made of chemicals and they are not to be feared. I talk so openly about my illness and I welcome questions, so it’s to be expected that the subject of meds comes up from time time but I’ve heard this uneducated assumption many times and it’s always disheartening. I know that the people who ask about my drugs mean no harm and I should probably try not to be so cantankerous. However, I think it’s demonstrative of the lack of reliable information about medication.
There’s a pervasive notion that psychiatric meds are optional and mental health should me managed with natural alternatives like yoga, meditation, acupuncture or whatever healing activity you might think of. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things if they work for you, however, I don’t believe that they are viable alternatives to appropriate meds, should meds be required. There are also massive double standards around medication and its purpose. One of the drugs I take is called Lamotrigine, which is commonly prescribed for bipolar disorder to prevent very low moods. It was originally developed for epilepsy but it was discovered that it is also effective in the treatment of bipolar. If I was epileptic and taking Lamotrigine, no one would be concerned about the foreign chemicals in my blood stream; it would be accepted that the drug was nonnegotiable and essential for my survival.
All this being said, medication is not right for everyone and, unfortunately, it is often incorrectly prescribed. I was originally misdiagnosed with clinical depression and prescribed an anti-depressant SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), which was completely inappropriate for me and was made my bipolar symptoms worse. I understand why medication can prove very problematic however the right drugs can be the difference between life and death. In many cases, medication is the most effective way to manage a mental illnesses. Even for more temporary conditions like post-natal depression, taking meds for a short time can help relieve the symptoms curtailing the duration of the illness. I know several people who would benefit from medication and therapy but they don’t seek it out because of the social stigma. People also assume that therapy is just sitting around winging about your problems – yet another toxic misnomer. There are solutions and when you realise that the way you feel is temporary, you find hope, which is first step towards getting better. When I take my medication, I know that I am giving myself the best possible chance of staying well. I’ve learnt to wear my mental illness like a badge of honour; I don’t regard it as a weakness but as proof of my strength. I may be vulnerable but I am still here and I refuse to be beaten. If you need meds, don’t let spurious misinformation dupe you into thinking that they are bad for you. The right treatment is empowering, mental illness is treatable and you don’t have to suffer unnecessarily.