Saturday, June 21, 2014

Happy Pills: Misconceptions of SSRIs

Those that suffer from anxiety, depression or any other mental health disorder can tell you how debilitating it can be. Since I've been 16, I've fallen victim to depression and anxiety, which fell away to manic depression and sever OCD in my adult years. For me at least, I don't know where I'd be without my medication.  I know I wouldn't be where I am today, that is for damn sure.

My disorders, like many others, arise from a mixture of unfortunate life events and a chemical imbalance in the brain. Common medicinal treatment comes in the form of a SSRI or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor.  Basically, it balances out neurotransmitters in the brain, especially serotonin, the "happy" chemical.  This balancing act in turn, helps the brain act somewhat normally.

Before I begin, I want to be clear that I don't believe that medication is always the answer. Therapy can sometimes be all the medication one may need.  For those of us that need more, therapy should compliment medication, not supplement it.  I've never been a fan of of psychotherapy, but it has improved my coping mechanisms and has helped me communicate in a more efficient fashion. However, I'm in the group where therapy just doesn't do it for me.  I need my drugs, and they come at a price.

I don't necessarily like the physical effects that my SSRIs have had on me.  I've felt like a zombie.  I've gained ridiculous amounts of weight, and my sex life has suffered. However, the trade off is that I'm able to function normally in society; I can order my own food in a long line, I can place phone calls, I can develop meaningful relationships. With my manic depression, I go through phases of depression, coupled with longer stretches where I may only sleep one or two hours a night. All this because my brain simply refuses to work the way that I want it to.

Due to the stigma placed around medication, I've gone without it before. I've been told that medication is just a crutch and the only reason I can't function without it is weakness. In the days when I believed in such nonsense, I stopped taking the pills, causing me to engage in inappropriate behavior, and to lay (almost literally) paralyzed with anxiety. I went back, and for a long while I hated myself for it. I hated myself until I started looking at the issue from an objective position. I started coming up with my own conclusions, not those posed on my from peer pressure, but from a basic understanding of how the brain works (or in my case, doesn't).

My first conclusion is that I hate, HATE, when people refer to the SSRI group as happy pills.  I don't feel "happy" when I take these, I feel normal, balanced. I don't experience any form of elation, and they don't make you "high".  Please stop calling these happy pills.  It makes them sound illicit, which adds to the stigma around them.

My second, and most important conclusion is that everyone has to do what is right for them. If you need pills, please take them.  If you feel like you can function without them (while keeping yourself safe), go off of them.  However, you should make this decision with the help of a trained professional.  I've fallen into the trap to, and I totally get it.  You feel back to normal, so you go off your meds. When you have a problem, and you go off medication you aren't your best judge.  So, if you make this decision, I implore you to continue going to therapy, and trust others when they tell you something is wrong.

My last conclusion falls in line with religion.  Don't preach your views.  You may talk about your views, your personal experiences, but don't tell others what is right for them.  What is right for you,is not always what is right for them. Telling someone that medication is a "crutch" is unbelievable dangerous and frankly, quite rude. For those of you who are fortunate enough to go off your medication successfully, don't advocate that for everyone. I know there is a trade off (feel physically great, or feel mentally great). It sucks, but don't tell someone they can have both when they can't. 

Finally, I give the advice that is true for every facet of life. Don't be an ass.  When you see someone acting inappropriately (think attention seeking behavior), or simply not themselves, don't judge. Be their friend, talk with them, but just know, you are by no means better then them.      

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