Friday, January 29, 2016

Why do we fight against taking meds for mental illness?

 This has been on my mind a lot lately.  When I most recently started a new medication to treat my depression, I asked the doctor, "How will I know when I am ready to stop taking this medicine."  His answer was so clear and made perfect sense to me.  It really was a life-altering moment for me.  He said,"You never stop taking it.  You have a disease that requires you to take medicine for the rest of your life.  Even if you have times without symptoms, you need to face he truth. And the truth is you have been hospitalized six times in your life and every time it was because your symptoms returned and you were not taking medicine to manage the illness.  All you have to do is take a pill every day. So never question it again."

So, why, then is it so difficult for people to accept they need medication for their mental disorders?  When a person has a headache, they don't hesitate to take a pill (whether it be Tylenol or Excedrin Migraine) to reduce or eliminate that pain.

Imagine for a minute that you are rushed to the hospital for a severe break to your lower leg.  The doctor needs to perform surgery to fix the break, and you leave the hospital in a cast and with a prescription for strong pain pills.  When that pain starts to creep up, what do you do? Do you question whether the pain pills are necessary?  I wouldn't.  I would follow their instructions and take the pills until my injury was healed.

Why is mental illness so different?  There is only one instance I can think of where pain medication is refused by a patient in a medical situation (other than menta illness), and that is during childbirth.  Many women fight very hard against any type of pain medication administration during the labor and birth of their children.  So, I think there must be a strong correlation here.  It seems easier to explain why a woman in so much pain would deny something proven to reduce that pain.  While you may say, they are concerned for the wellbeing of their child and don't want to expose the child to this medication, you may be right.  However, these practices have been safely administered for decades.  I honestly think the reason is clearly stated in this type of birth -- "natural" birth.  This is a natural thing, meaning a woman should be able to withstand this pain.  She is not injured or ill.  Pain is a part of childbirth, naturally.  And taking meds for the pain is seen by society or the mother or her family, as a sign of weakness.  As a sign of selfishness, taking the easy way out when the definition of a mother is to sacrifice for the good of her children.

Isn't this so true about menta illness too?  Pain and suffering are just a part of life, right?  Sadness and anxiety and fear are just emotions, and we should all be strong enough to handle it on our own.  If we give in and take meds, are we admitting defeat, failure, and ultimately weakness?  After all, our ancestors centuries ago made it through life without meds (just like women gave birth without them), so why can't we just deal with the pain inside ourselves and figure it out?

Don't you believe if science was advanced enough to safely reduce the pain of childbirth 200 years ago, women would take advantage of this technology instead of putting themselves through unnecessary pain?  Wouldn't your great great great grandparents have taken Prozac for their depression if it was available? Just because they survived without it, doesn't mean you have to.  And just because they did it without meds, doesn't mean they wanted to.  

But I am getting away from the point... My point is physical pain should not be any different in the minds of people than mental pain.  Sure, you may be worried if it is the right medication, or if you will have a negative reaction to it, or if the side effects will be unbearable, or if you'll become dependent on it.  But consider this..  If your had a physical ailment that was only treatable by a certain medication you had never taken, but it would save your life, how would you approach it?  The only way to know if you will have a reaction and the only way you will know what side effects you will have, and the absolute ONLY way to know if it will cure you, is to TAKE the medicine.  It is going to save your life!!!  What choice do you have?  You can not take it because of the risks, but you will most likely die from your disease. 

Psychotropic medications save lives every day.  They don't signify weakness.  They signify strength.  Taking them shows the world that you are strong enough to choose life over pain, suffering, and sometimes even your own death.  Stop questioning whether you really need them or what others would think if they knew.  You are saving your life and that is the most important thing to remember.  

So, please comment and let me know what struggles you've had accepting this idea of taking medication for a mental illness.  What did I leave out?  Do you agree or disagree?  I would love your thoughts.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Lessons from two weeks with a walker

So, tomorrow marks two full weeks using a walker to get around following my successful back surgery.  And I have learned a lot.  Of course, the first thought on lessons learned is how much I have taken for granted having a fully able body.  This is so apparent from the first time I put all of my weight onto the handles to hold myself up and make it ten feet to the hospital room bathroom.  In fact, even before that, I realized how good I have had it when I had to use a bedpan twice waiting for my walker to be delivered.  It is amazing how a simple task of making it to the bathroom independently suddenly becomes a privilege I no longer had available to me.

But day after day, the biggest lesson imparted grew into quite the revelation.  It wasn't the constant dependence on my husband and children to be my hands, bringing me every meal, helping me to the shower, and helping out of the shower, making sure I've taken my pain medication in time so that I am not suffering an hour later.  But, what actually happened is my decision-making process radically changed.  You see, if I had to go to the restroom, I had to ask myself several questions.  Is this something that can wait?  If I go now, will I just have to make the difficult trip in another 30 minutes?  Was I in too much pain at the moment for it to be worth the trip?

And when I answered all those questions in the negative, I then had to get the energy to sit up on my bed, push myself up to standing on one foot with my walker, slowly hopping with the assistance of the walker, turn my walker sideways at the door because the doorway was one inch too small..  And even then, it was physically trying to derobe myself, sit down, do my business, pull myself back up, and repeating the trip back to my bed.  It all took so much time, so much effort -- and this was just so I wouldn't pee my pants.  I had to plan so I would not be rushed, because there is no rushing when you have a walker.  And God forbid a towel was left crumpled on the bathroom floor.  Another obstacle making me question if I should even bother getting up.

I still had to eventually choose to move, or I could just sit where I was, make a mess, and refuse to do anything about it.  Because it was too hard.  But by making myself move, I helped my recovery.  After a few days, I was a pro at getting up from my bed, I moved faster, and the decision to get up was easier.  If I just decided not to move,  my recovery would be delayed and life would remain very difficult, messy, and depressing.

So, life slowed down for me.. A LOT.  What used to be a simple decision now became a process of pro's and con's.  A week into my recovery, a friend needed my help.  She was very depressed and needed critical help and she needed it then.  It didn't take me near as long to decide to go with her to the ER to get help as the going to the bathroom did.  Why?  Why was it different?  I would have to work so much harder to ride in a car for an hour, get myself back to her room, sit with her, focusing not on my pain but hers, and get her the help she needed.  And then five days later, when I knew she was having a hard time and needed a visitor two hours away, I knew I had to find a way to go visit her.  It didn't matter what my pain level was, or how long it took me to hobble up to the front desk and check in.  So many people had seen me struggle with getting around my hospital room after surgery or around my house, and suggested I shouldn't go, that I should take care of myself.

So here is the lesson...  We all need to learn to slow down and see if a certain decision is the right one.  Will it have a positive impact on your life and the direction and goals you are working towards? Will it help you grow, get better, heal, and be productive?  If you can find the answers to these questions, you will know whether to even take the first step in that direction.  But don't discount your instincts, your gut reaction.  Sometimes, life throws a curve ball, and you depend on your deepest values and beliefs in those moments.  Don't make excuses in those moments, don't let them pass you by.  These moments may make the biggest impacts of your entire life.

Imagine if it took you ten times as much time and effort to do what you are trying to do.  Would you still do it?  If not, is it worth your time in the first place?  Don't shortchange yourself, because sometimes you need to be able to drop it all for the really important stuff.

I sure hope I can continue to think in this new way in a week when I can finally rid myself of dependence on this metal walker, and re-enter my life outside my bedroom.