** THIS IS AN IMMENSE TOPIC! A single blog entry can’t even touch the surface so this may be addressed many times as I do additional research / reading of emerging material. **
A lovely comment from a new follower yesterday underscored a very hot debate that has become a bonfire over the last probably 60+ years. The flames of which have been shooting higher and higher over the last 10 years especially as the movement to no longer blindly accept “a doctor’s recommendation” and actually think and research ourselves has taken a firm foothold. There are thousands of “consumer” and mental health activist/supporters groups out there, on and offline. Important and influential people are coming out the mental health closet in droves as well as publicly advocating and supporting their loved ones in recovery. The stigma of a mood disorder/mental illness diagnosis is still there but slowly slipping.
Probably the most discussed reason for this is the change from psychiatrist as one-stop for your mental health needs: the psychological and the chemical, to, let’s just be honest, our dealers. Sure they have nice offices, take a 15 minute assessment at the beginning of the appointment, and oversee our general mental well being. But what do we walk out with? A small stack of signed paper that goes right to the pharmacy. It is the rare p-doc that does any kind of counseling in addition to med management these days. If you have one, count your lucky stars, twice. Which leaves a large gap in healthcare psych service – what about how your diagnosis affects the rest of your life?! And is medication the right and best resort?
This brings me to the topic my friendly follower addressed: that they use meditation, rather than medication to control their symptoms. This is not a new idea by any means. Quite popular in the alternative/holistic/new age (insert label) community for decades, meditation combined with other holistic practices like limiting sugar, gluten, red meat, etc., along with an exercise regime, and for some, a strong spiritual base, has been the answer to non-med stability for many people. I do not disagree with this – except – after trying it myself and talking to/reading literally hundreds of statements – it is not for everyone and it is to be undertaken CAREFULLY.
The debate between the “pro-med” and “anti-med” activists is not a new one and is quite volitile, with each side firmly planted. For every “I was diagnosed 10 years ago, never took any psych meds, have a thriving business, family…” there is a “I couldn’t get out of bed, turned into a recluse, went through med hell after hell until I found the right combination and am slowly getting my life back together.” There are also the “I’m on meds, my life is a mess, and I don’t see an end in sight.” Same holds true for the “anti-med” side – “I manage my condition through buddhist meditation except for when I slide into a depression, can longer work, and have to go on ___ for a short time to get stable again.”
So what’s the bottom line here? If you’re on meds and miserable and the side effects are worse than the condition, should you “dump it” and try the holistic route? Or should you have a serious discussion with your p-doc and if that goes nowhere, consider a 2nd opinion? First off, Never, Ever go cold turkey on any of the psych meds you’re taking. EVEN IF your p-doc says you can! It took a bit of time to get on them, it will take a bit of time to get off them, if that’s the route you want to take. And you may need to work with a holistic psychiatrist/physician in the meanwhile to start bucking up the other side as the med levels are lowered. Down one, up on the other. Make sure you discuss withdrawal symptoms in depth with both docs. If applicable, anything you can do to temper withdrawals is very much in your best interest. In this I KNOW VERY WELL OF WHICH I SPEAK!!
But say you’ve just recently been diagnosed and your doctor (now many times your primary care physician!) wants to put you on a ____ for ____. What may, on the surface, sound perfectly reasonable, is acutally a very important decision and one that should not be a “snap”. For some psych meds, even going on a small dose for a short time can take much longer to get off of when you’re feeling better. If the problem is situational, sometimes psychotherapy combined with a focus on nutrition/exercise/general wellness can be just as effective as a pill. Ask for help, do the research, think it through before you make up your mind. If there is a serious issue here, however, a condition that’s been haunting you for awhile and you’re now finally addressing it, it’s even more important to do your homework. Don’t let anyone, a doctor, a family member or friend, an online community, or least of all a blog, be the end all for a decision this big. If you’re not in any shape to do this alone, enlist help from someone you trust to help you consider the pros and cons. And if you are in serious trouble, please get help immediately. As much as I support the “anti-med” group, if you are a danger to yourself and especially if you’ve been struggling for some time, a little “med” intervention may be the ticket to allowing you to come back to a place where you can think more clearly and make a better informed decision for your next move. While the Buddha’s First Noble Truth is that “life is suffering”, he also says there is a way out of it. There is – take it!
If any of this has stuck, I hope it is: think for yourself! No matter what anyone, with any number of degrees, says, your decisions regarding your healthcare are your own. This comes with the responsibility to ask questions, do some reading/research, and become as informed as you can. Knowledge is power (so true) and doctors can be wrong. Really, it’s true! In the end, you are responsible for your own wellness and, while this may take some work, it is immensely empowering.
Which is why I do recommend mood charting as much of a pain in the butt as it is. In the middle of an episode, everything goes right out the window and it’s incredibly hard, if not impossible, to remember what helped you out the last time. But your mood chart remembers for you and will help both you and your p-doc revisit successful “tweaks”. Also, if you are going the holistic route, your chart will show you the “stable times” and your journal entries will remind you of what you were doing during those that you may have let slip by the wayside.
– This was a hard topic and I thank you for taking the time to read it. But this is .0000001% of what’s out there – in journals, in books and periodicals, online, podcasts – there’s so much happening these days it’s hard to keep up. Actions like reading “BP Today”, listening to the “Anxiety Slayer’ podcast, subscribing to Mental Health America’s wonderful free Webinars, all these give you power. Give yourself that gift and you won’t regret it! –