Sunday, December 4, 2016

A New Normal. ("Life, Medicated." Part 8)

Two months ago, I wrote for the first time about my decision to take medication for my anxiety and depression. I've always been an open book, but this was an especially personal admission and I wasn't sure how it would be received.

I shouldn't have worried about that at all. People read "Life, Medicated." and the response was immediate. The blog was read and shared more than anything else I've written here and I'm grateful for all the support.

So what's happening now?

I'm doing okay.

And given how dark some of my earlier days were, this is a pretty big statement for me to make. I still have good and bad moods, of course, and that's okay, too. It means I'm human and I'm not overly medicated to the point of emotional numbness.

I'm taking a very small dosage of Abilify, which is a little scary-sounding given that it is a medication used to treat the symptoms of psychotic conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar I disorder (manic depression). No one wants to think of themselves as psychotic, right?

But here's the truth. Before I started taking the medication, I was clearly acting out with symptoms of manic-depression. I was running full steam and all over the place for a time, then withdrawing and isolating and suffering through horrible, painful sadness and loneliness. It was a rollercoaster of too much in either direction, and it was taking its toll on me, on my life, and on my friendships.

I am also taking a sleeping pill called Restoril that affects chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced in people with sleep problems (insomnia). It is used to treat insomnia symptoms, such as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Restoril works by slowing down the central nervous system (brain), causing drowsiness which helps patients fall asleep.

Initially, I was concerned about the sleeping pills. But after months and months of barely getting two-three hours of sleep per night, I was desperate. A lack of sleep makes everything worse, and I was feeling ragged and totally out of control. Now, getting to sleep AND staying asleep for seven to eight hours allows me to function throughout the day.

Life isn't all roses for me right now, but it's manageable. When I'm happy, I'm good. I enjoy the moments I'm in and I don't feel like I have to somehow "crank it up a notch" to consider it a good time. Conversely, when I'm down, it doesn't feel like the end of the world every time. It's just a bad mood or an appropriate response to something going on at the time, and I know I'll get through it.

I am struggling with motivation right now. I feel a little burnt out from running too many major events the last couple of months and from over-scheduling myself. So I've cut back on that, I'm doing a little hibernating and recovering, and I'm finding new ways to engage with fewer people in more meaningful ways. For now, it's a coping mechanism and it's working. And as the weeks go by, and I feel more recharged, I expect I will be back to my old self and reconnecting on a more frequent basis with friends. For now, they seem to understand that I'm taking care of myself first.

Now let's talk hard truths.

I understand there is still a stigma that surrounds mental health, depression, anxiety, and medications. I can't change that in any way except by sharing my own story of pain and recovery. So I am doing that without shame or embarrassment.

I wasn't okay.
I was getting worse.
I sought help.
I'm doing okay.

I can't think of a more direct way to say that. I was lucky in that the first medication prescribed by my doctor seems to be working, and that I am able to sleep at night and function during the day. If you aren't experiencing that same healthy balance of rest and activity, and you feel out of control and desperate for some peace, I recommend you get help. Talk to a therapist. Talk to your doctor. Maybe counseling will help, maybe it won't. Maybe meds will help, maybe they won't. But for sure, doing nothing means that things will not get better, and they quite likely may even get worse.

Get help. You're worth it.

I don't pretend that my solution will work for everyone. And I know that the medication is not a magic-pill. For me, and me only, I feel that the meds have softened the edges of my immediate "all or nothing" mood, good or bad. And that gives me that extra moment to think about what is happening and react in a way that is more authentic and true. That's what is helping me.

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