Mental illness, medication and me.

Today, a friend posted on Instagram about her recent struggles and how her mental health has deteriorated enough to warrant new medication. She was already taking anti anxiety meds and how now been put on an anti-depressant of sorts; I know this because I’ve been prescribed both in the past. Anyway having only known her a short time I have seen how she’s gone from being quite guarded about her struggles with alcohol and her mental health to opening up and sharing her journey in such a brave and beautiful way.

On the flip side I was talking to another one of my new sober pals this week and she was telling me about how bad her anxiety gets. I have suffered from anxiety in the past but nowhere near as severe as this. It made me sad for her. Knowing that your thoughts can become so intrusive and debilitating that you start to believe the most ridiculous things that then impact your daily life. Anxiety is not just getting stressed and worrying, it can be so much bigger and scarier then that. When I asked her if she had seen her GP about it, she said she was worried they would think she was crazy. I didn’t like that she would even consider using those words but then I remembered how I often used to call myself crazy when I was with friends. It was a way to make light of something that was actually pretty frightening and serious.

Anyway the point of this post is to actually tell you about my experience with mental health and medication. I’ve been on and off medication for about the last 10 years or so. I’ve been on a variety of different things, mostly antidepressants, occasionally meds for my anxiety and once I was even on a lovely cocktail of stuff for my depression, panic attacks and insomnia. Over the years my thoughts on taking medication for my mental health has varied. There are times when I’ve been prescribed something and been reluctant to take it. Times when I’ve been so desperate for some sort of respite for my mind and haven’t given my prescription a second thought. Almost every time though, when I have gotten to the point of stability, when my moods are less turbulent I’ve always slowly come off what ever I was taking. I think the reasons were based on a mix of the physical affects of the medication but also the idea of having to be on them.

I have been on my current meds for a little over 2 years now. I am taking Sertraline and up until last month I was on the maximum dose. Now bearing in mind that they probably weren’t even doing what they should have been doing while I was drinking, I’ve probably only really had the full benefits for the past 6 months. Still, I made the decision last month that I wanted to start decreasing my dose with the hope that eventually I will not need them. That was until a few days ago.

Glennon Doyle was someone I hadn’t heard of until earlier this year when I saw the front cover of her new book, Untamed plastered all over instagram. At first I thought it was just another quit-lit type affair which I’m not against but doesn’t quite float my boat all that much; so I didn’t really think anything of it. But more and more people were declaring it a ‘must read’, so last week I used one of my free credits and got the audible version. The verdict: not quit-lit, but instead a compilation of stories and life lessons which I think most of us would benefit from hearing about. There was a little too much motherhood talk in there; which obviously is no bad thing but just not something I can really relate to. Some people think it’s a bit heavy on religion but that part didn’t bother me, in fact I love learning about people’s faiths because I’m a bit weird like that. Anyway the point I am trying to get to is she talks about her mental health and medication. She made a really good point in that why would we decide to stop using something that is making us feel better. Surely the point is that it’s working and to stop it would leave you at risk of suffering again. This made me think about the times I’d come off my medication after months of feeling better only to relapse and sometimes find myself in even worse of a situation.

One thing I want to make clear is that I’m not someone who would opt for medication if there are other options. The idea of filling my body with chemicals I know very little about doesn’t bode well with me. And don’t worry the irony of that statement isn’t lost on me, I clearly didn’t include alcohol in that category for many years. But I live in different times now and having removed one of the biggest toxins from my life I am much more cautious about the other things that go into my body. So I am very much open to healing of a different nature and undergo regular reiki therapy courtesy of my lovely Dad and I practice meditation. And of course there’s what I believe to be one of the best medicines out there; the art of conversation. Therapy is in my opinion underrated and should be considered by everyone whether they think they need it or not. I think people would be pleasantly surprised by the benefits of talking to someone about their life, even if just to use the other person as a sounding board.

Basically what I think I’m trying to say is that don’t see medication as too much of a big deal when it comes to mental health. If you have tried alternatives and have seen little improvement then just be open to the idea. At least go and talk to the GP about it. They can’t force you to take anything and even I on many occasions have come home with a prescription and never had the medication dispensed because I’ve decided against it. So whilst I don’t think my mental health has ever been this good I have decided that I will stay on my lower dose for the time being…and possibly forever. Because right now, that coupled with the other things I do seems to be working really well. So I see no reason to change it.

Vulnerability is…

“ She threw away all of her masks and put on her soul” ~ anon

Being open and honest is something a lot of people struggle with. Vulnerability is not for the faint hearted. It’s scary AF but what I’ve realised is that without allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in certain situations we are always going to be holding back. Not being who we really are.

The need to be seen is increasing all of the time. People want to be noticed, want their voices heard, their wins to be applauded, and their pain and suffering to at least be acknowledged if not understood. The whole world is screaming ‘but what about me?’. Has it always been like this or is it that we are all so busy in our own lives to even notice what’s going on around us?

Vulnerability probably means something different to everyone. For me it’s opening myself up to hurt and ridicule. Which sounds bloody ridiculous because on some level I consider myself an open book. But I also think that comes from years of therapy and my empathic need to help others. As a child I was very much the opposite, no one knew what was going on in my head. In fact, I was so shy I barely spoke. Go figure!

Now I share a lot. On my social media, through my blog and with friends. And yeah it’s personal stuff and some people don’t understand why I feel the need to do this. Am I over sharing? Is it attention seeking? Or am I just trying to be real? To be honest, I hadn’t thought that much about it until this week when I was listening to my new audio book, Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (obsessed!). The whole book is about vulnerability; what it is to be vulnerable, the ways in which it shows up and it’s necessity.

Do we really need to bare all? Well of course we bloody don’t. Everyone has the right to be as private as they like and people don’t need (or want) to hear all about your dirty secrets. But if you want people to really know you, I’m afraid you’re going to have to open up a bit. But being vulnerable is more then just opening up. Being vulnerable is going for your dream job knowing that there’s a chance you might not get it. Telling your best friend that you want to be more then friends without knowing if they feel the same. It’s telling people you no longer drink alcohol because you mostly drank to drown out the demons screaming in your head and those demons were getting louder and required more drowning out as time went on. All of these things are you putting yourself out there, letting yourself be seen but knowing that the potential to get hurt, disappointment, judged or worse…dismissed is there.

So how do you know what to open up about and what not to? I think it comes down to knowing why. What’s the purpose behind you sharing? Is it to help others? To improve your life? Of course you can share what ever you like but that doesn’t mean you are being vulnerable. You need courage to be vulnerable so if you’re just sharing something and it’s not affecting you emotionally I’d say you’re probably just trying to seek attention. And I’m not saying that’s bad because there are times when we need to be grabbing peoples attention. But that’s not vulnerability.

I think vulnerability also comes from caring a lot about what it is you’re doing or how you are showing up. For me this blog is me being vulnerable. I love to write, I think my written word is more powerful than when I talk on video for example. I try to write about things I think people will relate to, things that make people feel less alone in the world. While at the same time just simply writing about my thoughts and experiences. The truth is I’d love to write professionally but the thought terrifies me and I’d have to step even further into the vulnerability arena to find out if I’m good enough…and I’m not ready to do that just yet!

Basically I think vulnerability is taking a leap into uncertainty. It’s baring your soul not knowing how it will be received. It can be the biggest and best game changer ever. Or could leave you so badly bruised you recoil once more. All I know is that despite me having spent so much of my life recoiling I know that I have to keep trying and putting myself back out there because if I don’t, well I may as well just stay in bed for the rest of my life. And I just don’t think there’s enough on Netflix for me to maintain that kind of lifestyle, you know?