Mental health medications aren’t supposed to be a prescription for shame

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I want to talk about the shame that comes with being on medication for mental illness. It’s why so many people avoid talking to doctors and getting the help they need. It’s a common phenomenon, but that doesn’t make it less harmful and dangerous.

Before I start this post I need to say that I got diagnosed at six and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t taking pills. You might wonder if I’m really the right person to talk about this subject, but I think that it adds another layer of understanding. I know it added another layer of protection. I got to learn my valuable lessons in safety while I was still being actively cared for.

I remember in grade school telling my mom that I wanted to be normal and that I wasn’t going to take my pills anymore. Since she was with me 24/7 she decided not to fight it and let me stop them. It only took two weeks for me to come to her with the bin of pill bottles and ask what I was supposed to take. I needed those pills not to be miserable, I understood that then.

It wasn’t a particularly long lesson, but since I was pretty dang bipolar it didn’t need to be. It kept me from questioning the need for medication again and it was a blessing that it happened as a small child, not when I was suicidal in middle school or swinging in and out of depression my senior year of college. I had a safety net, which isn’t something most people have as they sit in the doctors office unwilling to share their needs because they’re depressed, ashamed, and scared. So they go home, untreated, and things don’t get better.

That’s when it gets dangerous. That’s when it gets harmful.

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Removing the mental health stigma without ‘normalizing’ it:

I’ve thought two very contradicting thoughts lately. One being that mental illness is still stigmatized and people are still afraid to talk about it and the other being that we’re making mental illness too normal.

I think both are true.

Let me phrase this a different way, my bipolar, your anxiety disorder, or your best friends depression aren’t uncommon and they are definitely not something to be ashamed of. We need to be open when it comes to our illnesses and our health, so that we can get better and we won’t end up another suicide or addiction statistic. It is insanely important that we feel comfortable seeking help and speaking up about these things. Stigma still stands in many people’s way of achieving this.

To counter that stigma people have tried to talk more and more about mental health, but I feel like somewhere along the way we’ve run into something we weren’t planning on, and that’s people thinking their mental illness is normal, and therefore, unimportant, something they just have to make peace with.

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On facing our anxieties instead of nurturing them:

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I read an article recently about the huge increase in prescriptions for medications like Xanax. That we’re prescribing 5xs the amount that we were just a decade and a half ago. I then went on Twitter and saw a huge debate on why you should never call someone on the phone and should always text them instead.

The tweet with the most likes was one that just read: I HAVE ANXIETY, KAREN.

I’ve thought for a while that we’ve been creating the kind of culture that nurtures anxiety instead of cures it. I understand why we’ve done this. I hate when I email someone and they call me instead of replying back. There is so much less pressure over email or text. But you know how you get rid of that deep dread that happens when you talk on the phone?

You talk on the phone.

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The Power in Knowing You’re Not Alone.

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I saw a friend recently who was going through a really hard time. During the conversation she started a sentence and I filled it in, because I knew what she was talking about having thought similar things myself in the past. She stared at me for a moment in disbelief before saying “you don’t know how sane that made me feel”.

I think we often get caught up in our brains lie. For some reason when we’re going through hard times it likes to tell us that we are alone in it. Our rationality isn’t completely astray, after all nobody has the exact same experiences because none of us are in the exact same situation, but emotions and reactions are chemical, and they all have certain rules to follow. The chances of you being alone in your thoughts or emotions is highly unlikely. You don’t study the brain and read that a certain case is an isolated incident, and where that is recorded it’s normally followed by a footnote that says a similar case was studied seven years later on the other side of the world.

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