Starting medications for mental illness can feel like a daunting process, especially if you’ve never had to take such medications before or if you’ve seen stigma attached to them. It can feel even more so if the medications that once worked for you are no longer effective and you find yourself needing to switch to something new. However daunting the process may seem, these medications can be life-changing—or even life-saving.
I’ve been taking medications for depression and anxiety for seven years now, and the process has been far from easy. I’ve had to switch medications a couple times, as my sixteen-year-old self reacted differently to medications than I do now. I’m even currently in the process of switching medications again, and this constant process has taught me many things about myself, as well as how to listen to what my brain and body need. Below are some of the many lessons I’ve learned while adjusting to my medications.
1) Don’t be ashamed of taking medication. Even though I’ve been on various medications for years, this is a reminder I still need sometimes. I’ve heard people talk about how medication isn’t the way to treat mental illness—instead, people should just exercise, commune with nature, think positively, eat better, meditate, or try numerous other “natural” ways to dispel mental illness. While these methods of quelling anxiety or depression may work for some people (and those people shouldn’t be discredited!), everyone is different. For some people, such as myself, these “natural” solutions just aren’t effective. You deserve to be happy and function efficiently and feel good about yourself, even if you need medication to do so. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you need medication, even if you know other people who don’t need it—your body and brain work differently than theirs, and that is okay.
2) Medications won’t automatically fix everything. Medications can help, but when it comes to mental illness, they don’t just magically make everything better. Even though I take medications, I also try to eat well, exercise, and interact with nature. I also try to surround myself with people, things, and experiences that I hope will make me happy. While medications are great resources for the people who need them, a healthier mental state sometimes goes beyond just medications.
3) Listen to what your body and brain need, even if what they’re asking for seems difficult. If a medication no longer seems effective, ask your doctor/caregiver if there is something else you can now try. If a new medication doesn’t react well to your body and you experience painful or harmful side effects, inform your doctor/caregiver and ask to try something else. I learned this lesson the hard way recently; a new medication I was trying made me sick, and I had to contact my doctor about stopping it. Medications should help you—not make you feel worse! Take care of yourself as you take your medications, and ALWAYS be sure to go through your doctor/caregiver for any medication start-ups, stoppages, or changes.
4) Have an accountabili-buddy—that is, an accountability buddy. This is especially useful if you’ve never taken medications before and/or you need reminders to make the medications part of your daily routine. Trusted friends or family members can be helpful in asking you if you’ve taken your prescribed medications on time and as directed. I know some people who use various phone apps (some as simple as alarms, some as complex as apps designed for medication management) to help ensure they’ve taken their medications, so your accountabili-buddy doesn’t have to be human.
Even though I’ve been taking medications for years, my mom still acts as my accountabili-buddy; she texts me to make sure I’ve taken my medications each morning and night. Your accountabili-buddy could also hold on to your medications for you and just give you the prescribed amount each day, especially if you are uncomfortable holding on to your own medications. My mom did this for me, too, when I first started medications at sixteen years old. This way, I took my medications on time and as directed, but I didn’t constantly have pills in my personal possession. Overall, accountabili-buddies are great for ensuring you stay on track with your medications.
5) Lastly, remember that you are NOT broken for needing medications. Having to take medications doesn’t mean you aren’t “normal”. Having to take medications doesn’t mean you need to be “fixed”. Having to take medications doesn’t lower your worth or your value. Having to take medications doesn’t mean you can’t be successful, or that you can’t be loved, or that you can’t be respected. Having to take medications only means exactly that: you have to take medications.
If you take any medications for mental illness, I hope they are treating you well and that they work for you. If you switch any medications, I hope the adjustment process treats you well and your new medications work for you. If you’re apprehensive about taking any medications but think they could help you, I hope you acquire the courage to at least talk with your doctor about the possibility of starting such medications. And if you don’t take any medications for mental illness at all, I hope you’re staying healthy and treating yourself well, too.
Starting or switching medications can be a difficult process, but if the end result is a happier, healthier you, then the process is well worth the effort.
If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7/365 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You are never alone.