As I subtly implied in my post “Feel Depressed A Lot? Please Go Get Medicated, You Jerk,” I tend to think that medication is a good idea if you’ve got mood or anxiety problems. I’d like to use this post to answer some questions about the whole process, maybe allay some fears, and possibly confirm some others. It’s a mixed bag, but I think that the eventual positives outweigh the negatives.
“Why should I bother getting medicated?”
If you’re chronically down in the dumps, or if you can’t act like yourself because you’re so damned stressed out, medicine can make you feel better. In fact (and this is the main reason for me), it can make you feel more like yourself.
I recently got on a new regimen (sometimes this shit stops working quite right, or you get new goals), and suddenly I can leave my house again. I can stand talking on the phone and answering emails. I’m no longer binging on sugar or booze, and my mood is just plain better.
I feel more like myself. Depressed Ian is still a good guy, but he’s always acting in ways to avoid stress or pain. His brain is always shrouded in a black fog. It’s not an easy way to live. When I’m feeling good, all of my endeavors just flow more easily. I find it easier to have enjoyable conversations, I can engage in hobbies that Depressed Ian stopped liking, and my motivation is back.
Am I a new man, 100% better? No. But this is pretty nice.
“How do I find a psychiatrist?”
The answer to this one kind of sucks if you’re in the U.S.: You will probably have to check with your insurance provider. Get a list of who’s in your network and bring it to your doctor. They should be able to refer you to someone who’s not a quack (and getting a doctor’s referral is a good way of getting in to see someone who is “not currently accepting new patients”). If you don’t have a doctor, try calling your insurance provider directly for a referral. If you don’t have insurance and you’re in the U.S., you can probably get it for cheap through www.healthcare.gov (it works now, by the way).
“How long until I feel better?”
Probably about a month, though it may be as little as two weeks for some medications. Most antidepressants take a while to do their trick. In fact, the first regimen they put you on might not quite work, or the side effects might be intolerable; this means starting over from scratch.
If you end up seeing a psychiatrist who can’t help you, you may have to try another one. Unfortunately, not every psychiatrist is created equal.
Just remember that the sooner you get this process started, the sooner you can see if this works for you. There will be tweaking involved, changes in dosage, and maybe even multiple kinds of meds, but it’s a process worth trying.
“Won’t there be side effects?”
Oh god yes. I mean, probably. Some people can take this stuff and just feel better, but that’s never been the case for me. Some of the side effects are just nuisances, like waking up with dry mouth a little more often, or having the occasional stomach problems. Others can be pretty damned annoying, like losing your sex drive.
The good news is that other medicines will affect you completely differently. One made me horribly constipated, so I called and got switched to something else. Several have had sexual side effects which I will not be describing because my mom reads this blog, so my psychiatrist put me on two medicines instead of one. It wasn’t perfect, but it helped.
So yes, there will probably be side effects, but this usually just means a little tinkering.
“Can’t I just exercise and meditate?”
Quite possibly. In fact, many studies have shown exercise and meditation to be just as effective as certain medications in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders. In cases where heavy medication is needed, sometimes exercise can substitute for dosage.
That said, you can’t half-ass it. When scientists study things like meditation and exercise, they don’t have people sit quietly for ten minutes, or go on a short jog. No, you’re going to have to make one or the other (or both) a big part of your life. Joining groups can definitely help keep you on track.
So, why don’t I just exercise and meditate? I do. I just find myself much less likely to do so when I’m depressed. Vicious circle and all that. I’ve found that being properly medicated helps me engage in other wellness-promoting activities.
“Will I have to be medicated forever?”
Maybe. While many people have successfully scaled back on medicine as they improve or change other aspects of their lives, I’ve never had success with it. I consistently end up having strong anxiety symptoms when I go off my meds. A month or two later, I’m back to feeling how I felt when I was, oh, ages 4 through 18.
That said, If your depression or anxiety had a sudden onset, or if they’re due to extraordinary life circumstances, you may be able to undertake a short regimen and then go on as normal.
Some Last Words
As you can see above, the whole “getting medicated” process can be kind of a pain in the ass. You might not respond well to the medication, you might need to see more than one shrink, and sometimes your wiener stops working (sorry you had to read that, mom). Why would anyone go through this?
Because sometimes it’s all you need. If you’re on the proper regimen (which may just be a small dose of a single drug), sometimes you just stop feeling depressed or anxious. You get your life back, or maybe you realize that life doesn’t need to be all about avoiding pain and despair. Social stuff is easier, work stuff is easier, and you find yourself flourishing in ways that you didn’t think possible.
Maybe it won’t be that great; maybe you’ll just get a 50% improvement, or 25%. I gotta tell you: When you’re in a really bad place, 25% can be a godsend.
Let me know what you think. Got any stories about medicine helping? Got any about it seriously sucking? Hit up the comments section below.
Photo credit: Venturist, via flickr