My daughter told me once, after an excessively trying week of depression, that she felt like she was starving for something, craving something that her body was lacking. She reminded me of the times we spent riding motorcycles in the desert sun, and we craved salty snacks to replenish what our bodies had lost during our activities. I began to ponder the idea that our bodies have an idea of how to heal our minds.

 A few weeks later, we were sitting in the psychiatrist’s office. Savannah’s depression was affecting her daily activities, getting dressed was a chore, swallowing food was difficult, the idea of having to have a conversation with someone sent her into a panic. The psychiatrist asked Savannah what she did when she was feeling like this in the past to get through it. Savannah talked about all the coping mechanisms that we have in our lives: going to see the horses, shopping for friends at the thrift store, taking herbal remedies of St John’s Wort and Omega 3 supplements, and trying to sleep. The good sleep- not the-can’t-get-out-of bed-and-shower-for-three-days sleep, but the refreshing- I-feel-better-today kind of sleep.

After speaking with us for a few minutes, the doctor recommended a medication. She talked of the side effects and cautioned that it would be a few weeks before we would see an improvement. I thought of the warning friends offer when the topic of medication comes into a conversation, “No one should have to take a pill to be happy- you just choose to be happy!” To those people, I say congratulations for being so blessed in your life that you may simply choose to be happy, and it is so.

For my family, it is a daily struggle to keep the uglies at bay. We take nature walks, we spend time with animals, we sometimes have ice cream for dinner, and we get lost in books and movies to avoid the realities of our minds. But sometimes, the uglies sneak in and sink in, and no amount of wishful thinking or hoping or praying can make them leave. 

You shouldn’t have to take a pill every day to be happy. And you shouldn’t have to be sad every day either. Our decision to follow the protocol the psychiatrist recommended comes from the desire to have a life that weighs heavily on the joyful side. When a child’s inclination is not to feel or see joy, it is important to find a way to help them.

Is Medication the Only Answer?

 The decision to take or not take medication comes with a myriad of challenges. Nothing is simple, clear or decisive. A new medication may take months to reach the desired effects. If the medication does not reach the desired effects and it is necessary to change, it may take a few weeks or months to stop the medication. When someone is on medication for anxiety, depression, or mood disorders and forgets a dose, they may not see any effect of the missing dose for two to three days. At that time, the forgotten dose does not seem relevant when, in fact, it is very relevant.

Sometimes my son with bipolar disorder would call me after he had missed a dose. He would tell me it was fine; he wasn’t having any problems. Then, three days later, I got a call and there was a crisis. Sean was depressed or had had an argument with a coworker about something inconsequential. Often, he would consider this event a huge setback and a sign that things were going to get much worse before they got better. When we recalled the missing dose, it was easier not to spiral, to stay grounded, and to try to increase other coping techniques to get through the temporarily tough time.

There were times when, even with the prescribed dose and carefully following the doctor’s instructions that the mania or depression came. When we were in the middle of a crisis, it was more difficult to make rational decisions about medication. We wanted things to work quickly and to make the darkness go away.

We have a habit of surrounding ourselves with things that bring joy, for me it is doing things for others, for Sean it is physical activity, for Savannah it is horses. These are our go-to things, but there are many others. We have friends that we know we can be our ugly selves with, and they will forgive us. We have people or therapists that we can go to for wisdom and clear thinking strategies when ours are muddled from the fog of depression or anxiety. And we have the medications.

 It is part of who we are and who we want to become. Medication is not like a band-aid that is put over a cut, and then all is well. It is more of a tool, like the therapist and the psychiatrist and the healthy mental habits that work together in tandem to make the world brighter, happier, and more real. We have come to think of them as our tribe–our posse. They are the ones that make the darkness brighter, the ones who have a rope when we are at the bottom, the parachute when we are too high to realize we are in danger of a disastrous crash.

For a long time, I was ambivalent about medication. When Sean was young, I wasn’t convinced that his issues were not my parenting or lack of parenting skills. I didn’t know how much of the behavior was complicated by puberty, and I felt ill-equipped to determine the difference between a medication’s desired effects and adverse side effects. When a person is given a medication, there is a plethora of information about side effects. My son is suicidal and aggressive, and the medication the psychiatrist recommends states those exact side effects. The answers are not clear or easy. I felt that I knew my son better than anyone. But the doctor knows medication better.  In hindsight, I have learned that the decision should be considered carefully. Research, asking pertinent questions, prayer, and a certain amount of trust in the medical provider are essential.

It honestly was not until my son’s behavior was critical our family life became a nightmare, and I was terrified that medication became an option for me. I was in the middle of our crisis with Sean and the court system when I became more willing to pursue medication for Sean. I had forgotten that I was counting his smiles—It had been so long since we had seen them. I was caught in a vortex of fear and depression myself.  

Choosing a psychiatrist.

Choosing a doctor can be a challenge. If you are in the middle of a crisis, you may get the first available appointment without much consideration of qualifications. Some of the best doctors we have had were found in a directory.

 We have had doctors who have already determined the course of medication for us based on our chart, gave us lectures about mental illness, or said derogatory things about their colleagues in front of us. They are the doctors we do not end up staying with for more than a visit or two.

We have also found doctors who listened, asked questions, pondered our responses, and were ready to help us out when things went bad. These are the doctors we embrace. We keep these in our posse. The Old West group of people summoned by a sheriff to assist in preserving the public peace, usually in an emergency. Our posse is a group summoned by us to help us or our family during an emergency to keep or find our peace.

I consider advances in medicine a miracle. God’s way of winking at us. He knows we can use the help sometimes. We must be wise about how we use it. Medication is not the only answer. Medication may not be the best answer. But when used in combination with other mentally healthy habits and having a posse of psychiatrists, therapists, good friends, and enriching activities, we can have a miraculous and beautiful life.

One Response

  1. This blog is really helpful in understanding all the things a mental disorder can affect. My son has stayed in bed several days. He cannot make himself go to get his needed meds. He can’t just be happy. If you were diagnosed with cancer and were sad, most people would understand it. They wouldn’t tell you just be happy. You can’t turn it off or on. It is just there.

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