Friday, March 30, 2012

"A pill for all ills"

Following on from yesterday:

If I fell and cut myself I would stem the bleeding with a plaster.
If my throat burned and hurt and my body was hot and shivery, I would take antibiotics and kill the bugs that made me so unwell.
If my blood pressure was sky high I would take my blood pressure tablets even though I didn’t feel unwell, but in the knowledge that I would be preventing future health problems.
If my mood was low, if my sleep and concentration and appetite were poor, if the tears fell constantly, if I felt hopeless, what would I do? Wouldn’t I perhaps consider medication then?

Even knowing that I have a history of PND and anxiety - knowing that I have recently reduced and stopped my anti-depressants, knowing that my GP has recommended and prescribed new medication, knowing that my friends see me blunted and unwell - I stop myself from starting my new tablets.  I’ve been told that I should be pragmatic, that they will help soothe my soul and provide a degree of support – a crutch – so that I can live my life in the day to day, so that I can juggle all of the components that make me who I am, so that I can enjoy and appreciate all that I have, but still my inner voice says “no, not yet…”.

I feel as if I should be able to manage, that I am no different from everyone else and that I should be able to cope with all that I have, all that I have been given.  “Here it is!  This is your life  and whether you have chosen this particular life or not is irrelevant; you have no choice, and no matter how you struggle, you must survive as well as you can.”

I often think back to a training session I attended when we were given a single piece of white paper:
“depression and anxiety: do they exist or are we medicalising life? consider and discuss”

Am I medicalising my life?  And this is what I worry constantly about – should I not be able to cope? Should I not be able to get on with living my day to day?  Am I depressed now?  Perhaps a little low, yes, but depressed? Or perhaps this is just life as a working mum with two children, one of whom is disabled.  Did I actually even truly have PND? Or was it simply life with 2 young children and chronic sleep deprivation?  Are these feelings I’m feeling now, these symptoms I have, not all just signs of life?  A busy, mad discombobulated life but a life no less.   And if this is life, why take a pill?

I have grown up in a society where “A pill for all ills” exists – and this is hugely supported by the pharmaceutical industry – but have learnt to look first at the person as a whole, to see them holistically and look at alternatives – may they be lifestyle changes, socio-economic solutions, spiritual clarification or psychological support - before embarking on, or in supplement to, pharmaceutical therapy.

Even though we as a society believe that there is “a pill for all ills” and seek reassurance in the availability of medical advice 24/7, there still remains a huge cloud of stigma surrounding mental health and the treatment of problems such as depression and anxiety.  Why is this?  More than likely people – the public - just don’t understand and don’t “get it”; they can’t put themselves in the position of suffering from depression or anxiety, or heaven forbid suicidal thoughts.  They can imagine what a sore throat feels like or what it is like to have diabetes or high blood pressure.  They know of visits to A&E for falls and broken bones and they may have experienced chronic disease management of their high blood pressure or diabetes, for example. People know what they know, having experienced common situations and illnesses and talked about their experiences.  They cannot, however, begin to imagine something so far removed as a mood so low that you are unable to get out of bed for months on end, or the feeling that you cannot take one single step out of their house because of panic, or the feeling that life is so worthless that the only solution is to end it all.  If they haven’t experienced it, or don’t know anyone who has, and if no one ever talks about their experiences, how could they possible know and understand? How can they realise that mental illness is such a common problem that warrants no stigma?

The stigma exists but mental illness is slowly being demystified by people coming out and talking about their experiences.  If the public cannot put themselves in the shoes of someone with mental illness then we have to help them try the shoes on so to speak and share our experiences. We need to speak out and tell people how we are feeling (and it can be so very difficult to put it into words…), we need to share our story – yes, even the darkest of moments!  If people don’t know how we are feeling then they can’t help us - pure and simple.  Our family and friends – let alone the public as a whole - they aren’t mind-readers; we need to let them in.  We need to get the support that we need and ask for help – because we are so very worthy and deserving of it (even though we may not be in a place to think that way).

Now, let me consider this:
“depression and anxiety:
do they exist or are we medicalising life?”
Do they exist?  Yes.  Definitely, most definitely:  I know this to be true.  I know what I have been through.  I know what I am currently feeling.  My low days are running into each other.  My symptoms are real.  I’m struggling with my day to day.  I am depressed. I cannot pull myself together, or lift my chin up high, or even pull my socks up for that matter; it’s such not that simple.  What I am feeling is real and I need some help.  I can do all of the self–help exercises, change my diet and exercise,  get some rest and catch up on sleep, see my family and friends and talk more, and have some “me time” and “us time” and “family time”, but right now I can’t.  You see, I need some help. I’m unwell. I’m depressed. I need to accept that this is real, that this is happening to me and that I need help - a plaster, or a crutch, or a tablet perhaps? – to help me through to the point when I can help myself and get back to the life I love. 


Ellen Arnison said...

Thank you for this post. I so hope it helped you as I'm sure it'll help others - me included.

I just thought of another analogy - if you had a hangover, even though you knew the cause and that it would pass eventually with lots of water and a bacon sandwich, you'd probably still take a headache pill, wouldn't you?

I hope your crutch has you limping less soon. x

Looking for Blue Sky said...

I have had all the same thoughts as you. I have a blogging friend who admits to depression, and writes about it, but it always seemed to me that she has 'real' depression, whereas I just feel low when I'm overwhelmed with problems. Is that the same? Or different? Anyway I once again have a little packet of pills in the press and I take them if I can't cope. For me the solution would probably be more help and support, but that would cost the state money. Much easier to put me on pills that I have to pay for x

BavarianSojourn said...

Ellen's analogy is just perfect. Don't be scared of taking anything that might help you sweetie. I also found CBT to be really really helpful when I had PND. Huge hug, it's not fun is it? xxx

LittleMamma said...

Some more of them hugs coming your way x x x

Di said...

Oh, I so understand. I have been there. At the end of the day, we have to think about quality of life. What would improve quality of life RIGHT NOW... and if that means taking antidepressants or whatever else is needed... then so be it. Taking pills is not forever, it is for now, it is too get life back on track. Thinking of you! xx

Lou Everard said...

Beautifully put. I too have been there, and still have a daily struggle against depression. I have had times when I have been able to dispense with pills, but there is no doubt that a bit of redressing of the chemical imbalance is necessary for me. It doesn't take away my tendency towards low mood, but it means I can avoid the absolute depths most of the time, and gives me hope that if those depths re-occur, I will come out of them one day.

I have learned over many years that those who are prone to depression can be the most sensitive, caring people, concerned above all for others, to the extent that they forget to look after their own needs. So that's something we need to learn - to allow others to care for us, and to care for ourselves.

I have also been blessed with healing faith in Jesus, a Saviour whose salvation is not just in taking away my sin, but also entering into my life daily, whatever I feel, to help me redress the balance by talking to Him. I've had human counselling, and this has helped too, just as pills have, but there is nothing to beat a personal counsellor you can call up any time, any day, who has given a CBT manual for all time (The Bible) into which you can dip for encouragement without the awful guilt-trip of inflicting your depression too much on those you love.

Sadly, the "church" (whatever that means locally for each of us) can also include those who do not understand that depression is an illness, and is not always helpful. This is a shame, but it just points to the fact that we all need to develop our own personal relationship with the God who heals. There is real hope to be had if we look for it.