HERE, TAKE A PILL

Why is it, generally speaking, that Western medicine tends to throw pills at the symptom and not get to the underlying condition that may be causing the problem to begin with?  Is it because we are lazy and want a quick fix?  Is it decades of training doctors in a certain way?  Is it an inability to change with the times?  Is it fear of some kind?

Don’t get me wrong, I myself took an antidepressant because I needed it to get my chemical imbalance, well, balanced.  I suffered for years from depression and/or clinical depression, and it had gotten to the point that even though I so did not want to take it, I knew I had to.  I fought it for a long time, but when I was in Key West in the bright February sunshine, out of the frigid Chicago winter, and I was still feeling awful, I knew the time had come.  At the time, I was seeing a therapist and he recommended a psychiatrist to me.  I reluctantly went.  The deal was I would continue with my therapist and I would see the psychiatrist once a month.  I made sure my doctor knew from the very beginning that I had no intention of staying on the medication indefinitely.  I asked how long I would have to take it.  My doctor told me, and keep in mind this was in 1997, usually people took it for about a year, maybe a little longer.  I said, okay, but I’m not taking it any longer than that.

At the time I was trying to get pregnant and, again keep in mind it was 1997, at the time the only antidepressant that was approved for and that had been tested on pregnant women was prozac.  So that’s what I was given.  Pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but it nearly killed me.  Every bad side-effect it was possible to get, I got.   I know now I should never have been given it at all, since I am in the bi-polar spectrum, and prozac is a huge no-no.  Not sure if this wasn’t known back then or that my doctor just dropped the ball, in a way.  It doesn’t really matter.  What matters is I was closely monitored and switched to wellbutrin as soon as it became clear that I was on the wrong medication.

What I find astounding is the number of people, mostly women, who have been on antidepressants for years.  YEARS!  And they have no intention of ever getting off of them.  I understand that there are legitimate reasons for being on a drug long-term, maybe even forever; but, mostly, I don’t believe this to be the case.  (Bi-polar disorder is a different story and those with it should take medication, though many don’t/won’t.)  I could not wait to stop taking it, even after finding the correct one for me.  It was a hateful drug, and though it accomplished what I needed, the re-balancing my chemicals, I was not sorry when I no longer had to take it.

And these days the hottest new ‘disorders’ to be diagnosed with are ADD and ADHD.  In the November issue of Oprah, an article written by Anna Maltby addresses this phenomenon, and it is alarming.  “A groundbreaking report released earlier this year by the prescription management company Express Scripts stated that the number of adults in the United States taking ADHD medications (which include Ritalin and Concerta, in addition to Adderall) rose 53 percent from 2008 to 2012.  It also found that women are using ADHD medication at notably higher rates than girls, with those in the 26 to 34 age range posting a staggering 85 percent jump in the use of such drugs in just five years.” According to ADHD researcher Keith Connors, PhD, professor emeritus at Duke University and the creator of a highly regarded rating scale commonly used to help diagnose the disorder, “It’s clear that one reason for the recent rise is over diagnosis.”   He goes on to say that, “There is a swarm of primary care doctors and psychiatrists who really don’t know that much about ADHD but are willing to give out a prescription.”

According to webmd.com:

“Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most well-recognized childhood developmental problems. This condition is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. It is now known that these symptoms continue into adulthood for about 60% of children with ADHD. That translates into 4% of the U.S. adult population, or 8 million adults. However, few adults are identified or treated for adult ADHD.

ADHD in Adults
Adults with ADHD may have difficulty following directions, remembering information, concentrating, organizing tasks, or completing work within time limits. If these difficulties are not managed appropriately, they can cause associated behavioral, emotional, social, vocational, and academic problems.

Common Behaviors and Problems of Adult ADHD
The following behaviors and problems may stem directly from ADHD or may be the result of related adjustment difficulties:

Anxiety
Chronic boredom
Chronic lateness and forgetfulness
Depression
Difficulty concentrating when reading
Difficulty controlling anger
Employment problems
Impulsiveness
Low frustration tolerance
Low self-esteem
Mood swings
Poor organization skills
Procrastination
Relationship problems
Substance abuse or addiction”

(After reading the list above, I doubt there is anyone on the planet that doesn’t suffer from several, if not most, of them.  Doesn’t mean you need to be medicated, though.)

Okay, the truth is I probably had/have ADHD, but even if this is the case, I have learned how to manage in spite of it.  I have a friend who kind of makes fun of me because I have, in her words, a very rigid routine.  What I now understand is, in order for me to function at the level I need to, to be able to be self-employed, it is imperative that I have a fixed routine.  I don’t consider it to be rigid, but I do my best to stick with it on a daily basis, otherwise nothing gets done.  Or at least not a lot gets accomplished.  Would a drug like Adderall help me?  Maybe, but I prefer to have my ‘rigid’ routine.  And let me say again, I do believe there are people who legitimately need to be on one of these drugs.  At the same time, I believe that many are misdiagnosed/overdiagnosed by physicians who simply do not know enough about it.

I feel like there are so many other available choices, such as diet, exercise, therapy, that may help, if not alleviate the problem all together.  Ultimately, though, we each need to do what we decide is best.

 

DEPRESSION…AND HAPPINESS

Is it possible to be both depressed and happy?  Common sense would tend towards no.  But I’m thinking that it is possible to be both, at the same time, without even being aware of it, especially if your ‘normal’ state is some degree of depression.  I think that depression runs the gamut from mild sadness occasionally all the way to severe clinical depression.  I cannot honestly remember a time that I was not depressed, though if asked now, I would say I am happy.  What does that mean?  Being happy?  Obviously, happiness is subjective.  What makes me happy will not necessarily make you happy, and vice versa.

I can remember clearly the first time I was aware that I really didn’t want to be in this world.  I was 14 years old.  As I am thinking about this, though, I suspect that this idea occurred to me when I was far younger.  I simply do not remember.  Much of my childhood is a blur. I have very few actual memories, but knowing myself as I do, it makes sense that it would have come up long before I was 14.  So much more is known and understood these days about depression and the genetic link.  I am definitely predisposed to suffering from it.  My brother and uncle (my mother’s brother) are both diagnosed bipolar.  I believe that my grandmother, though not diagnosed, also suffered from it.  And plain old depression runs rampant in my family.  Two of my brothers have died as a result of it.  It is something I continue to struggle with, though certainly not to the degree I have in the past.

I think part of the reason that depression is still so misunderstood and seen by many as some kind of weakness, is because it is possible to live with it and function almost normally.   I did it for many years before I finally took the antidepressants I needed to get my chemicals back in balance.  I’m sure I even had times that I felt happy in the midst of my suffering.   I remember when my grandmother found out I was taking an antidepressant, she said, “You’re not depressed.”  Ha!  I told her that just because she didn’t see it did not mean it wasn’t there.   I was very good at hiding it from everyone.  I knew for years, and other than a few attempts at therapy, I did nothing about it.  My mother’s attitude was, buck up and stop feeling like you do.  Oh, okay.  Too bad I didn’t think of that.  Unfortunately, that is the attitude of a lot of people.  If you were stronger you could do it.  It does not work that way.  If your chemicals are truly out of balance, no amount of wishing, hoping, talk therapy, exercise or anything else is going to change it.  You must get the help you need.  What made me finally break down and admit I had to go on medication was being in Key West, the sun shining and I was feeling nothing but darkness.  I thought, oh crap, my therapist is right, I do have to take something.  I was always able, when I lived in Chicago, to blame it on the weather and the lack of sunshine, which were definitely contributing factors.  But when I was in sunshine and warmth and still had such negative feelings, I knew the time had come.

When I got back to Chicago, I asked my therapist for a recommendation of a psychiatrist so that I could do what needed to be done.  When I first went to him (I do not even remember his name now) and he confirmed that, indeed, I needed medication, I asked how long I would have to take it.  He told me that usually a year, maybe a little longer was considered ‘normal.’  I said, “Okay, but that’s as long as I plan to take it.  No longer.”  He agreed, and I continued with my therapist and once a month saw him as well.  All I can really say about the drugs were they accomplished what needed to be done.  I have always described the process of being on them as hateful.  I was first prescribed Prozac, which just about killed me.  Every bad side-effect that was possible to get, I got.  Finally, he changed it to Wellbutrin and though I hated it too, it was not quite as bad as the Prozac had been.  In the end I took it for 14 months, and when I was done, that was it.  Luckily, he agreed, and I went off of it.  I felt better than I had in years.  At the time, too, I asked if I would ever have to take it again.  He told me that I might, that there was no way to really know, sometimes people did and sometimes they didn’t.  There have been times when I thought maybe I should probably be on something again, but until my attack, I never seriously considered it.

If you’ve been reading this blog all along, then you already know what happened when I attempted to take something for my depression, post attack.  Because I had had such a negative experience with antidepressants, even though they did help me, I really did not want to take one if I could somehow do it more naturally.  So, Suzie, my amazing therapist, recommended St John’s Wort, which is an herb.  I thought this was a suitable compromise.  Well, just as the prozac almost killed me, the St John’s Wort almost made me kill myself by jumping off the Coronado Bridge.  Thing is, I did not realize it was the pills, I just thought I wasn’t getting better.  I did not tell anyone, including Suzie, for a couple of weeks.  I finally told her and she immediately knew it was the supplement that was causing the problem.  I had to wean off of it, but because of that and the fact that every other thing I had tried taking and had had such a bad response to, I was afraid to try anything else.  I had to white-knuckle it the rest of my therapy.  As I’ve said before, my depression after my sexual assault was situational, not clinical, and I was able to do it.

Ask me if I’m happy now, and I’ll say YES.  Some times I am happier than other times, and I still have issues that definitely challenge me, but, over all, I am happy.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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