To Meditate or To Medicate... Mental Health Blog.
It’s been a while since I have sat down to share some thoughts with you - things have been wild since the move to our new unit - but we are here now! July marks our 6th Month at Lochburn Road, it’s insane how quickly the time is going.
July also marks the one year anniversary of me taking medication to help me manage my OCD. I wanted to talk a little about that subject, medication and the weird feelings it invokes in me. When I actively consider the concept of taking a tablet every night, it leaves me with the strange thought that in some way, it represents a weakness in my character. In the last 6 months, I have had this conversation with lots of people who have had similar experiences, talking about the possible side effects of taking medication missing from the little information leaflet tucked inside; embarrassment, shame and denial.
I have kind of jumped in head first here, with out much context of what has happened since my previous post about Mental Health so let me spin off some cliff notes and I will loop back round to the above subject...
I found out that I have OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
I discovered that OCD takes many forms and the stereotypical hand washing, light switch flipping and cleaning portrayal of OCD is a poor and marginalized representation of the condition.
I have a few different strains of the the bloody thing (which most recipients of the condition do) but the most difficult to deal with, and most prevalent in my case, is Intrusive Thinking OCD (sometimes called Pure O or Pure - not the legendary nightclub unfortunately).
Intrusive Thinking is one of the more difficult strains to diagnose given the lack of obvious physical ticks (they are there, you just need to look really closely). It is also commonly misdiagnosed as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder (yup) and also in my case Health Anxiety.
I have most likely had it all my life, definitely since my late teens and the sympotms of it have changed over the years.
Read this page for a small over view of the different types of OCD https://www.ocduk.org/types-ocd
I contemplated that I might actually be crazy despite all my nice talking and self reassuring in the months before. I am not. Well no more so than some who gets punched in the face for living.
I finally agreed to take medication after a particularly grim reaperish, month long episode.
So that roughly covers it in terms of the diagnosis and I am glad that I have something to work with. It took a good while but we got there. I say we, I mean we as in me, Davie, the doc, my family - the good news is that having additional personalities to content with is not a symptom. Thankfully, as my mood swings are bad enough.
It’s worth noting my intrusive thoughts & compulsions are around the unknown - vague I know - or you could say a lack of ‘solid evidence’. Read the Bed Bug Gate post if you want an example! Another common one for me is the thought that I may have, accidentally, have done something terribly wrong, not known it or realized it at the time and the potential repercussions of said terrible thing (that I haven’t done). That kicks off the cycle of the intrusive thought, which becomes the obsession and subsequently the compulsion to try and quell the thought. An example of the compulsion would be repeatedly asking some one to give their view on a the (bizarre) hypothetical situation that may or may not have happened or being happening and in essence seek reassurance that I am not a terrible, void of all morals, human being or dying. That's quite a common one. I can see why to the untrained eye it looks like someone just worrying and stressing a little or being a 'hypochondriac'.
I call it getting stuck in a loop, which can go one for hours, days, weeks, months. It’s no the greatest tbh! And the mad situations I come up with make me question my claim to not being very creative.
Medication, mindfulness, organic methods and my experience.
So anyway, medication. That’s what I really want to talk about. As previously documented, two years ago, I became very unwell or had a complete meltdown/breakdown - whatever the PC term is. I had been struggling with my anxiety levels and unbeknownst to me intrusive thinking OCD for many years before, but it was the end of 2014 when things really began to go downhill. Quickly.
In a time of uncertainty there was one thing I was completely certain about. I absolutely would not be taking any pharmaceutical based medicine. Nope. Not that there was ever anything wrong with someone else taking them, but I wasn’t going to do it. I just want to really re-iterate this point as it's an important one, I have never had an issue with anyone else taking medication. It was not that the medication was bad per se but more of the idea that my mental health was not bad enough that I needed it. In other words, for me, denial.
So, I went in pursuit of other means - some worked and continue to do so and some don’t! Training, has and will always be the best medicine for me. I’ve covered that off in posts before, but given the nature of OCD and it’s ability to morph quicker than morph himself, I have since discovered that my management program needs to be able to evolve and adapt too.
But anyway, my pursuit of holistic and organic management started. I did a lot of research online and speaking with people, sifting through loads of articles, website, blogs and magazines to help me find possible solutions. The obvious one here CBT but I am going to leave that one out just now - it’s not massively relevant to my point, I am talking more of the life style advice stuff that people give. There was some really good, sometimes obvious points; don’t drink, eat well, sleep regularly, exercise, mindfulness, go for a walk, talk to some one etc etc. The list goes on and as I say some really good stuff. However, as I continued my research I started to unearth a concept, from some people’s perspective, that medication is bad and only serves to mask the problems and in some cases people implied that taking prescribed medicine as being a sign of your inability to deal with your issues. To me that read a weakness.
In my current mindset, I can understand the concept of masking symptoms with out striving to treat the underlying issues as being 'bad' but to give a blanket statement that using medication is to simply mask the problem and nothing more seems like a very simplistic answer to a complex condition.
So I had my plan, no medicine - it’s definitely not an option as it is bad - train, eat well every day, no drinking, sleep 8 hours a night, avoid stressful situations, practice mindfulness, no social media, no TV and avoid conflict. Sorted.... except it’s not very realistic is it. Well for me it ain’t. I am 29 years old, with a family (and some very patient and understanding friends), a wee one to look after and a house and business to run. I also live in a big city in the 21st century. My plan had some challenges. Long story short, my original plan did not work, nor did the amended plan nor the revision of the amended plan. I didn’t have the reserves there to execute any plan. I kept trying, but understandably, given my head space alone, kept failing in my endeavors which in hind sight only added to my issues. And in to the bargain I had managed to now fully convince myself that medication was absolutely not an option because it was bad - it would mask my problems, not help. By this time the aforementioned denial was gone, I knew I was in deep and really struggling but again nope - no way - I am not taking pills. I am stubborn yes, but I was also completely dominated by intrusive thoughts - by fear. The what if, what if medication causes irreversible damage?
In the end it things got really grim. We will call this the grim-reaperish stage! I won’t go into the details but suffice to say I am grateful that I made it through that stage. During the grim reaperish stage, I had no choice but to hand over my care to my family and doctor. I was incapable of making any decisions. So medicine was prescribed and Davie held my hand as I took it. The truth is by that point I no longer cared, I was completely disillusioned with the present and if did send me even more 'crazy' it might be better than my current state. Turns out, it was a good decision, for me. It helped me start to turn things around. It took the edge off, I panicked less, I feared things a little less, I wasn’t living in constant state of fear and high alert - now only most of the day, not all of it. It certainly didn’t and has not magically fixed my problems nor has it masked them. It just allowed me just a little tiny bit breathing space to help me start to execute my previous management plan. It allowed me to get back training regularly, it allowed me to able to keep some food down and actually have an appetite, it allowed me to not go from 0 to 100 as soon as there was a slight sign of challenge or uncertainty - now I just go to 50. I am taking that as a result. It allowed me 2 - 5% breathing space that I did not have.
In essence what I am saying is that medication has helped me a little and that’s ok. Yet sometimes, I still struggle telling people that I take medication every day and for me there is no definitive end date as of yet, we are hoping for next year but who knows. Each day as it comes right.
Here is the reason I struggle with this admission; once I read some one else’s opinion that medicine is bad and taking it on some level, makes me weaker (physically, emotionally, both?) and it really stuck with me. I was already in denial about the state of mind and this compounded that thought real quick. A rational mind would say ‘ that’s one person’s opinion, you do you’ and they would be right but for me, and for many other’s struggling with that question, the thought process might not be that rational. It’s important to note I also seen people on the flip side, advising that I should be medicating and not bothering with alternative methods of management. It works both ways - the no medication stuck with me because that’s the conformation I was looking for.
So just to be clear, I am not saying that medication is good or bad, nor am I saying that non pharma route is good or bad. I do not believe we have a clear, cookie cutter solution for the myriad of Mental Health issues that people can suffer from. Very much my opinion drawn from my experiences but this is one thing we do know. Every one person is different. Their genetic makeup, brain chemistry & experiences are different. I tend to think that it's safe to my hang my hat on the fact that their subsequent solutions and journey's will be different. Which leads me to advice...
A person struggling already has a hard and laborious task of finding the correct solution for them. Please, if you are issuing out advice, please do so with caution and compassion. Medicine, holistic or pharmaceutical, as treatment is such a controversial subject across many illnesses, I reckon it’s only fair that the recipient of an opinion has one, asked for it (hello Google - I did!) and two, that it is caveat-ed with the fact that is this is an opinion (based on referenced facts/opinions if required) and they should make try to make an informed choice of their own. Someone struggling may not always have the same ability to filter information into constructive and not so constructive as someone who is feeling good.
Usually when we are seeking advice it's because we are looking for some form of help, be that reassurance we are on the right track or conformation that it's ok to choose 'x' as your plan. Sometime's it's best to say outright 'I honestly don't know' when you really don't. Davie does this a lot with me, and is frustrating as it is, he's making sure he isn't leading a desperate woman down a path that isn't quite there. Then he helps me get to the person(s) that is more likely to be able to answer that question.
Information sharing is great for Mental Health issues, and it is something I have actively encouraged in my previous posts, but I suppose the important bit I missed was please do so with a heightened sense of awareness of how someone may react. Most importantly, please don’t inadvertently shame someone for taking a more holistic approach or for choosing a medicine based approach. Usually these types of comments come from a place of love and concern, but it’s maybe how we do it that matters. I have absolutely done it to someone in the past, again with no malicious intent but I have done it. Instead of saying to this person ‘do this not that’, maybe what I should have suggested is putting some time aside to research possible options together and approach it with an open mind, because in all honesty how often had I sat down at that point and truly researched pros vs cons of medication. Never. Mental Health needs to be conversation, an active one, with listening, talking and a commitment to learning.
You will maybe have noticed I have highlighted the words me and I quite a lot in this post. It's not because I have some huge ego (that's Davie and Jamie) but it's because this my experience, my journey so far and is completely individual to some one else.
Everyone is different, but they all share the common goal of getting better or feeling like themselves again. My OCD will never fully go away, I am stuck with it for life and whilst it may be peaks and troughs, it is always there. What may be a fleeting comment for one person, is likely to stick with me for longer.
So to medicate or to meditate. I have found that a mixture of both is working well for me - ok not so much meditating, more like smashing pads, bags and sparring, sitting in silence in my head can some times be a little over bearing.
The point is you do you and be confident in knowing that you are far from weak, what ever your choice.
Ps. I always say this but it’s kinda part of my OCD - I am not a doctor or medical professional. I am just some random lassie, who kicks and punches for a living and happens to be trying to figure the shit out of my OCD. My posts are are just my experiences.