Whenever I mention that I’m taking an anti-psychotic to manage symptoms of mental illness, there’s always that person who has to give me a 10,000 word essay on the dangers of my medications and all the TOTALLY COMPARABLE, 100 per cent natural alternatives I should try.
When you are telling me about “natural” options, I can’t help but remember all the terrifying, very unnatural things that happened to me when I broke off from reality. I remember the physical injuries, the brushes with death, the terror that kept me up at night.
You see, my bipolar disorder has dissociative features — meaning that my grip on what’s real can be very, very tenuous when my disorder goes untreated.
So when you suggest meditation, I have to laugh. You’re presuming that my mind is a safe space to occupy in the first place. When you suggest deep breathing, you seem to forget that panic attacks don’t exactly allow for deep breaths.
To be clear: I’m not here to tell anyone what they should do in their particular circumstances. I am an advocate for choices. I am an advocate for people with mental illness or neurological differences being able to choose whatever regimen of care makes sense for them.
Watch: Mia Freedman on how she deals with her anxiety. (Post continues after video.)
That may involve medication. And it may not. And it’s not my place to judge either which way. There are legitimate reasons to be concerned about psychotropic medications. There are equally legitimate reasons to pursue them in spite of this.
When I found the right medications for me, it felt like someone had dialed down all the noise in my head. It didn’t hurt to be awake. It didn’t hurt to be alive. There was a sense of clarity that I’d never experienced before. I was the exact opposite of a zombie (the side effect I was most fearful of). For the very first time, I was well and I was whole.
But the noise in my head was quickly replaced with the noise of judgment around me. High-and-mighty concern trolls who seemed to think that they understood my disorders, my struggles, and could advise me on how to proceed.
Apparently all I really needed was a gratitude practice, yoga, Pilates, a diet change, a cardio regimen, no caffeine, no sugar… anything but those synthetic chemical pods that were eating away at my brain and guaranteeing me an early death.
Early death? Interesting.
Let me be crystal clear: You weren’t there when I spent years and years dabbling in self-harm, falling off the map for weeks on end in a deep depression. You weren’t there when I slipped into a fog, not knowing where I was or remembering what had happened. You weren't the person I called on the phone and said, "I can't live like this anymore." You didn't hear me as I fell apart, rummaging through a medicine cabinet and saying my goodbyes.
And if I remember correctly, you weren’t there after my suicide attempt, either — when I had to rebuild my life from rock-bottom, earn back the trust that I’d broken, and nurse the trauma that still lives on inside me.
You weren’t there.
What you see today is a writer, editor, and activist who lives a meaningful and happy life. You see someone who is self-assured, content, passionate, brimming with love. You see someone living the way people are supposed to live — safe and secure within themselves. (Post continues after this gallery.)
And you think to yourself, “But surely it wasn’t pills that did this. Obviously you just didn’t try hard enough.”
Yes, it wasn't just pills. It was persistence, courage, therapy, healing, and community. This a life that I built for myself and it took years to do that. But it also took medications to level things off so I could be well enough to begin doing that work in the first place.
So while you insist that these meds are making things worse, I can assure you — as the person actually in this body — that my life after meds is the only life I’ve ever had that’s been worth living.
People with mental illness are faced with an immense struggle. Our survival largely depends on the very difficult choices we make, choices that sometimes include medications. And I’m unclear on how being guilted or shamed for those choices makes that struggle any easier.
I don’t want your green smoothie recipe, your yoga pamphlet, or your Google search results on the meds I take. That may be helpful to you, and I’m happy if it is, but I’m more than capable of making my own decisions about my body and my health.
I also — shocker — know how to do my own research and I’ve been doing it since the day I was diagnosed (that's six years total, my friend, how about you?).
My advice? The next time you want to hassle someone with mental illness about their choices under the guise of being “concerned,” take those two cents and donate them to a mental health organisation that needs it.
Do you use medication for your mental health? Have you ever been judged for it?