It is no secret that I am a health nut/naturalist. I know the science behind exercise and eating healthy foods to improve one’s mental health is irrefutable. I have experienced the amazing effects of both, first hand. That is one of the reasons why, in the past, I found it difficult to take medications. I wanted to achieve outstanding mental health through natural means. Because of that, I understand why many people define good mental health as not having to take medication.
The problem is that some people, no matter what they do, are unable to achieve good mental health without medication. The reason is simple. There are different types of mental illnesses, different causations and varying degrees of severity. I had to accept that no matter how clean I ate, no matter how much I exercised, no matter how many of the right supplements I took, no matter how many wellness activities I participated in, my brain chemistry is too severely imbalanced to achieve the life I want to lead without medicinal help. Since I am a naturalist by nature, it was imperative that I find a way to make peace with that.
In other words, I had to change how I defined good mental health. Because I do love natural remedies, I was one of those people who defined being mentally healthy as being free from all pharmaceuticals. The problem I found with that, as I began to examine it, is that I know many people with mental illnesses who refuse to take medication and are miserable. That is not my idea of good mental health, with or without medication. I also realized that I know many people with mental illnesses, who take medication, and they are vibrant, healthy and content. That is what I strive for every day. I decided that vibrant, healthy and content was going to be my new definition of good mental health, whether it meant having to take medications or not.
It occurred to me that I could still be a health food nut, an exercise junkie and participate in as many wellness activities as possible while taking medication. Realizing my journey didn’t have to rely solely on natural remedies or solely on medication was a huge step for me. I accepted that no matter how perfectly I executed natural remedy solutions, I was still going to fall short of my new definition for good mental health. That much had become painfully clear. I also knew I couldn’t be lazy, expecting medication to solve all my problems, because that had never worked for me in the past.
It was simple; I needed to exercise, eat healthy foods, engage in wellness activities AND take medication. I am in a fight for my life. It wasn’t wise for me to show up to battle with one arm tied behind my back. I decided that I was going use everything at my disposal to have a wonderful life. I’m sure it seems like that should have been a simple decision; it wasn’t!
Rethinking and reworking my stance on medication took time and effort. The more I thought about what taking medication really meant, the more I understood that it was something that I should be proud of. Four realizations came to me that have forever changed my perception of medications. I hope they are helpful.
1. Taking Medication Exemplifies Bravery
Summoning the courage to ask for help, and then accepting it, is a sign of bravery, not weakness. Having the courage to say that my very best efforts, without the aid of medication, weren’t good enough to achieve the life I wanted was a huge accomplishment. I believe in being strong, self-reliant and brave. In this case, I realized that what I was actually doing was using those ideals as defense mechanisms to shield me from my fear of needing help. I was ashamed that I couldn’t conquer this on my own. I felt weak. In truth, I was terrified.
The way I regained my strength, my self-reliance, and my courage was by admitting that I couldn’t achieve what I wanted without help. Setting an appointment with a doctor to discuss my problems, and asking for help, was horrifying. After I had done it, I realized it was one of the bravest things I’ve ever done. I am proud of my pill bottles. They are trophies from one of my most terrifying victories.
2. Taking Medication Means I Am Being Proactive
I want to have as much influence over the outcome of my life as possible. There are many things that are completely outside of my control, but my actions in response to those things are not. I can’t change the fact that I have mental illnesses, but I can change what I do about them.
Deciding that I am going to do everything in my power to achieve good mental health brings me a sense of control and achievement. Even if symptoms do creep up, at least, I know I did everything in my power to prevent them. My illnesses are too severe for me to say that I have done my best to live a wonderful life if I refuse to take medication. If however, I have done my best, then the pressure is off, because I know I can’t control outcomes. I can only control my actions. I can and will continue to be proactive by adding medication to my wellness plan. What a relief that is! Now, I can let the chips fall where they may because I know I’ve done everything I possibly can.
3. Taking Medication Demonstrates Moderation In A World of Extremes
The world we live in today is characterized by extremes. Modern medicine is certainly not exempt from this reality. The naturalists, like myself, love to rail against big pharmaceutical companies by pointing out all their flaws. In turn, the pharmaceutical companies love to take every opportunity to condescendingly point out the absurdity of some of the naturalists’ claims. As is usually the case, both sides have valid points. The important thing for me was to learn to stand up to both sides’ extremes.
Standing up to big pharmaceutical companies and doctors who try and get me to take one more pill or a little higher dose is hard. Some doctors have become heavy handed with their prescription pads. It is much easier and faster to add another pill or to up a medication dose than it is to search for underlying causes or better alternatives. I had to find a doctor that would work with me to get to the lowest possible doses that would effectively treat my illnesses. That was an enormous help. I also decided to make a conscious effort to block out all advertisements for medications. Pharmaceutical companies spend billions every year trying to get people to take another one of their pills. I have to guard against that.
Standing up to naturalists who claim magical cures from mother earth is also hard. I want to believe that there is a secret herb or root that some obscure, indigenous people have known about for thousands of years and somehow kept it secret. Wouldn’t that be grand? Unfortunately, many of these naturalists are often selling junk supplements, junk documentaries or junk eBooks. Just like many pharmaceutical companies, many of them are more motivated by profits than wellness. The scary thing is that there is no oversight or regulations on their products. As I covered last week, there are some fantastic natural treatments for many mental illnesses. That doesn’t mean I’m going to be a sucker for the next "all natural" miracle cure that comes on the market.
Obviously, both sides have valid points. That is part of the problem. I had to learn to sift through all the rubbish to try and get as close to the truth as possible. That is not a simple task. It takes a great deal of effort to find the diamonds in the rough. However, all that effort has paid me back in ways I could have never imagined.
4. Taking Medication Demonstrates Patience (not my greatest strength)
Taking medication often requires an enormous amount of patience. Because no two people’s brain chemistry is the same there are many different types of medication, that help with many different types of mental illnesses. That is a beautiful thing. If we only had a few medications, then many of us would be out of luck.
There is one drawback to having so many medications to choose from. It can take quite some time to find the right medication(s) and the right dose(s). I work hard on being patient. It is not a natural talent of mine. I want to fix things immediately. Honestly, I would prefer to go back in time and fix things yesterday if I could. When I am depressed, anxious or manic, I have even less patience. I think that is typical, though. I don’t know anyone who wants to feel bad any longer than they have to.
That is why being patient with the process of getting the correct medications, at the right doses, is something I pride myself on. It takes an enormous amount of effort not to give up on them altogether when they aren’t working as well as I think they should. Remembering that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that I will eventually feel better, allows me to accept that I don’t have to feel better right away. I remind myself that some things that take T.I.M.E., which stands for Things I Must Earn. That has helped me enormously.
Coming to the realization that taking medication is one of the bravest, most proactive, level headed and patient things I have ever done makes me proud to take them. I refuse to live a life less than I am capable of. So, I can’t be too prideful to ask for help, too lazy to be proactive, too caught up in the extremes of the world to take the appropriate amount of medication or too impatient to continue the treatment. There is hope in exercise, health foods, wellness activities AND medication. Put them all together, and I have found amazing things begin to happen.
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As always, I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click the link to the right and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a great resource, and is staffed by wonderful people.
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