I thought it was high time I posted about the ‘M’ word; Medication. Specifically anti-depressant medication.
I’ve spoken about it briefly before, specifically my use of medication to manage my OCD and anxiety, and have also been reasonably vocal about the importance of de-stigmatizing the use of antidepressants in treating conditions like PND and PPOCD.
While I’ve touched on the above, I feel like I haven’t gone into much detail. My posts are reasonably vague and while that’s all well and good, it’s not useful for those who may be considering the use of antidepressants or surfing around trying to find information.
Discussing medication can sometimes be a bit fraught. I think this is due to the nature of treatment for mental illness. It’s often an intensely personal, carefully constructed, and monitored process that is usually conducted between an individual and their doctor. It can often be hard enough to discuss a diagnosis of something being awry, mentally, let alone go into detail about how you’re treating it and why.
I also feel that a certain stigma still exists around taking antidepressant medication. The pervasive ideas of ‘happy pills’ seem to still be apparent along with the idea that we should be strong enough to beat whatever demons we have in our heads without the use of pharmaceuticals. As we continue to move towards a place where mental illness is better understood and accepted, I am hoping that opinions surrounding treatment, especially the use of medication.
By sharing my experience I’m hoping I can shed some light on the realities of using antidepressants along with the stuff that can be partnered with them to promote healing. I am by no means an expert. I have no qualifications in psychiatry. This is purely my thoughts on the whole shebang.
What SSRI Do I Take?
Right so to jump right in, I currently take Lexapro. An SSRI that’s been on the market for a little while. This particular SSRI is indicated to treat both anxieties along with the major depressive disorder. I was prescribed Lexapro as it is an effective treatment for OCD.
Lexapro isn’t the first SSRI I’ve been on. It’s not even the second. It’s the 300th (kidding). It’s the third drug that I’ve taken over the space of the past 4.5 years.
When I was first diagnosed with OCD in 2009, I was prescribed Cipramil, a drug similar to Lexapro but with a slightly different chemical makeup. I was very lucky in that I hit the jackpot with this guy and it worked straight away with minimal side effects. Many are not so lucky and have to try several treatments before finding one that clicks.
I was on Cipramil for just over 13 months when I weaned off due to being in a great place after intensive cognitive behavior therapy. I resumed taking it again, at a low dose, a few months out before my wedding (stressful life events are a trigger for my particular condition). I then weaned off again and was medication for my pregnancy with Ollie.
After I had Ollie and began to suffer from PPOCD, I was prescribed Zoloft. I was on Zoloft for about 6 months and while it was ok, I didn’t find it especially effective. I was taking the standard dose and was reluctant to increase it due to breastfeeding. After discussion with my psychiatrist, I was prescribed Lexapro in November 2012, which I’ve been on ever since.
Thoughts on Lexapro?
I like it. It’s the best I’ve been on and manages my symptoms beautifully. I started off taking 10 mg, increased to 20mg, and am now back down to 10mg. I haven’t had any real side effects from taking it and I think it has helped me get the most out of the therapy I have done in the past with my psychologist.
What about therapy?
That is the kicker for me when it comes to medication; supplementing with therapy is imperative. I do not agree that medication should be prescribed without at least an initial meeting with a psychologist to discuss strategies that can be used in conjunction with medication to treat mental illness. Again, I am not an expert in any way, shape, or form, but prescribing medication and not backing it up with some exploration as to why whatever is happening is happening (or at the very least, coping strategies to augment treatment), sometimes feels like a bandaid solution to a problem that needs careful, consistent and long term management.
Where Am I At Now?
I will always suffer from OCD. I no longer worry or feel sad about that. Yes, it’s a bit of a bugger sometimes but it is what it is and I’m learning to be ok with that. For whatever reason, the chemistry of my brain, coupled with my personality, genetic makeup, and whatever else makes up that special, unique soup of being, lends itself to the condition. What I’m not ok with is letting OCD run rampant through my life. I let it get out of control after Ollie was born and it took a shed load of time to recover from. And I have recovered, almost fully I would say. Through a combination of therapy with a wonderful psychologist who specializes in women’s health, medication, and completing all the activities and ‘homework’ prescribed to me, I’ve managed to claw my way back.
At this point, I’m actually in the process of gradually weaning off medication. I felt it was time. In some ways, what I suffer from allows this to happen. Other mental illnesses require long term, often life long, use of different medications. OCD is often hit hard and fast; usually a high dose of medication for 6-12 months. While I don’t have to come off my meds. I am keen to see how I fare on lower or even zero doses. We are keen to try for another baby in the coming months and while the medication is often used during pregnancy, I’d prefer not to be on it.
I am doing this completely under the guidance of a specialist psychiatrist who I’ve seen since Ollie was 6 months old. She has advised every step of the way and I have my final appointment to discuss the future later on today.
Will I be often on medication forever?
I’ve got no idea. Maybe. Maybe not. There is talk that I could benefit from a low dose of medication after birth when I decide to have the next baby. The idea being that supplementing my system will help head off any issues that may occur down the track. There is also talk that I could remain on a very low dosage indefinitely, regardless of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, whatever.