To Medicate Or Not To Medicate

I know this seems a bit out-of-place, but I’ve noticed lately on some of the online dad groups I frequent that a lot of parents are struggling with the issue of medication for mood disorders like depression or anxiety. Whether it be for themselves or even their kids.

Lord knows I have. After all, when you’re hurting, all you want is relief. Even more so when you feel completely unable to cope with the realities of life and raising a family in this day and age.

Got a headache? Take Tylenol. Muscles sore? Break out the Ben-Gay. Scratchy throat? Time to grab your old buddy, Nyquil. When the ailment is depression or anxiety, though, knowing which meds to reach for isn’t so simple.

Having struggled with depression since high school, I’ve been on and off different meds for far longer than I care to think about. I’m no doctor, but I think I can safely say that my wealth of experience can be useful to someone who’s struggling with the thought of psychiatric medication. Having said that, there are a couple things you need to keep in mind:

1. It Is Nowhere Near An Exact Science: Prescribing antidepressants isn’t as simple as giving antibiotics for a bacterial infection. Everyone’s brain chemistry is different. Some need SSRIs. Others need MAOIs. Even when you nail down the type of antidepressant to try, then there’s the question of which antidepressant, and which dosage? 30 ml of Celexa might work great, but 60 might work better. Then again, it could be somewhere in between. Then there’s the question of whether you take just one medication, or add in supplemental ones like Abilify. It’s a long process, and you need to make peace with the fact that it’s going to take a lot of time, not to mention trial and error, to find the medication or combinations thereof that works.

2. You’re Probably Going to Get Worse Before You Get Better: This is a hard one. The whole point of going on medication is to find some type of relief. As I pointed out, though, it can take quite a while to find what works for a specific person. This is where it’s critical that you track what you’re taking and how it impacts the way you’re feeling. It might sound cumbersome, but logging the dosage and the effects that you’re experiencing can be helpful. You also have to be mindful of side effects, especially ones that could potentially be life threatening.
You need to be completely honest with your doctor and keep on him or her about what you’re experiencing. You’re the only one who knows how a medication is really effecting you. Every new prescription needs to be given time to see how it is working, but if it’s not report it ASAP. What goes into your body is ultimately up to you. If a prescribed medication is making things worse, you need to get off it. That said, you really, really need to keep the next point in mind:

3. Do NOT Go Cold Turkey: I’ve made this mistake myself. When I was on something that started making me feel so much worse than I had to begin with, I just stopped taking it. Not a bright move. I cannot tell you how physically ill I got doing that. Suddenly dropping a medication will result in withdrawal, just like it would with any “street” drug. You will get headaches, nausea, the shakes, etc. You need to wean yourself off, and you need to do so under a doctor’s supervision. That leads us to the most critical thing to keep in mind:

4. Be Realistic With Your Expectations: This is the hardest part. Culturally, we tend to view medicine as a cure-all; if you’re sick, you take a pill and the sickness goes away. That’s not going to be the case here. At best, you should look at the right prescription as a form of relief, something that centers you enough that you can do all the other things you need to do to get truly well. This could include counseling, exercise, or any number of types of self-care. The prescription will help you feel better, but it’s not going to MAKE you better. There is no magic pill that will just erase the depression or anxiety. That doesn’t mean that the right medication can’t help immensely.

Forgive me for beating a dead horse, but I can’t emphasize enough that medication isn’t just going to magically fix everything. Speaking metaphorically, it’s like building a house. There are any number of tools and materials you have to use to build a solid foundation and framework for the final product. Setting the foundation is just the first step.

Needing medication doesn’t mean you or your children are weak. Don’t be afraid of it. Don’t be ashamed of it. If your brains don’t produce a certain chemical in the right quantity, then you’re most likely going to need some sort of pharmaceutical therapy. That’s okay. All you’re doing is trying to reset your brain chemistry to where it should be so you can get to the real work of building a happier and healthier life.

Just remember, the two most important things you’ll all need won’t come from any medication – patience and persistence. When all is said and done, those two things are what you’ll have to rely on most for the healing you’re hoping for.

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