I was listening to my favorite podcast the other week, and found myself so infuriated I had to turn it off. Granted I was in the PMDD danger zone, but usually I can use whatever shred of my objectivity that remains during those times to understand that I am not functioning normally – and can temper my reactions accordingly.
However, this time I could not.
Basically, this podcast was talking about how if we take care of our diets and get fit, plant based and healthy, we can go off all of our medications – from statins to antidepressants. I had been subconsciously swallowing this message for years. It is the reason why, when I was first diagnosed, I did not get the appropriate medical help. It is the reason why I had far too many anxiety attacks, and weeks of hopelessness. It is the reason why I was suicidal. I have a generally very healthy diet. Even when I wasn’t working out, I was walking everywhere and regularly paddle boarding and hiking. I was meditating. I was doing yoga. In spite of all this, I was extremely mentally unwell. To tap into the common wellness belief, I must have not done enough to have failed myself in this way.
Not correct. This is fucking bullshit and damaging.
When I finally “caved” and went on an antidepressant for my PMDD, it took me about two days to begin to feel better. As time passed and my cyclical agoraphobia and extreme sadness went away, I slowly began to get angry about the time I wasted being averse to taking medication. I had tolerated months of anxiety attacks and terror, imprinting in my psyche numerous limiting patterns of behavior. I had negative associations with every place I had had an anxiety attack – and there were a lot of them. Planes, hotel rooms, gyms, trains, airports, being alone and being in large groups of people all got my heart rate spiked – something I still deal with to this day. The fact that I had to get to the point of being suicidal to finally get on the correct medications is not ok. I could have gotten ahead of PMDD many months prior to this point.
Even after being on them for three months, I was not comfortable with being “medicated”. I would constantly reassure everyone that I was only taking my SSRI during my luteal phase, and that I was at an extremely low dose. I even tried to taper off, to see if I could get through a cycle without them. Surely it wasn’t that bad – surely I had learned a few things by now and could deal with this condition “naturally”. I still hadn’t reversed the psychobabble of super fit and healthy self-help “gurus”. Like clockwork, I was hit with the usual depression and anxiety at day 14. And like clockwork, when I caved and took my medication, it went away. I have not been off it from that day, and I have no intention of stopping it anytime soon.
From that point on I lost all tolerance for advice not coming from years of dedicated medical training. It is all too easy to stand on your soapbox and proclaim that you know the secret to a healthy life, because of your very specific life experience around eating. This is a limiting and extremely damaging message to spread and leaves out a large portion of the community – those who require medication due to their mental or physical health. When I first began to think about taking an antidepressant (shortly after I nearly had a panic attack on the Harry Potter ride in Universal studios – I did not like being held in place), I had a look on some of my favorite websites for wellness advice on SSRI’s. I was bombarded with article after article about how to live life without them. About how they don’t work and actually will kill you, and if you just go on a *insert diet here* lifestyle, you will never have another mental struggle again. I knew of no people in the public eye who were on SSRI’s, and could find no point of reference anywhere. There is no better feeling than listening to a podcaster proclaim that he does not “understand” depression and mental illness – surely if you can think yourself into that situation, you can think your way out of it. With a platform that spans the millions, and no education in anything medical, this is a clear misuse of power to me.
Of course, I do need to point out that diet and exercise are both very important facets of a healthy life. Certainly, my condition is influenced in part by how I treat myself on the health front. But it is not the entire story. I have a genetic condition that affects my mental health. What has led to these genes being expressed, I’m sure lies in years of listening to those wellness “gurus”. Certainly, paying a “nutritionist” chiropractor to put me on 800 calories a day did some damage. Not to mention the countless hours of high intensity training I subjected myself to.
I have chosen to be public about my struggles, because of how much I struggled to work through societal expectations and stigma surrounding mental illness. I have been told that I have been too “public” with my story before. However, I would not have it any other way. It is through silence and a lack of conversation that people lose their fight with mental illnesses. Not being ok is far more common than we realize. We need to open up the conversation to be more inclusive of those who require different medical attention to us.
My life has turned around since I got on my medication. I am no longer afraid of leaving the house. And I am not ashamed of the times when I am not ok. These times happen regularly, and they never get any less scary. Taking medication to give myself a chance at a balanced life is not a weakness. But using my platform to say anything other than the truth is. We as a society need to stop pretending that there is a one size fits all approach to health and wellness. Medication has an important place in many people’s lives. And growth only comes out of showing up to the struggles we all face.
Because to be human is to struggle. There is no way around it. But there is no reason why anyone should be forced to struggle alone and in silence. If you ever are struggling, always talk to someone about it. The second that I opened up, I began to get my life back.
We all deserve the chance to show up to our lives.
Peace and love,
Main Photograph | Andrew Parsons
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THANKS SO MUCH