by meghan shultz, author of always unstable
Living with a mental illness I’ve completely lost count of the number of times that I have been told to just ‘get over it’ or ‘cheer up.’ Or in particular, how many times someone has given me their opinion on how much medication I take. You know the ones – they think that you should come off of all of your ‘Big Pharma’ medications and start eating right and exercising or some other kind of natural remedy. I’m not saying that those things don’t help, I exercise daily, I also run 2.5 miles daily. I do find it helpful but I still need to take my medications. My medications are life-saving, not just because they help with suicidality but also because they help me to be able to live my life in a much more stable way.
The first time that a doctor told me I should consider taking psychiatric medication I was about 16. I was so scared, I wanted to say no. There is so much stigma and shame. I was 16 and he wanted me to take ‘crazy pills?’ For real? Hell no! He gave me the prescription anyway, and it took a little while before I came around and got it filled it. What were people going to say about me if they found out? I’d already been in a psychiatric hospital and now they wanted me to take medication? Taking medication would mean admitting that I wasn’t okay, that I needed help and that the hospital hadn’t magically fixed me. According to society I’m supposed to be stronger than that, I’m not supposed to need medication, I’m not supposed to admit to needing help, that would be weak, admitting that I can’t handle it on my own, admitting defeat.
When I eventually did fill my prescription, it was for an antidepressant. I hid it from everyone that I could. Honestly, I’m not even sure that I told my parents at first, I wanted them to think that I had gotten better. I didn’t want to be ‘the one that’s on antidepressants.’ The antidepressants didn’t work anyway and I was put on antipsychotics. I never became comfortable with antipsychotics until I was in my twenties, I had my own stigma about them. I thought that if I was taking an antipsychotic then I must be ‘really crazy’. I thought that it was bad enough that people knew I was depressed, I didn’t want them to know that I was hearing voices and seeing things too. I came from a small town where everybody knows everybody’s business. I developed a huge paranoia of people looking at me, looking at me like they knew there was something wrong with me and judging me for it. I was worried that I would be pointed at in the streets by parents telling their kids to stay away from that ‘crazy’ person. I felt like such a failure, I felt like I’d lost the game so to speak.
I’ve since learned that deciding and knowing that you need help, that you need medication – whether long term or short term – is a trait of a very strong person. Every single one of us has it in us to be that strong person and ask for help. But when people tell us that we don’t need our medications, that we just need to basically take better care of ourselves – that hurts. It makes us feel bad about taking the medications that give us so much help. When we are made to feel bad for seeking and accepting help it can make us not want to seek the help that we need for fear of judgement. We are made to feel embarrassed, ashamed, weak…But we are none of those things. We are strong -we live through hell just about every single day. We deserve to receive help and nobody should ever make us feel bad about that. I am no longer ashamed. It took a long time but I got here. You shouldn’t be ashamed either, not ever. Because you my friend, are amazing and don’t you ever doubt that.
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Meghan, an Aussie expat living in Arizona, has lived with mental illness just about her whole life. She lives with Bipolar I Disorder, BPD and Anxiety Disorder. She is on a mission to stand up, speak out and hopefully encourage others to do the same. You can connect with Meghan on her blog, on Twitter and on Facebook.