Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Better Living Through Modern Chemistry

What if I said that I was feeling tired all of the time, even when I was getting enough sleep. That my appetite was off. My energy was low. I was having trouble concentrating and unable to be creative. I was also having difficulty remembering things.

I think most people would suggest I get to a doctor because something could be wrong. People would suggest having my thyroid checked and get on medication to regulate that.

What if I added to that list of symptoms that I was feeling depressed or anxious.

I think a lot of people would start to hem and haw a bit. Maybe I should see someone about that. But I believe people would start to get uncomfortable.

What if I rephrased the whole list of physical symptoms and said that I was feeling very depressed/anxious. I wasn't able to eat/eating all of the time. I just couldn't seem to get anything done or want to do anything. I didn't want to think about anything, but just curl up in bed and not come out.

Some people would definitely treat this list very different from the first list. They would suggest I pull myself out of it or eat better and exercise more. While everyone should eat healthy and exercise and certainly a good attitude is helpful with many things in life, many people would hesitate to say that I should take something to help regulate the problem.

Why is it when a health problem is focused above the neck people do not treat it the same as health problems below the neck? Why is "mental health" viewed so differently than "physical health"? Why are people who need to go on medication for depression or anxiety held to a different standard than those who have to go on medication for thyroid issues or diabeties?

The brain is an organ in your body. It has to balance many chemicals in order to function properly. These chemicals sometimes get unbalanced and need to be regulated, just as the thyroid does or the blood sugar levels. There are physical symptoms that aren't nebulous and unclear, even if people sometimes don't describe them in the more "factual" way as I did the in first example.

This is a conversation I've had with quite a few people lately. It is a subject very important to me, and it always has been. I've said before that I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which I have historically treated with light therapy. After a good look at how affective the light therapy has been for me and the time it takes, I decided this fall to go on anti-depressant medication.

This is one of the best decisions I have made in my life.

I have been considering medication for years, but since I would need it for only half of a year, I was hesitant to go on it. However, I am working with a doctor who is comfortable with me trying it for only half the year and see how I feel. She helped me pick a medication that is pretty safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding. Yes, I made this decision when I knew we were going to try to conceive. I carefully weighed my options, and I knew that the only way I could take care of any baby I conceive is if I take care of myself, which in my case requires medication (the light therapy is no longer enough for me). There are worse things than taking medication while pregnant, which one blogger was brave enough to share (I love this woman for writing that post). I am taking the generic for Zoloft, which is working pretty well for me so far.

But my issue is easy compared to others. I have a biological depression (my number one symptom is exhaution, which leads to depression for me) that is environmentally induced. The brain chemical melatonin is supressed by sunlight, and seratonin is increased with sunlight. As best I can figure is that in the winter, with the lack of enough sun, my body produces too much melatonin and not enough seratonin. It's a chemical reaction that is documented. Most people are pretty understanding about it because it because there is an easily explained, scientifically-based, biological explanation. The people I have told that I've gone on medication totally understand that it helps regulate my brain chemicals.

But what about others who deal with depression or anxiety that don't have this biological/environmental explanation? The brain chemicals can also change depending on the pathways our thought patterns create. When those chemicals are so unbalanced that a person is deeply depressed or anxious, they can't just pull themselves out of it or eat right and exercise. They need medication to bring the chemicals back into balance so they can deal with the issues they are facing. So they can find the energy and the will to eat better and exercise. So they can be capable of pulling themselves out of it.

And some people may forever need to be on medication (read Dooce's post about her need to be on medication!). Their brain does not produce the chemicals in a balanced way. Just like a diabetics body does not produce enough insulin or a person with a thyroid imbalance does not produce the right amount of the thyroid hormone. And you know what? That is okay too! People would never ask a diabetic when they were going to get off of their insulin. Why do people ask those who are dealing with an above the neck problem?

The medication is not some "happy pill" that makes you feel euphoric or numb your feelings (well, for most people, although I can't speak to how medication affects everyone). The medication brings people (at least me and those I know) back to feeling normal. No doctor is looking to put people on anti-depressants to make them feel wonderful. It is to make them feel normal. The normal that people with balanced brain chemicals feel. That means the normal highs and lows, the good days and bad days, the regular types of happy and sad. Although I have been on medication for about four weeks, I still have good days and bad. But I am not so tired and depressed that I can't take care of myself, my toddler, my job, my house. And that is a wonderful thing for me in the fall and winter.

The brain is just another organ. It is more complex than other organs because our thoughts and feelings come from there. But that means that medication plus therapy should be a natural conclusion when people are having problems. It does not mean that people should all be "normal" and fine and have no mental health issues. The body is an amazing thing, but it is not perfect.

I'm glad I live in the world today. We've come so far as a society and culture (wooo hooo for Obama!). And yet this stigma remains for people dealing with depression and anxiety. For people who are on medication for neck-up problems. I imagine it's just that people who haven't suffered from serious depression or anxiety just don't get it. The way my dad didn't understand how bad migraines really were until he got one. I don't wish depression or anxiety on anyone. I just hope that those who are lucky enough to have their brain chemicals in balance realize that not everyone does and it is a health issue just like any other and should be treated with medication when needed.


I'm Not Skippy said...

Let me be the first to say "good for you." You're right brain chemistry issues should be treated like any other body chemistry imbalance.

People without "issues" can't understand what it's like. Which is why you get the snap out of it comments.

And yes, WooHoo Obama!

Julie said...

Good for you Caramama! My husband has been on Lexapr0 for about a year now. Anti-depressants are not the solution to problems, they just help you back to the middle of the road so you can effectively deal with the problems.

Becoming Mommy said...

Actually, I only start hemming and hawing and become uncomfortable when dealing with the "walk it off/rub dirt in it" kind of people. So many of them could stand to see someone, but never will.
And taking a medication to help you out for a problem, be it temporary or permanent shouldn't be seen as bad. It's actually just you taking care of yourself.
There was a time when my life was...lets just say really unpleasant. I was struck with the most horrible case of insomnia and became wound so tight it’s a wonder I didn't snap. I saw my GP, she asked what was going on, and when I told her she gave me xanax.
But my causes were external, fixable, and therefore temporary so she didn't give me very much. Just a little so I could go about fixing my problems in a more healthy state.
Worked wonders and so if someone needs meds, they should get them!!!

Cloud said...

As far as I'm concerned, your anti-depressants are no different than my asthma medicine- drugs that help us get our systems back in balance and that we may not have to take someday if we manage to get our symptoms under control with other means.

I'm glad the meds are helping you.

K8 said...

Amen! I started on Zoloft the instant I hit my second trimester, and it's working great for me! I am chronically depressed, with a dollop of SAD just for fun. This last January (my first while on brain meds) was one of my best ever. I know very well that I wouldn't be in nearly as good shape now without them.

HeatherY said...

My Mom struggled with anxiety and depression and it took a long time for her to deal with the fact that she needed medication. You have to do what you have to do. It's the best thing you can do for yourself and your family. Take it from a "child" who's mom used to throw fits and lock herself in the bathroom and sob for hours. People who frown on meds have never dealt with someone truly struggling with depression.

Anonymous said...

It's really awesome that you can explain this in a straightforward, common sense way. Thanks again, Caramama for your thoughts on this subject.

z said...

I am glad that you are taking care of yourself and even gladder(?) that you have found a doctor to work with. In taking care of your mind and your emotions it is even more vital that you are with a doctor you like and trust and who listens to you.

I suffer from SAD, I think, it's never been officially diagnosed so can you share what is light therapy?

paola said...

I'm so glad you have found a way to feel better. 6 months every year really is a long time to feel so bad.

I really got a lot out of reading your post. It will make me view my MIL's mental illness in a different way as I have always thought half of her problems would go away if she would only 'buck up'.

My MIL is clinically depressed and on top of that she has a cleaning related OCD, which if she doesn't give into, makes her even more depressed. So, doubly whammy for her, poor thing. Unfortunately she is one of the unlucky ones who can't get the balance right with the meds and if you ask her, always feels lousy. I hope one day she can get to that point of normality you describe. The problem is that she was euphoric for such a long time ( mild bipolar thrown in as well), that 'normal' for her is being 'high' all the time and when she isn't up she isn't happy. it's a very difficult situation for her and the ones around her.

Colleen said...

This is something I've been struggling with...to make the time, to get up the nerve, to go to my doctor and tell him how crazy and how I feel nearly immobilized with anxiety. But it's a big step to take..to admit you need help when, like you said, you get people who tell you to just sleep more (yeah right!) and get some exercise. After a while you start to believe them, that all you need is better sleep and a few laps around the block.

After I had Cooper, I was miserable and had difficulty coping, so my doctor gave me something (can't remember now), but it made me feel so weird and made my throat ache, and didn't really give me any relieve to my anxieties, so I stopped taking it because all it did was add to the existing problem. I think part of why I'm feeling so hesitant is because I'm afraid I'll have to run through a ton of meds to see which one helps me cope without adding other issues.

I have other reasons as well, but if I get started on them folks will be here all day and will really get a good dose of my neuroses. :)

Karen said...

Each person has to find what works for them, and if you need anti-depressants to help with your SAD then by all means, take them. I've never understood either why people treat mental illnesses differently.

Shellie said...

Hooray for this post! It needs to be plastered all over the place for everyone to read. Lets hope to further enlightenment in the future for more people!

Trannyhead said...

Good for you for trying medication. I hope it continues to work well for you.

PS - The "fall back" sucks

PPS - Obama is totally hawt.

The Beginnings of a Ski Buddy

After lunch, my daughter and I went back up the "magic carpets" to the top of the bunny slopes. She wanted to keep skiing! With me...