For some young people struggling with their mental health, making the choice to take medication can be an important step in the process of getting help. Here, three young adults discuss their personal experiences with mental health medication, and the stigma and stories that surround it.
Please note: we are not mental healthcare professionals. If you are curious about whether or not mental health meds might be right for you, please contact your doctor or psychiatrist.
Georgia Wright, 27, on pre-medication jitters
I was pretty nervous when I first went on my meds. I went on probably four or five years ago when I was having really bad OCD symptoms, these intrusive thoughts. Even though I was really suffering, I was still afraid. I thought that the medication was going to change my personality, or give me all these intense side effects, or something.
I also thought it was going to work really fast. I remember feeling like, “If this does anything, it’s going to just happen overnight and it’s going to be a magic bullet for my anxiety,” which totally wasn’t what the doctors told me. And it did not act immediately. It took several months for me to start feeling the effects of it. It was such a gradual shift that I didn’t notice it at first. And then after a while I was like, whoa, my highs don’t feel quite as high and my lows don’t feel quite as low. I feel a little more stabilized. For me, that was really what I needed, to feel a bit steadier.
I didn’t feel like I was any different as a person. If anything, it just let all of the clutter in my brain get out of the way so that my personality could shine through even more.
What I had been afraid of was that it was going to alter my personality for the worse. But actually, it made it more possible for me to be myself without being constantly held back by all of these terrible thoughts that were getting in the way of me living my life.
The entire time I’ve been on medication, I’ve also been in therapy. They both have a time and place, and they both support each other. I don’t know. I think it would have been hard for me to get to a place where I could do the work in therapy without the medication. But it also would have been hard for me to try to take the medication without doing the work. They both needed to be there.
Now, I am slowly tapering off the meds, under the guidance of my psychologist. I’ve been on them for so long that I want to remember what it’s like to be off them. Just gathering information, you know? I might decide I like it better on them and pick right back up. Or stay off them completely, since I have a lot of other therapy tools to handle my anxiety and OCD that I didn’t have before. Or maybe I’ll stick with a lower dose. We’ll see how it goes.
Nyge Turner, 25, on medication misconceptions
Everybody told me, “Oh, don’t have all these super high expectations. Don’t think that medication is just going to be like this magical fix to all of your anxiety or whatever.” I listened and I was like, “Oh yeah, of course. Of course, I won’t think that.” But for some reason, something in me was like, “When I take this, I should be able to feel it like, tomorrow.”
After I got put on medication, I also started taking these anxiety classes at the same time. And everybody kept talking about, like, “You have to do the work, you have to do the work, you have to do the work.” And I thought medication was the work. And so I was like, “I’m doing the work. You know, I’m taking medication.”
But the work is not the medication.
The medication is just one of my many tools I was able to develop over time to learn to manage my mental health. And I think that’s what really changed things for me, learning to view it as just another one of my tools – like my meditation, like my five senses, like all these other methods I use to manage my anxiety.
Once I started thinking about it like that, then it all made sense for me. But it definitely wasn’t what I thought it would be. And it definitely didn’t work in the way that I had imagined it working.
Merk Nguyen, 25, on her very first pill
As a kid, I wasn’t diagnosed with any mental health conditions. From what I knew, no one else in my family had any issues either. When doctors asked about our mental health history, I’d think, “Well, my mom and dad lived through the Vietnam War and witnessed horrible things in their youth…” But I’d say, “Not that I know of,” because I honestly didn’t know. Mental health wasn’t something we talked about openly in my house. And talk therapy? Yeah, that was treated like a joke.
However, I was starting to get so anxious to the point where it was hard for me to work, make decisions (even small ones like what music I wanted to listen to!) or to feel like myself. So, I booked an appointment with my doctor to get help.
She asked, “How many times a week would you say you get anxious?” I hadn’t been keeping track but it was at least three. She then described the kinds of medications that might work for me and I decided on one.
Before prescribing this med, she told me to log when I am even thinking about using it to help me notice my anxious patterns. She also told me to think of the meds as a “break glass in case of emergency” and to ask myself, “Is this something worth calling the fire department for?”
One day, I decided it was time to break the glass, and took half a pill. Within the hour, I fell asleep. Then a few hours later, I woke up with racing thoughts. I didn’t think they worked and I didn’t take any more until my anxiety hit another high a couple months later. That time, I was actually able to get half of a project done without feeling overly incompetent to the point of paralysis. It wasn’t a perfect experience. But it was a start.
I haven’t touched the anxiety stuff since but have started seeing a therapist and taking antidepressants. I started on the lowest dosage, which took a while for my body to adjust to. I also didn’t start feeling its full effects until I increased my dosage and figured out what time of day taking the pills would work best with my body. It took about six months for me to get to a point where I feel like myself again.
Even though I initially saw the need for meds as a weakness, I see it as a strength now. Because I cared enough about myself to do something for myself when everything else didn’t seem to work.
Medication wasn’t the sole solution though — having a strong support system, talk therapy and reading practical books about self-compassion was helpful. The most important thing I’ve learned in all of this though? To not give up on myself.
MORE MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES
- Latinx Therapy
- Therapists of Color
- Asian Mental Health Collective
- Therapy for Black Men
- Therapy for Black Girls
- National Queer & Trans Therapist Network
Even MORE resources on this Google Doc