The last time I was on any kind of medication to treat my depression was before I got pregnant with the baby who is now a junior in high school. It’s not at all that I’m against brain meds; I just didn’t feel like I personally could make the necessary commitment to being on medication. All the people I know on medication work really hard at being compliant and have to go through so much to keep their prescriptions right. I can give you all sorts of reasons decided to stay off medication, but mostly it comes down to my lack of motivation to put together a good enough mental health care team to get me on and keep me on whatever regimen I needed.
I made a deal with myself that if I ever felt like I was slipping back into self harm, I would seek more intense treatment than the talk therapy that had so far proved enormously successful. I’m not going to kid myself into thinking that means I didn’t need medication. There were several times over the past ten years that I should have made the call, but I didn’t. I know I’m lucky to be as safe as I have been.
But all of that changed over the past few months when my sciatic nerve tumor was confirmed and I couldn’t stop obsessing over the what-ifs of having my father’s condition. After I got the call, I was convinced I would either be paralyzed or dead by Christmas and I spent that whole first night weeping at the catastrophe. And, okay, I did – for a few dark moments, I thought about ending myself before everything got too painful and I got too locked within the prison of my own body. I called my primary care doctor the next morning and got a prescription for Lorazepam, which calmed me down enough to think about the actions I could take instead of the fear I was feeling.
And I was so, so grateful.
That week I spoke to my therapist, a psychologist who does not prescribe medication herself, and she recommended a colleague of hers who does. Dr. Y. is a psychiatrist who is knowledgeable about medication dosages for AAPI patients. It is so important to me that I see providers who just get the cultural challenges I have faced since moving to the Northwest. So when I had an immediate connection with the AAPI psychiatrist recommended by my AAPI therapist, I felt like I had finally found the last piece of the mental health care team I needed to keep me safe and focused in this long-term reality of having a chronic neurological condition.
After hours of getting to know my mental and physical history, Dr. Y. suggested cymbalta because of its success in treating fibromyalgia and diabetic nerve pain. We spent an entire month discussing the ins and outs of medication management and I always felt like I was in charge of deciding whether or not to go on medication at all. I talked to my therapist at length about monitoring me as I worked to improve my brain chemistry, and she suggested so many helpful questions to take back to Dr. Y. that by the time I even got the prescription I felt incredibly prepared.
This is my third week of cymbalta, and my first week on the full dose after a two-week ramp-up. That whole first week was a blur of headaches and fatigue, but from the very first dose my nerve pain has been drastically reduced. Drastically. I haven’t had to live my life around the schedule of my next dose of pain meds, which means for hours at a time I don’t even think about my condition at all. This doesn’t feel just life changing to me. It feels, in all honesty, life saving.
And that’s just the beginning. My anxiety about everything is way down and the gaping pit of my lifelong depression doesn’t feel remotely bottomless. I’m even able to cope with the post-Obama days with determination and fight instead of overwhelm and flight.
That’s not to say that this isn’t overwhelming – I’m still actively training for the first of what will probably be many neurosurgeries and my nation is a stinking disaster. I know that there is much that can go wrong over these next days, and weeks, and beyond. But this is different from the months I spent obsessing about my condition, frantically trying to bargain my way out of having whatever genetic code made me grow this three-inch mass on my sciatic nerve. It’s different from me being swallowed whole by defeatism as I look to all the things my condition keeps me from accomplishing. Because my brain isn’t being bombarded with nerve pain and my mood is more stable than it has been in years, I have the bandwidth to focus on what I can change; what I can affect. All the things that can and already have gone right, and all the things I can do to keep things going in that same direction.
I am so thankful for my brain meds. And even more, I am thankful for the caring, wonderful woman who are collaborating with me on my mental health care. Without their guidance and their expertise, I’d be miserable and adrift. But now, thanks to them, I can plot a course. I have the resources I need to push towards my destination.
Image of various pills via Wikimedia Commons