Making peace with pharmaceuticals

5 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

First, the disclaimer.


I don't like Western medicine very much. I'm not a huge fan of most doctors, and they often don't like me much either. (Nothing gets on a bad doctor's bad side like a patient with an educated opinion.) I lean towards holistic treatments for most things, for myself and for my family. Even for my pets. In spite of that, I've done my share of battles with HMO's and PHP's. I've gone AMA from the NICU, PACU, and PICU. I've seen an OT, PT, ENT, geneticist, cardiologist, opthamologist, gastroenterologist, orthopedist, audiologist, and countless other -ologists. I've spent days, nights, sometimes weeks, in 7 different hospitals. All thanks to my two sons. I've also dealt with mental illness and psychological issues all my life. Bi-polar, OCD, anxiety, autism, depression, borderline personality, PTSD, ADHD, addictions, you name it, someone I love has had it. What I am about to write is simply my personal opinion, based on many years of lessons, experiences, and reflection.

We look at private things like parenting choices, marital situations, financial decisions, all from the outside

maybe even without context, certainly without intimate knowledge. And we judge those things. We all do it, myself included. It's human nature, I think, and not necessarily bad. We may simply feel pity for what we see as suffering, or be impressed by what we see as bravery. We all have our "I'll never do that!" list, don't we? Especially moms. Out of our own efforts to control the uncontrollable, we vow that something someone else has done will never be repeated by us. Those of us who consider ourselves to be a touch counter cultural, a little rebellious or opinionated, maybe more educated on certain topics, are particularly guilty of this. (Again, self included.)

Spoiler alert.     

As a professional mommy, I have done everything I said I would never do as a parent, or come uncomfortably close. Every. Single. Thing. Some things I have done by accident. (Leaving my baby in the car.) Some things I have done out of desperation. (Giving my baby formula.) Some things I have done because I realized it was just more fun that way. (Cookies for dinner.) 13 years in to this parenting thing, I know for sure that I know nothing for sure anymore. However, I never imagined that I would end up medicating one of my kids. And I don't mean Dimetapp. I mean full-on Western medicine, doctor prescribed, Big Pharma produced, FDA approved medication. An SSRI to be exact. I really figured my gentle mothering, baby-led weaning, co-sleeping, sling wearing, homeschooling ways would protect us all against this sort of thing. That somehow, because I am so very different from my own mother, that my son would be very different from me. Yet there I was yesterday, at the drive thru pharmacy picking up our identical prescriptions. The anxious apple does not fall far from the OCD tree. (Because the OCD tree keeps all of its apples within a nice safe, predictable distance. And the apple has separation issues.) I cannot explain the weirdness. Despite our very best efforts, my oldest son seems to have inherited more than my long eyelashes.

If there is one thing I do not mess around with, it's mental health. 

Especially adolescent mental health. I know personally what it is like to struggle with panic, racing thoughts, constant fidgeting, outbursts of anger, sensitivity to sound, impossible perfectionism, incessant worry, inability to focus. I know what it feels like to be pulled so tightly and vibrate so fast that you feel like you are going to explode. I had my first full blown panic attack when I was 11 years old. I was self-medicating and engaged in other risky behaviors by the time I was 12. It was downhill from there. The adults in my life were dealing with their own struggles, their own biases and preconceived notions, their own unresolved issues. To make matters more complicated, my OCD is a chameleon. It changes, tries to hide underneath functional behavior and things I can't explain. It likes to go away for a while just so it can return with a grand entrance. I was misdiagnosed several times. Finally, now, in my 30's, I feel like I know exactly what is going on in my brain, and I have a toolkit for how to handle it. Yoga, sleep, lifestyle changes, and much to my chagrin, prescription medication. I have tried everything else. At this point, because I am not the only one affected by my OCD, I am 100% at peace with being on some form of medication for the rest of my life. I know how I feel without it, and I would not wish it on my worst enemy. I have made my peace with pharmaceuticals.

It's harder with my son    

because we have not tried everything else. My hippie's head likes to see pharmaceuticals as a last resort, but my mother's heart wants him to find relief as soon as possible. My wish for him is that he learns to manage his OCD sooner and with more ease than I did. He will always have the freedom to explore other options as he gets older, and I can't protect him from bad decisions forever. I honestly can't really protect him from bad decisions now. After many months of discussion with the few doctors I really trust, we have stepped onto the tightrope of medication. Side effects, adverse reactions, contraindications, the whole deal. I completely understand why parents resist the idea for their kids, or for themselves. It's scary and it sucks.

I know so many families enmeshed in this struggle right now. Maybe it's a parent, maybe it's a child, maybe even our partner. I think all of us know someone who is really suffering, running themselves ragged trying "everything else", or simply living in denial. As someone who has been there and done that, I can offer two pieces of information.

  For the bystanders out there
 Your well intentioned opinions and recommendations are not helpful. (Sorry. It's true. I LOVE to share what I think I know. It may be helpful in some areas, but when it comes to this particular issue, it's just confusing.) Encourage your loved one to find a doctor where the respect and trust goes both ways, and encourage them to be 100% honest with that doctor. There are SOME good ones out there. Offer unconditional love, expect nothing, and when asked for advice, point them towards their own inner voice. Please do not tell stories about how your Aunt Tillie took Lithium and lost all her teeth. Or about how your nephew takes Rescue Remedy and doesn't have anxiety any more. Be a source of hugs, meals, babysitting, joyful activity and ridiculous fun, no strings attached. And keep your opinion to yourself.


If you or your child are the one suffering


Please, please take gentle care. Seek out a professional who listens to you, answers your questions, and respects your experiences. Let them help you create a scaffold so you can rebuild your life. It may be a prescription, it may not. Just don't let fear, pride, or denial overshadow what you know deep down. In some instances, medical intervention is absolutely the best way to go. Once you get into a more stable place, you will enjoy exploring other options. You may even find you need less intervention than you thought, if you make a few changes. I see my medication as a life jacket. I use it to keep me from drowning, but I also learned how to swim. I do a lot of other things to keep myself healthy, and my son will do the same. For now, it's the safety created by my medication that allows me to explore deeper waters. It may not be the same for you. But there is a life jacket out there, somewhere. Find it. Put it on. Keep your head above water, catch your breath, regain your strength, then learn to swim.