“happy pills”

Whenever I hear medication referred to as “happy pills,” I cringe.  I take Prozac, Effexor, and Risperdal every single day, and let me tell you, they are not happy pills.  They don’t incite any kind of happiness or euphoria in me– in fact, the kinds of drugs that do that are generally illegal stimulants (heroin, cocaine, MDMA).  When people refer to mental health meds as “happy pills,” they are inferring that I get my happiness from a drug, which is point-blank untrue.

My medication essentially brings me to a “zero level” so that I can interact with the daily life in the same way as everyone else.  I still have good days and bad days, and I am influenced by events, experiences, and emotions.  These meds are in no way a blanket stimulant.

Now, I know that most people who use the term “happy pills” are generally not trying to cause a riot, but I believe that society needs to be more careful with its words.  Terms like this cast a negative stigma on taking meds and sometimes prevent people from pursuing psychiatric help, people who could really benefit from it.

I know there are a lot of opinions on medication.  It was a five-year tumultuous experience for me to get on the right cocktail of meds (including horrible side effects [Luvox, Clomipramine], mind vomit [Paxil], and a near-death allergic reaction [Propranolol]), but I believe it was worthwhile.  So while I appreciate the vibrant debate over the value of medication, I wish that we could all agree to not degrade meds by calling them “happy pills.”

meds are not happy pills

medicated

How many times does this have to happen before I realize that I cannot skip my medication?  Last week I was running late to work, and I decided to skip my morning meds (Prozac and Effexor XR), thinking how– since CBT– I have been in control of obsessions.

Bad idea.

I was pretty depressed that evening, had ridden the rollercoaster down to the very bottom, had no idea what to do with the story I’m working on, felt pretty confident I will never be published, and had very little energy for anything.  I fell asleep that night feeling like a failure at life.

I realized later that my lack of meds was probably the culprit for the low.

When will I learn?

How about you: do ever skip your meds?  How long before it affects you?

medication is scary, part two

It took me approximately five years to get on the right medication.

Over the course of the five years, I experienced the following:

* rapid weight gain (30 pounds in one month)

* deep lethargy, during which air felt stale and I had to nap for 2+ hours every day after work

* mind vomit (a phrase I coined, meaning that taking the medication exacerbated my OCD, sending me into frenetic, panicked obsessions)

* a visible tremor

* drymouth, as stanch as if I were eating Saltines and peanut butter

* dizziness and vision loss, usually paired together (One time I had a whole conversation with someone without telling him I couldn’t actually see him … I hope I appeared to be looking him in the eyes.  The dizziness/vision loss combo happened so often that I actually got used to it, could continue walking across my apartment without even slowing my step.)

* Jello-legs, so terrible that I had to lean against the stairwell wall as I descended from my second-floor apartment

* excessive sweating

* lactation (you think I’m kidding, but I’m not)

* a spasm of pain in my back that once DROPPED me to the floor like I’d been tackled from behind

* an allergic reaction that nearly killed me (please, PLEASE do not take new meds unless you have Benadryl in your home!)

And then along came Dr. Suck-Won Kim, my sweet, wonderful expert psychiatrist, who got me onto my perfect dosage of Prozac, Effexor XR, and Risperdal.

And want to know what?

It was all worth it.

medication is scary, part one

PROZAC

POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS that may occur while taking this medicine include abnormal dreams; anxiety; decreased sexual desire or ability; diarrhea; dizziness; drowsiness; dry mouth; flu-like symptoms (eg, fever, chills, muscle aches); flushing; increased sweating; loss of appetite; nausea; nervousness; runny nose; sore throat; stomach upset; trouble sleeping; weakness; or yawning.

CONTACT YOUR DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY if you experience bizarre behavior; black or bloody stools; chest pain; confusion; difficulty concentrating; exaggerated reflexes; excessive sweating; fainting; fast or irregular heartbeat; fever, chills, or sore throat; hallucinations; increased hunger, thirst or urination; joint or wrist aches or pain; loss of coordination; memory loss; new or worsening agitation, panic attacks, aggressiveness, impulsiveness, irritability, hostility, exaggerated feeling of well-being, restlessness, or inability to sit still; persistent or severe ringing in the ears; persistent, painful erection; red, swollen, blistered, or peeling skin; seizures; severe or persistent anxiety, trouble sleeping, or weakness; severe or persistent nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or headache; significant weight loss; stomach pain; suicidal thoughts or attempt; tremor; unusual bruising or bleeding; unusual or severe mental or mood changes; unusual swelling; vision changes; or worsening of depression.

I’m a Christian and I take MEDS!!!

After I wrote an article for the college newspaper, one of my former professors asked me if next year I would speak to his biblical counseling class.  Apparently, the day after the paper came out, the class had had a whole discussion on whether believers should use medications.  This professor said that in general the class seemed to think that therapy should be “enough.”

And it may be.  For some people.

I’m not going to preach, but I will do a little copy-and-paste job here and share an old story:

A man who couldn’t swim very well was stranded in the middle of the lake. He prayed to God, asking Him to save him from drowning. Shortly after, a man on a boat came by.

“Do you need some help?” He asked, slowing his boat to a stop next to the man.

“No thank you,” The man replied. “God will save me.” The man with the boat shrugged his shoulders and kept going.

Next, a man with a canoe paddled next to him, slowing to a stop and asking, “Do you need some help?”

“No thank you. God will save me.” The man replied, smiling. The man on the canoe shrugged, and paddled on.

Next, a man in a tiny paddle boat came by, stopping next to the man and asking, “Do you need some help?”

The drowning man replied, “No thank you, God will save me.” The man in the paddle boat shrugged, and paddled away.

The drowning man did indeed drown, and when he reached heaven, he asked God “Why didn’t you save me?”

God replied “I gave you three boats. What more did you want?”

lately

I was on the phone with my mom yesterday; she called because she read my last blog post about re-taking the MMPI, so we were discussing that.  I’ve been stressed lately, and struggling with some different things, but the truth of the matter is, I feel lots of freedom and very healthy.  I think it’s because I can compare everything to OCD.

I said to my mom, “Compared to the hell I went through in the throes of OCD, I don’t believe that anything could be worse than hell itself.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That surprised her.  She said, “You always seemed to be so well put together, seemed to cope so well.”

It made me laugh.  Facades can be so strong.  I was an absolute, total, complete wreck during that time.  I said to her, “I think what happens is that, with OCD, feeling awful just becomes the new norm, so it appears that way.”  Sad but so true.

Hillsong was in the Twin Cities, and Erica and I went to their concert/worship experience last evening.  The last time I went to a concert at Grace Church was in college … Audio Adrenaline and MercyMe … and last night we sat near where I sat all those years ago (would have been 2003).  I can remember that night, eight and a half years ago, and how I felt I was on such shaky ground with God.  Last night, I felt redeemed and free and grateful and healthy.

It just gives me so much hope for others who are in a bad place.  Please, Jesus, free those who are held captive by their own minds.  Work mightily through the means of Your choosing– miracles, medicines, therapies– to restore Your incredible freedom to obsessive-compulsives, and please draw all these rescued people’s eyes to You, to clearly see that You are, even now in 2011, in the business of redemption.

bullying my bully

This post from Pure O Canuck inspired me to post this excerpt from my novel.

There were new magazines on the table beside me but the same display of brochures.  I skipped the
pamphlet about CBT, feeling I knew more about it than I wanted, and chose one labeled “Narrative Therapy.”  I had intended just to skim it, to amuse myself as I waited, but the heading on the inside flap caught my attention.  “The person is not the problem,” it boldly claimed.  “The problem is the problem.”

The brochure shared how narrative therapy assumes that stories shape a person’s identity and has an emphasis on externalizing the problem.  “Name the problem—allow it to have its own identity—so that you can assess and evaluate its presence and ultimately choose your relationship to it.”  I thought briefly about Ellen’s story and the scene she’d written the other night about tricking the wizard into revealing his name.  Name something and steal its power.

On the back of the pamphlet was a photo of a young lady with thin white-blonde hair, and beneath her photograph, there was a quotation: “When I started thinking of my anorexia as separate from myself, the real healing began.  I named my problem Ed (for ‘eating disorder’), and I continually reminded myself that Ed was a liar and started to take back control.”

It all resonated with me.  In fact, it was exactly what I had been doing this last week—employing
Dr. Foster’s strategy, making observations: I am the messenger.  OCD has the message.  We are
not the same. 
“The person is not the
problem; the problem is the problem.”

“Neely,” said that familiar accent, and I looked up to see Dr. Lee, nodding at me before tearing down the hall like a shot.  I tucked the pamphlet in my purse and made my way, alone, down the hallway to his office.  I knew the next words before he spoke them, and I mouthed them along with him: “Come in.  Close door please.”

            This time he decided to reduce the Prozac, dropping me from thirty milligrams to twenty. 
He typed it into his computer and murmured, “Looking good … looking good …” as he did so.  Dr. Lee swiveled his chair to look at me.  “As we lower your dosages, you’ll have to double your behavioral therapy efforts.  You will do okay though.  This is good.  We reduce medicine side of things.  We are almost there with meds, agreed?”

“Agreed.”

“Almost there,” he said again, looking at me as if my potential were dancing atop my head like a little flame.

 

I noticed the brochure when I searched through my purse for my keys.  I sat in the driver’s seat of
my car, looking at it, re-reading it, thinking about it.  “Name the problem—allow it to have its own
identity—so that you can assess and evaluate its presence and ultimately choose your relationship to it.”  I didn’t know if Dr. Foster would approve, but as I turned the key in the ignition, I imagined my OCD as a little black dot sitting on the passenger’s seat beside me. 

It was the size of a large fist, perfectly round, and it had attitude.  Even sitting in the passenger’s seat, I could feel the way it tried to masquerade as my smarter, oppressive friend.  Its condescending
grin showed it didn’t think much of me, especially in this moment as I left the hospital, the gathering place of the weak.

As I drove, I felt the dot exuding confidence.  It actually annoyed me to the point where I said aloud, “You know what?  You think you’re sooo cool, but you’re a dot.”  Then I realized that I was talking outloud in my car and laughed a little bit.  This couldn’t possibly be what the brochure was talking about, could it? I thought.  Then with only the slightest glance at the passenger’s seat out of the
corner of my eye, I visualized a change in the black dot as I dressed it in baby clothes—a tight little blue onesie and a binky in its mouth.  It was enraged by this turning of the tables.  “Now who looks dumb?” I muttered with a smile on my lips.

my two cents

Well, wouldn’t you know it– I wrote up a whole blog entry, and it somehow vanished.  I think I might be due for a new laptop soon.

It’s been so interesting to read the comments on the last post– MLP, keep it up and one of these days you’re going to coax me away from my Prozac and onto a Maximized Living chiropractor’s table!

Let me be honest (and brief, since I’m annoyed that my post disappeared): what do I know about anything?  I don’t consider myself an expert at all.  Meds have been terrible to me and wonderful to me.  Luvox stole my energy for a time.  Salagen gave me a spasm in my back that dropped me to the floor of my apartment.  Paxil made my mind throw up on itself.  Going off of Clomipramine sunk me into a depression.  An allergic reaction to Propranolol almost sent me to meet my Maker.

And  yet the lovely little cocktail I’m on now– Prozac, Effexor, and Risperdal– seems to be going great.  I will say that I believe that the successful completion of cognitive-behavioral therapy, along with a year and a half of successes, has probably done more for me than meds ever will.  (Successes accumulate, you know, tearing away at OCD’s ridiculous pride– I love that it isn’t in charge anymore!)

I thought everyone made such good points!

I will say this one quick thing.  My body reabsorbs serotonin so quickly– is it wrong if I “level the playing field” by taking a pill to slow that down?  I don’t think it’s wrong.  I feel like it is bringing me back to “zero.”  I believe that God can and does use medication to lift sick, broken people in a fallen world out of their deficit and back to square one– in some ways, a “redemption.”  It is, afterall, His business, is it not?

Love to hear your thoughts!

Christians and medication

First, I’d love for you to read the following by John Piper:

Should Christians use anti-depressants? (by JOHN PIPER … not Jackie!)

It is a gray area. I don’t preach against anti-depressants, though I have mentioned them before and dealt with a good many people who use them.

In the secular world at large there is a huge reaction these days against the overuse and dangers of anti-depressants. The world itself is recognizing that we may be doping up too quick and too superficially.

But still, if you go to a doctor now, very often you’ll be prescribed a medicine for almost any kind of relational, emotional, or behavioral problem that you’re having. That is happening too quickly I think.

I appreciate the concern people have about the use of anti-depressants among Christians. God had something to teach Job—who didn’t have Prozac—through his pain, and he might have something to teach us too.

Therefore, I encourage slowness to use anti-depressants. God may have a way forward for someone before they start altering their mind with physical substances.

However, on the other side, it seems clear to me that the brain is a physical organ with electrical impulses and chemicals, and that mental illness is therefore not merely spiritual. No man could persuade me that all mental derangement is owing to a spiritual cause that has a purely spiritual solution.

There are physical damages that happen in life or that a person is born with that alter the brain’s functionality. The question then becomes whether we should only pray for it to be healed, or whether we might also use medicine to help it.

Just like you take aspirin to get you through a very serious back-ache, you might, for a season, take some kind of medicine that would enable you to get your bearings mentally so that you can then operate without the medicine.

Near our church there is a place called Andrew home and it houses people who are severely mentally disabled. All of them are on heavy medicines to keep them from killing themselves, killing other people, or being totally unable to work.

A few of them worship with us at Bethlehem, and I believe that through their medication they perceive and know God and that God is in fact using them for good. They are seriously mentally ill. I don’t know all of their circumstances, but I couldn’t rule out the option of medicine for them (or for others struggling with certain forms of serious depression) as a means to try and help them get their bearings.

One way medicine can be helpful is if it gets people to a point where they have enough stability to read the Bible. Then, through being able to read the Scriptures, people are able to be refreshed in the Lord and, in time, come off of the medicine. In that case medicine is a means to an end, and that seems perfectly natural to me.

© Desiring God

Well, hey there.  Jackie again. What are your thoughts on this?  I’d love to generate some discussion in the comments.  I want everyone to weigh in.  I’ll share my thoughts in another post very soon!