Featured on the The Root. Author: Aliya King
For twenty-five years, I’ve had to work through anxiety, depression and all sorts of mental health stuff. What have I learned?
You need the right team to stay healthy. And just like any illness, it will likely start with some sort of medical intervention. But many times, people turn up their nose at the idea of taking medication for mental health.
So, let’s say you break your leg.
What’s your first move?
A. Go vegan
B. Walk it off
C. Pray over it
D. Go to the hospital and get it set in a cast.
The answer, of course, is D. You can pray over it too. But what’s the first step? A broken leg is a trauma—treat it as such.
Depression is also a trauma. If you, or someone you know, is feeling down, if they’ve been depressed or anxious or manic for some time and showing no improvement, you need to take them to a doctor who specializes in those symptoms. That would be a therapist and/or a psychiatrist. If that doctor suggests medications, try them!
I don’t know many people who would turn down chemotherapy or open heart surgery, Tylenol for a headache, Nyquil for a cold, or pain reliever for that root canal. But as soon as the idea of medication for mental health is presented, psychiatrists are looked at as evil villains working for Big Pharma who don’t have our interests in mind.
Truth be told, that can be the case for any doctor. We take our risks with the medical field all the time. The truth is, unless you take literally no medication at all for any reason, there’s no reason why you can’t at least try what’s suggested for your mental health.
Depression is relatively easy to treat and you don’t have to necessarily take the medication indefinitely. I have opted to remain on a low dosage of Wellbutrin, the antidepressant I’ve used for many years because I appreciate my moods being stabilized. I don’t want depression to sneak up on me, especially when the seasons change. But some folks take it just until they feel better and then work with a doctor on how to move forward. Go dairy free! Get your prayer on! Walk a mile a day! Drink that herbal tea! It all helps. But most of the time, like that broken leg, you will likely need your mood stabilized and reset first.
Now, I want to talk about Lithium.
(And please understand, I’m not recommending any med on behalf of anyone or any company. But it makes no sense for me to be this transparent and not do my best to explain my journey.)
Lithium has been used for over one hundred years for a variety of illnesses. It’s been a go-to for mental disorders since 1948. It’s considered one of the safest and most essential medications for a modern health system.
I never wanted to take it, though it was suggested to me several times over the years. It made me think of movies like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and I’d always read that it could stunt one’s creativity.
Two years ago, my new doc asked me to just try it out. If it didn’t work out, we’d go off of it and try something new. He told me to expect to feel something within a week or two.
I felt different the very next day.
Something just went quiet in my mind. I felt like I could see more clearly. It seemed as if I could take deeper breaths. I felt ... regular.
I was relieved.
And then I sobbed.
I thought of my nineteen-year-old self and how she needed Lithium, not Prozac. I thought of my postnatal self, after the birth of my child and how Lithium would have helped me then.
From ages 19 to 42, Lithium should have been a part of my treatment plan. I can only look forward and be grateful that this common, inexpensive medication is part of my daily routine. It’s definitely not a cup of tea or a vegan diet. But I’ll take it.
Meds are not a cure-all. They come with side-effects that can range from annoying to dangerous. I am thirty pounds heavier than I am when I am not on meds. Not cool. There can be nausea, dizziness, hand tremors, dry mouth, insomnia—and that’s just the side effects of one of my meds.
My doc and I are on a constant quest for best results with the least side effects. Let’s go down a half milligram here. Let’s try taking this one on a full stomach, and for this one, let’s do a dose in the AM and one in the PM.
After two years of working with my doctor, I have agency over my medications and how I take them. I recently did my homework and decided to remove one of my meds from my routine. My doctor trusts me and knows that I pay attention to my symptoms and I make lots of choices for myself, from dosage adjustments to switching things around.
Before I met my new doc, I was in a very bad place. I was depressed and didn’t have any health insurance. I called my last doc and offered to pay out of pocket just to come in and get a prescription for Wellbutrin. They told me it was a three-month waiting list. Just to come in for a prescription. I called doctors all around my area. Either they weren’t taking clients at all or had a months-long waiting list. Every day, through tears, I called more and more doctors with no results.
I was afraid. I knew that if I didn’t get treatment soon, the depression would take away my drive to find a doctor.
I called an ER, asking if I could be prescribed an antidepressant. The nurse told me that I would have to be admitted to the psych unit in order to get meds. I didn’t want to leave my kid and I didn’t want to be in a hospital so I kept searching. The nurse told me to call a doctor in private practice who didn’t take any insurance but would likely have an opening.
They said I could come in the next day. The price: $500 for a consultation.
This doctor doesn’t take insurance. Which means he can see a limited amount of patients who can pay out of pocket. And unlike most doctors, he can spend an hour with each patient since he charges a full fee without paperwork.
I didn’t have $500. I gave up. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen.
Then, I gathered up the last bit of strength I had and did the unthinkable—I asked for help. I’m crying right now thinking about how a feeble cry for help led to $500 in my hands almost immediately.
I made it to that first appointment. I got my prescription and never looked back.
I needed a reset. I got it. No crutches and no limp. Now, I fly.
P.S. I am writing this story in the hopes that someone reading this will say, I’m ready to try. I don’t want to feel like this anymore.
What we must also remember is that there are people in our lives who want us to be well. We have to respect that we’re not always easy to care for. Hell, we’re not always easy to like.
For Mental Health Awareness Month, I also want to bring awareness to those that sacrifice so much to take care of us and keep us going. Even when we’re struggling. Especially when we’re struggling. I want to thank the people in my life who never give up on me. My village includes Travis who doesn’t care that I HATE to be reminded to take my meds, and for understanding that date night will always end at 9 o’clock. Thank you to Kathleen for being a therapist, a life coach and a financial advisor, sometimes all in the same hour, my dear Ukachi, for starting my wellness in motion when I needed it most and to Dr. Merritt Hubsher, for giving me wings.