In American culture it is normal for a doctor to prescribe medicine right off the bat, especially when it comes to mental health. Medications, advances in technology, and sciences are outstanding and by all means have helped our civilization, but I firmly believe that mental illnesses are just a dumping ground for medication and other alternative options are hardly ever discussed nor explained.
For some people the right mixture of talk therapy and pills work tremendously well. The problem is, the depression or the anxiety or the schizophrenia or the OCD or whatever you may have doesn't get magically erased once the pill is swallowed. I think that is half the problem, that Americans think they don't have to do anything else but take a white tablet to solve their problems. Just like the human brain, it is not that simple. Sure Prozac may help in the uptake of the serotonin neurotransmitters, and Lithium has been used to treat bipolar and manic depression for decades, and Abilify is prescribed to schizophrenics to restore the balance in the brain but all these prescribed medications have side effects such as mania, insomnia, loss of muscle tone, heart disease, thyroid disease, and even suicide. Strange, isn't it? That the pill you are taking to save your life may ultimately lead to your demise. I guess I find it more problematic than other people though, since prescription medication is increasing as we speak.
A year ago I was on 13 different medications a day. And to be honest I don't remember much from that time of my life because I felt like a zombie. I slept for days on end, had no motivation for anyone or anything, and I felt like I was locked inside a cage, trapped deeply in a dark corner of my head. And the doctors said that maybe a few more pills would do the trick, to help me become myself again. To become myself again? I was myself 7 years ago, before I was prescribed any drug, but still had all the mental disorders I am labeled with today. Being on medication and being off medication, I saw no real difference. Without medicine I am sometimes moody, hyper, depressed, psychotic, funny, quiet or boring. With medicine I am the same, but it was when I was on medicine that I ended up in a psych ward. I was on medicine when I couldn't sleep for three weeks straight and bought Christmas presents for everyone I knew in the middle of February. I was on one of my newest medications when I fainted two days in one week; the other days I was constantly nauseous. It was when I was on medication that my physical therapist pointed out that the medication I was taking could have easily caused my weak joints, back pain and muscle loss.
My point is, I have had as many psychotic episodes, suicidal thoughts, panic attacks and insomnia driven splurges during my use of prescribed drugs as I have had off them. And, although I don't keep detailed notes, I may even feel positive in saying that some medications made my mental psyche worse than before. 3 weeks ago now, with the doctors scrambling to decide what pill to give me next, I decided to break-up with the pharmaceuticals altogether. My psychiatrist wanted me to go on lithium next, saying how he would have to monitor my organs and blood levels due to lithium's side effects. He also said that lithium may not even work at all, and might make my mood even more erratic than it already was. I said, "No thank you," I had been soothing myself for 21 years, I knew that if I found other ways to make myself feel safe I would want to try that first.
Meditation is a mental tool I utilize to ground myself. I learned how to really tap into mediation during my yoga teacher training, but never gave it my full attention. In the past few weeks I have started meditating every day, and it has been helping. Meditation is not witchcraft or religious or a cult inspired thing, it is literally about focusing on the mind's capability. Meditation practices are techniques that encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm seeing of the true nature of things. You can start small by focusing on the flickering of a candle, the smell of a burning fire, the sensation of your body on the ground, letting chocolate melt on your tongue without any interruption or chewing, listening to your body and its vibrations while chanting a mantra. Sometimes when I just lay next to my dog, looking up close at everyone of his individual hairs, that is my meditation. It doesn't have to be fancy to work. There are a million different meditations out there, you just have to find one that you like. And don't sit in meditation for an hour straight your first time, you don't need to. You can begin with a minute, or two minutes and see how you feel and how you like it. Observe yourself, don't judge or question.
Now I am not saying meditation is the cure for every mental disorder, it surely is not. But it can be part of it. American school systems fail to teach about mental awareness, self-soothing practices, or enjoying solitude. I teach a kids yoga class once a week and I always bring them into a meditation — I have been teaching for a year now and every class the kids say the meditation is one of the most relaxing and best parts. Their parents thank me, saying they can never get their own child to calm down, focus or be happy the way I do. I simply tell them, it is the meditation, being aware of one's own self. I think that meditating can help people understand other people, as well as their own mind and body. The thing is, you have to do positive things for yourself to get better, and that is one of the most difficult tasks in the world when you are contemplating suicide, hearing voices that aren't there, or losing all control of your body. But the mind is a powerful thing, and we need to strengthen it like we do our muscles. It takes longer than popping a pill, but the side effects are less lethal and the payoff is exponential.
Maybe mental health can be tackled with meditation, exercise, talk therapy, being outside with animals and the Earth, breathing in the air and bathing in the sun or running in the rain. Maybe focusing more on what foods we put into our body, our sleeping patterns, and our workloads would help prioritize mental health. Do you spend enough time with yourself? And I don't mean in a lonely, pitiful way but being one with yourself, discovering who you are and what you like to do. When's the last time you brought yourself on an adventure or gave yourself a gift without feeling guilty?
And, even then, with all these things some people still do need medication - that is not a sin. I just think that America wants to give you a pill first, and care later (or sometimes, never). I used to be on 13 different pills that I took morning, noon and night and now I am on none. I'm not saying that's for everyone but what I am saying is that you know yourself best; you need to study yourself and how you react with the world around you. Another thing to realize is that you will have crappy days, everybody does. A pill does not make you 100% happy all of the time, so don't be discouraged if this happens off medication as well. Our society needs to learn to be okay with having not okay days. Life isn't always amazing, sometimes it's shitty as hell but both parts are equally valuable. (It's okay if you are in the shitty part, just because it is not shown on TV shows or magazines does not mean other people aren't going through it too.) I also find people who are diagnosed with mental disorders to totally forget everything else that makes them human. You are not bipolar, you have bipolar disorder. You are not OCD, you have OCD. Also, some of the most brilliant pieces of art or mathematical equations or groundbreaking discoveries occur from someone with a mental illness, or during a rage of mania. Just because you are different does not mean you are broken.
Some people need to take medication to feel their best, but this is not a given rule. Everybody is different; every mind is different. And, therefore, should be medically treated that way.