What You Don’t See

Psychotropic drugs are usually accompanied by a set of expectations, myths, misconceptions, hopes, and beliefs. When discussing it with your doctor, he/she might only give you the pertinent medical information. Your friends and family, on the other hand, will let you know how it affects you in real, day to day life, as they are the ones who notice the impact it has on you and the side effects it brings on. Yet, you are the only person who can really decide if it’s working for you or not. Only you get to experience what it feels like to take the drug or not. Only you get to experience the side effects to its fullest extent. And only you get to decide if it’s worth it or not.

Doctors will mostly share the major side effects, like death, immune system failure and body tremors. Knowing all of this is indeed important, and yet, there are so many little things that you will soon discover come with taking those drugs. Some doctors might fail to notify you that sometimes it gets worse before it gets better. And suddenly without prior notice you find yourself in worse moods with depressing thoughts, puzzled and not knowing how it happened. Also, you might be told by your family or friends that you grind your teeth while sleeping, that you snore, or that you drool excessively. If you’re in a relationship, your partner might suddenly be dealing with a hit of mood swings from your part, until your body gets used to the medication. So often, our libido or sexual drive goes down to nothing while on medication and your partner might be wondering if there’s anything on their part that has caused it, making them feel inadequate and like a failure when it is completely not in either their control.

Each one of us, deals with our unique situation and therefore, unique side effects. And though one medication might fit perfectly with you, it might do more harm than help for me. Some hit it off with the right drug at the first try, and others can go through months and months of trial and error, medication change, and adjustments.

Sometimes, our loved ones only see and understand what is visible to the naked eye. What they don’t realize is that there’s so much more hiding beneath the surface. They might only notice our fatigueness and drowsiness, without realizing that instead of no sleep at all, we had 4 hours of sleep. They only see us dragging ourselves out of bed in the morning, without realizing that we might have spent a week in bed if not for our medications. Thus, I find it important to destroy the stigma that surrounds mental health and mental health medications. The more familiar we are with what’s happening to us, the more we can make our loved ones understand what’s happening to us. Because most of what’s happening to us, is invisible.

What people fail to notice are how our successes measure up, despite some drawbacks. They fail to notice that behind all those side effects that change our appearance, like weight gain, acne, or tremors, there are benefits that are essential to our happiness and ability to go through with day to day life. They fail to notice that it hurts to be judged based on something that is completely out of our control.

Recently, I broke up with a guy, who I was hoping will be my forever guy. The reason we broke up? Because I put up too much weight causing him to lose his attraction to me. To be honest, I was very hurt, even though it was the honest-to-goodness truth. In two months, I have put up 30 lbs. Not because I was careless or was overeating, in fact I have been walking a lot more every day and have focused and made sure to have three healthy meals a day. So what happened? I have been experimenting with different medications, trying to find the right one. I felt blessed to have found one that works after a while. The downside? The side effects of that particular drug is weight gain. And so, I found myself a lot happier but also a lot heavier. And for that to be the reason for a break up, hurt a whole lot, because it was something that’s completely out of my control.

And therefore, I am writing to all of you; those with mental illnesses and to those who live and love someone with mental illness. Know that there is more than meets the eye. If you notice that your friend/family member is more fatigued, ask if he needs help with daily tasks and chores. If you notice something that concerns you, ask them to bring it up with their doctor. Don’t judge, because there is so much beneath the surface of what you see.

And please, even though we put up 30 lbs, drool excessively in our sleep, or experience tremors throughout the day, love us anyway. We are self conscious about all of those changes that are happening to us and it’s hard to practice self-love. We try our best to live life as best as we can with our challenges and receiving love and reassurance can mean the world to us. Literally. The whole wide world.

And to those of us fighting the good fight, keep fighting. If you have concerns or are uncomfortable, speak to your doctor. If you need help or some tender love and care, don’t be afraid to reach out to family and friends.

And though my relationship has ended, it strengthened my relationship with my inner self. Because I stood in front of the mirror and saw what you don’t see. Hiding behind my extra 30 lbs was a good heart who tries its best.

Last Night

Last night, you dragged me home from the pub -drunk- after a drink too many of Chardonnay. And this morning, as I nursed my hangover, you  shared with me how scared you were last night. And yet, I have no recollection of the night’s events.

You are not the only one to tell me that you’re scared. My therapist says that my nihilist attitude scares her. My friends and family keep checking in on me, because they are afraid I might act on my suicidal thoughts. Strangers keep a distance and think twice before befriending me, because I scare them away.  And I know you have my well being in mind, I know you want the best for me, and you mean well when you check in on me. But, still, it hurts to know that I scare people.

Let me tell you how I feel. I’m scared too. I scare myself every night. And when I wake up in the morning, the fear is still there. I am scared by my suicidal thoughts and even more so that I can’t stop them. I am afraid that I might not be strong enough today and engage in self harm. I am scared by my bitter attitude, knowing that it pushes people away and leaves me on my own to fend for myself in this scary world. I’m scared of my urges to drink and smoke, because I don’t know if I’ll be strong enough to not act on those urges. I’m scared to look at my bottle of medication, because it triggers more fears. I wake up afraid, and go to sleep afraid; I can be my biggest enemy.

Last night, when you dragged me home and told me how scared you are, I wanted to hold on to you, keep you close, and tell you how scared I am. I don’t want to scare people away, because I know how it feels to be scared of myself. Last night you experienced what I experience every night. (and sometimes every day)

So please, when you feel afraid, know that I am just a frightened little girl and I need all the support I can get. I know it’s hard, but together we are stronger and together we can conquer our fears.

Powered by Gatorade

‘It’s just another fight I’m going to have to learn how to win, that’s all. I’m just going to have to keep smiling.’
-Serena Williams

Professional tennis player, Serena, has been ranked World No. 1 in singles on six separate occasions. What makes her success so remarkable, is not so much her victories, but her drive to win. She has become the definition of effort; a constant, undeniable determination. Her name has become synonymous with excellence. No obstacles, nor haters have stopped her. She plays to win.

Recently, I have been hospitalized for a week. I was experiencing a severe panic attack and my mind resorted to suicidal thoughts. Battling anxiety isn’t easy, and after a fifteen-minute, painful battle, I picked up the phone and reached out for help. I called my doctor and a close family member. I am lucky enough to have a great support system and I was taken to the hospital where I stayed for a while to be monitored and have my medications adjusted.

I spent some lonely hours in the emergency unit of the hospital in a room with nothing but a bed and bare walls. It gave me a lot of quiet time to calmly reflect and think about life, my choices and decisions; past, present and future. As I was thinking, the nurse handed me a big bottle of orange Gatorade to keep me hydrated. I was slowly sipping from the bottle when I saw Serena, in all of her glory, on the Gatorade label. Suddenly, Serena was my only connection to the outside world, as no cellphones or visitors are allowed on the unit. I thought about her image. I thought about her love of sports and her determination to go all the way. I thought about her willpower and her strength; how she never gives up. I thought of the battles she’s been through, her injuries, her haters; and yet she still fiercely plays and goes for the goal. She is not only an image in the sports’ world, but as a woman I admire her immensely. Her attitude and determination is what earned her a total of 22 Grand Slams. And when she says that it’s her hard work that made her a champion, I believe her. It’s not luck that has brought her this far.

We, Serena and I, play different games. I battle my own mind and strive to conquer my anxiety and negative thoughts. I aim for the championship. I want those 22 Grand Slams. And suddenly, right there on my hospital bed, I realized that it takes hard work, determination, and a willpower made of unbreakable steel. If I’m going to wait for my good luck to kick in, I will spend every other week in the hospital for another anxiety episode or panic attack. I stared at that black and white image and engraved it in my head. I engraved Serena’s message. Victories don’t come easy, but they are worth it. Serena is an inspiration to so many, and maybe one day, if I’m lucky enough my battles will inspire someone also. 

I embraced all the love and support I received and let my doctors help me, because this was the first step in my journey to stardom. And from here and on, I play to win. 

Thank you, Serena Williams. And thank you, Gatorade. (You know, just for keeping me hydrated.) 

The Key to Healing

My friends like to hang out sometimes and have fun. So do I. After all, life is short and if we’re not going to make the most of it, nobody else will do it for us. 

And yet, it has become increasingly hard for me to chill with my friends. Bar? Oops, no alcohol for me. Drug interactions, you know… Coffee? Uh oh, no caffeine. My anxiety might just go through the roof. Nighttime meet-up? Won’t work. I need to stick to my schedule and can’t go to bed too late. Breakfast? Oh well, you know how my medications work… I need extra sleep. Just a nice walk or brunch? See, my medications make it very difficult for me to keep up a conversation or have a decent train of thoughts. I lose my focus fairly quickly and it’s hard for me to concentrate. I don’t feel like myself at all. 

Every time my friends decide to get together, the battle in my head begins. Should I take my medications today and skip the meeting? Should I take my medications and go anyway feeling like a sleeping cloud? Or should I skip my medications and just have fun? And deal with the consequences tomorrow? In my mind, I know what the right thing to do is. I know I need to keep taking my medications to be healthier and feel better. I know that skipping a night won’t do good for anyone. And still, it’s hard to feel so bland all the time. As much as I crave normalcy and routine, the inner disorder in me craves chaos. And so my judgement becomes clouded and decision making  becomes so damn tough. 

I’ve made the mistake of going three days without medication while being on vacation. The first two days felt really good. I was able to drink, have fun and feel like my old self. Yet, by the time the third day rolled around, I felt sick to my stomach and my anxiety levels skyrocketed. My depression hit an all time low and I knew that not being compliant only harms me. 

The one thing my doctors and therapists have asked of me is to be compliant. And I know that in order for me to feel better mentally, physically and emotionally I need to stick to my medication regimen. Compliance is key to healing. 

So, to all of my friends I ask of you to please help me and support me in my journey to recovery. If you ever invite me out, please make sure that I take my medications. It is not your responsibility but sometimes all I need is a good friend to remind me. And if I’m quiet while all of you are having fun, please understand that it’s healthier to stick to my medications than to drink or have too much fun. And if you have any other friends with mental health issues please don’t pressure them too much into hanging out. Please be a good friend and understand that medications and compliance is the first step to healing. 

Compliance ensures we have a better quality of life.