If you manage any type of disorder or condition on the daily, you’re well aware that some days the struggle is real.
Deciding to seek “treatment” for what is coming up for you can garner different reactions for everyone. You may feel relief because you’re taking action, or you may feel like a failure, thinking:
“Why can’t I just deal with this myself?”
Sometimes people need an outside objective perspective on their situation to get them “unstuck.” And sometimes people need the support of medication to allow them to function better. Suffice it to say, I champion for people getting the help that they need, but also want people to accept themselves as capable, lovable, and beautiful just as they are, right now. Needing support isn’t a weakness, and seeking it out is just a sign that you care enough about yourself to do so.
If you are pondering seeking outside help, support, or treatment for what you are going through, here are some things to consider.
Back to the Basics
Oftentimes the very things we don’t feel like doing are the things that can help us the most.
This includes proper sleep hygiene, exercise, diet, and management of chronic conditions. Take a self-inventory.
Do you go to bed and wake up around the same time every day? This can make a HUGE difference. If you get restful sleep, you feel much more capable of dealing with hardship, mental health symptoms, and frustration. If you drink caffeine on into the evening, you may want to consider cutting back. Having a bedtime ritual that doesn’t involve screen time can be relaxing and signal to your body that it’s time to relax.
Having a healthy physical way to get energy out can be a tremendous help, even if it’s just walking for 30 minutes a few times a week.
When we’re feeling icky, we are more likely to crave the foods that aren’t beneficial for us (sweets, too many carbs, etc). Pay close attention to your portions and what you are consuming. Sugar rushes (and then crashes) absolutely affect your mood.
Finally, if you have a chronic condition like diabetes, make sure that you are being mindful of your needs.
Paying attention to all of these things at once may seem overwhelming, but they are definitely a great place to start.
“You could be seeing the greatest counselor in the world, but if you are sleep-deprived and malnourished, your progress may be significantly slower.”
I realize that these are the very things you may not feel like doing when a mental health flare up comes along, but even putting effort toward just one of the above points can make a difference.
Counseling can help you to unravel what is going on in your mind.
You may become aware of some of your thinking and/or behavior patterns that aren’t serving you well. I think everyone can benefit from counseling and ideally, I think people should start with counseling before they turn to medication. I realize that when people have more severe symptoms that may not be possible, and that’s totally ok.
Having space to be able to express yourself freely and get feedback is invaluable, and overtime, you’ll likely start to feel like a weight is being lifted.
It may take time for you to find a counselor you connect with. Give a counselor at least 3 sessions or so before deciding they aren’t for you. Rapport takes time to build. Just don’t give up. Someone out there can be of assistance to you.
“I think people should start with counseling before they turn to medication”
“Choosing to go on medication is such a personal choice.”
Some conditions have an identifiable physical basis/connection, while for others that connection might not be as clear. However, if you find yourself struggling in the extreme and unable to carry out your daily functions, it may be time for you to consider trying medication (even just temporarily). These decisions should always be made in consultation with a doctor and mental health professional.
Do your own homework on the type of medication being prescribed to you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Some medications take a few weeks to build up in your system for you to get the full therapeutic benefit, which can be frustrating, so it’s important to be aware of that. Others can be fast-acting and habit forming, such as Xanax. This specific medication can help to physically stop anxiety/panic, but then if you use this on the daily, your mind/body won’t be used to riding the anxiety wave and getting used to dealing with it naturally/organically. Be aware of that.
“Do your own homework on the type of medication being prescribed to you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!”
I would like to emphasize that medication can be a tool for some people to get through a tough time, whereas for others it is absolutely necessary for daily functioning and is going to be a life-long support. Either is ok, but have in your mind what medication might mean for you.
I am of the opinion that medication should be supplemented with counseling, almost always, so that when/if you choose to go off of them, you’ll have added skills and insight in your repertoire.
I have had pretty severe anxiety for most of my life, but I actually attribute that to relational trauma rather than any free standing anxiety disorder. Anyway. I’ve received counseling from numerous clinicians… some were awful. But the one I see now every other week/monthly, I’ve been seeing for 10 years, and that has worked for me. Not all counseling relationships have to be that long standing, but oftentimes with trauma work that’s what ends up happening. I would say that my ability to be so high functioning has everything to do with my self-care and counseling support.
I did try medication for a time and while it served its purpose, my overall experience with it was awful. I’ll paint a quick picture for you.
I was in my undergraduate studies and dealing with near daily panic attacks after spending lectures in crowded halls. I would have to come back to my dorm room, have my attack, then sleep for hours. My roommate can attest to this and it was a miserable existence. It was to the point where I thought I may have to drop out so my counselor recommended trying medication and connected me with a psychiatrist.
I was put on Effexor right off the bat and I’m not sure why. The psychiatrist I met with probably talked with me for a total of 10 minutes before handing me that prescription. At the time I was young and desperate for relief … and I didn’t look into this drug. I will say, that for me, it did stop my panic attacks, but it also stopped me being human.
Please note, Effexor does work for some people, however, it didn’t work for me and the side effects were atrocious.
“I had withdrawal if I skipped a pill: brain zaps, dry heaving, eyes unable to focus, etc. I couldn’t cry while on Effexor even if I wanted to.”
I felt miserable still… just without panic. I can’t describe the sensation adequately. It wasn’t just physically or mentally miserable, it was a terrifying hollowness on a spiritual level. My psychiatrist wanted me to keep increasing the dosage and add Lamictal on top of it. Finally I just said no and switched to a different psychiatrist who said I likely didn’t need any medication, so I was started on Zoloft in order to get off of Effexor. I don’t blame myself or anyone for this poor experience with medication. I know why I sought the extra support at the time and I am grateful that I am able to manage without medication currently.
This whole medication ordeal lasted about 3 years and I haven’t been on any medication for anything mental health related since then. I still have days where I struggle, but I have found what works for me in my situation, I’ll share a little below.
In order for me to function and not get my trauma-response all triggered:
I have to have down time. I have to sleep well. If I don’t sleep well for multiple days in a row that’s dangerous, so I guard my sleep time.
I work to say no when I need to say no and put my needs first. If I don’t have personal boundaries, I am in danger of being trauma-activated, which spells a shut down for me… sometimes for days. It’s very rare that that happens for me anymore, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
I still have regular “tune ups” with my long-term therapist from time to time, which is always helpful.
- For me, getting a lot of cardio exercise is needed. I swim 30-40 laps a couple times a week at a local Y to get energy out and do other high intensity cardio that gets me panting/out of breath. That never induced panic for me, but it helps me get some of my more nervous energy out. I find that when I do this regularly I can focus so much easier and not get overwhelmed.
- Eating has been a struggle for me at times, but when I am exercising regularly, I don’t tend to overeat. All of those bullet points in the first section are interrelated.
What works for me and my prescription for living well may not work for you, but try to mix and match some of the ideas in this blog until you find your “sweet spot” of flow. I’m sure you will. Be well.
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