Trigger warning: discussion of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, suicide, medication, mental health
Disclaimer: please note I am not a qualified counsellor, medical or mental health professional. I am simply speaking from my own personal experience, mental health journey and experience with medication. Everyone reacts differently, if you are considering medication please consult your doctor and mental health professional.
Thank you for your patience everyone. I am sure that you noticed I haven’t written for a little bit. I got some unexpected and heart-wrenching personal news that I needed to take some time off to process. There is still a lot of processing going on, but today, I want to chat about something we’ve discussed briefly on the blog in the past: my mental health and specifically, my journey with medication. I recently celebrated my one-year medication anniversary. I started my medication for depression and anxiety one year ago, right after Thanksgiving, and thought now would be a good time to dive into my story about medication more. Having recently lost a loved one to suicide, my hope is also that the more we discuss mental health and medication in particular, the less of a stigma there will be around these topics and hopefully, the less people we will lose.
So, let’s start at the beginning. I talked a lot about my journey in a previous blog post, but I’ll share a simplified version here: the pandemic hit me particularly hard at an already difficult time for me, and essentially kicked the shit out of me. My mental health took a nose dive and I was in a really bad place, right at the peak of the pandemic in April 2020. By the time we hit May 2020, things were really not going well and I started having more serious conversations with my counsellor and doctor about what we could do. It was at this time that I started contemplating medication, but I just didn’t know if I was ready for that or if it would even help me. Instead, I decided that I wanted to take some more concrete steps on my own to try and benefit my mental health, before taking medication.
In short, I did this by temporarily (or what I thought would be temporary) relocating back to the Okanagan to be with my family during this time of pretty intense chaos. While I was there, I really focused on making more time for self-care. Previously, I had thought that I was “taking time for self-care”, but I wasn’t really. Even at this time, things that seemed relatively simple such as waking up, going for a walk, taking a shower and having breakfast took a considerable amount of effort. I was focusing on trying to stick with these habits each day, while trying to limit negative coping mechanisms such as binge-watching Netflix throughout the day and excessive social media use. I worked very slowly and diligently on these habits, and in August 2020, I took a road trip with my mom throughout BC and Alberta – which was actually one of the best steps I took for my mental health. It was so nice to be travelling and enjoying the outdoors and connecting in ways that felt so rejuvenating for my soul. When I got back, I was in a much better place than I had been a few months prior. It made me realize that though I hadn’t felt like I was making a ton of progress in the past two and a half months since I had been in the Okanagan, and I had been doing only very small things each day, it had added up to something.
Since things were going well at the time and I was starting to feel better, I made the decision to extend my stay in the Okanagan. Focusing on my routine, setting boundaries with work, connecting with my family more, and maintaining my appointments with my counsellor and doctor were all important and so so helpful. I definitely felt like I was on the right track, but I kept coming back to the idea of medication which we had previously considered in April and May. Now that I was confident I was *actually* incorporating self care and health-focused activities into my daily routine, and it was clear that it was working, I still felt like I could have a bit more improvement. I spent some time debating whether or not I should give it a try, and I wound up deciding that it was worth it to try medication and see if it could be beneficial for me. My doctor and counsellor were both on board after having multiple discussions about it, and in mid-October 2020 right after Thanksgiving, I started my medication.
I will be completely honest, the first three days were absolutely brutal. I honestly almost gave up because I had pretty much every side effect imaginable. But, on the fourth and fifth day it was *slightly* more manageable than the previous three days, and when I hit day six and seven, I was starting to feel a bit better. I noticed slight improvements, slowly, each day in the second week. The third week was when I slowly felt like I was getting back to normal, if you will, and by the first month, I felt I had adjusted to the medication and the only side effect I was still experiencing was tiredness. Of course, everyone has a different experience with medication and there are so many different types out there as well. For me, the first month was definitely challenging but it was worth it. By the end of the first month, I was already noticing my anxiety levels had decreased and I was feeling more level-headed. Things continued to improve and I was very glad I had decided to give medication a try. All of this to say – do not let the stigma associated with taking medication for mental health concerns dissuade you from trying it!! In many cases it can be extremely beneficial and make a big difference!! If you are considering trying medication, I would highly recommend discussing it with your doctor and a mental health professional beforehand to determine the best fit for you.
Since then, I’ve had a lot of other bumps in the road come my way, mental health-wise. The medication has definitely helped me process all of these blips in a much more positive and effective way than I would have without being on medication. It helped me make a lot of progress in other areas of my life as well. A few highlights over the past year or so include paying off my student loans in full in April 2021, buying a car in May 2021, signing a lease for a new place all to myself in Kelowna, and even travelling by myself across the country in the summer to visit some friends in Ontario. The travelling part was actually a huge accomplishment, considering my last time on a plane, I had a panic attack – but having implemented so many positive strategies and sticking with my medication, I was able to travel completely fine on my own. I was a bit anxious and had some ativan from my doctor with me just in case, but I didn’t need to use it – which was a massive victory for me.
Arguably, this past summer was some of the best months I’ve had mental health-wise in years. At the end of the summer, I moved in to my new place in Kelowna. I was a bit nervous for the transition but was also excited for the potential it could bring. Thanks to building up my mental health toolkit, including my medication, the transition went very well and things felt like they were all on the right track.
Unfortunately, earlier this month I found out that I lost a loved one to suicide, which has definitely hit my mental health particularly hard. Thankfully, I have built up my mental health to a point where I will be able to weather this storm, much more effectively than I would have without medication. I know it will take a very long time to fully process everything that has happened and learn to cope with it, but thankfully I have a strong toolkit that can assist me throughout this process. Medication, counselling, a strong support system, taking care of basic needs, and more are all so essential during this time of mourning and grief. This grieving is heart-wrenching and extremely difficult for me, and I am definitely struggling right now – but knowing that I have built up my mental health previously helps a lot. It gives me hope that I can maybe get my mental health back to where it was before. Though this grief will never fully go away and it is going to be really, really hard – I think I will be able to manage it with the tools that I have.
Not all of us have the chance to build up our mental health, and I am so fortunate that I did, because I do believe it has changed my life – maybe even saved my life. Not all of us are as lucky. If you are struggling with your mental health in any way right now and you think that trying medication would be beneficial for you, then do it. It is 10000% worth it – medication has made a huge impact for me and though the side effects were painful at the beginning, it was absolutely worth it in the long run and has had a tremendous positive impact for me over the last year. With that said, medication isn’t the only tool in my mental health toolkit – counselling, checking in with my doctor, checking in with family and friends, taking time to nourish myself and rest, and more are all very essential components as well. If you are struggling and hurting right now, please PLEASE reach out to someone. That someone can be me if you want (you can connect with us via Instagram here), but even better would be a mental health professional or your doctor. I will share a few resources below that can hopefully provide some assistance if you are hurting.
Mental Health Resources
Please know that you are not alone in this, people care about you, you matter and your mental health matters. Check in on yourself, check in on others, and seek support when you need it.
Canadian Mental Health Association – https://cmha.ca/
Hope and Healing after Suicide – PDF guide
Normalizing Grief – https://www.normalizegrief.com/
Mental Health Support – Canadian government
Here to Help – https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/
Anxiety Canada – directory of services and programs
Call the Canada Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-833-456-4566 (in Quebec 1-866-277-3553), available 24/7 for crisis support
You matter, and I love you. <3