Brain stuff and brain drugs make me uneasy

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 16, 2020, 9:34 PM | comments: 0

Anyone who knows me, or thinks they know me because of social media, probably knows that I talk pretty freely about mental health and seeing a therapist. It's just a matter-of-fact kind of thing that causes no shame and I feel like it needs to be more "out there" and accepted, because I don't think that it's materially different from talking about having a cold or needing a hip replacement.

I have to admit though that I'm uncomfortable still with the role of drugs in mental health, and I'm not sure why. When it became clear that my boy was dealing with ADHD and anxiety, I felt very strongly that those weren't things that you treated with a revolving door of drugs alone. And in fact, he sees a therapist weekly, which mercifully got cheaper now that she's independent. We're at the cycle again where we needed to try a different drug, and this one seems to work pretty well so far, for at least part of the day. It also seems to be responsible for a new verbal tick that is frequent enough that I can't block it out. As much as I hate the remote learning, I know how unkind other kids would be if they heard it, so finally something positive comes from the pandemic.

At the end of last year, my doctor prescribed just 15 doses of lorazepam for me, because I was having what he described as minor panic attacks. They were infrequent, maybe a month apart, and they happened not in moments of stress, but seemingly random times, and usually it included tightness in the chest, a change in breathing, dizziness... the kinds of things that happen when you're having a heart attack. I've resisted any kind of mental health drug for years for a lot of reasons, but he framed it the way I needed to hear it: "You want to be sure that's the stress talking, so take the drug and if you're still having those symptoms, you need to go to the hospital." Well, a week or two later, I had just such an episode, and sure enough, the symptoms went away within 30 minutes. The rest lasted through July, and I have a small supply on hand because they work.

Yesterday, I was feeling anxious about nothing in particular, except maybe the observation that the pandemic is getting worse and no one seems to care if they put others at risk. But I wasn't having the panic symptoms, so I worked very hard to bring my racing mind under control, without drug intervention. Let me first say that I got there, and I was pretty proud of that, but a day later I feel embarrassed that I resisted the pharmaceutical option. I still have hang-ups about the use of a drug to "fix" a suboptimal state of mind. My kid can't help it when he can't focus, and we can see tangible improvement with ADHD drugs. He's still himself. Why do I resist?

Of course, I have some idea. There's enough history of addiction in my family that I know some "medicate" with alcohol or heroin. That's not the same as being prescribed a controlled substance under doctor supervision, but sometimes my brain doesn't differentiate between those scenarios. There's also a fair amount of depression in my family, and seeing that, I wish more of those folks were medicating, because they seemed needlessly miserable.

All of this to say that I have hang-ups, and I need to figure those out. I have to be self-aware about depression as I get older, because while I may not have the addiction gene, I worry about the potential for depression and the limits of therapy to combat it.


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