Stigma causes me to make terrible choices. Internalized stigma is dangerous to my health. This is what I learned over the past few weeks.
Why do I feel so many complicated feelings about taking an anti-psychotic medication, but completely different feelings about taking arthritis medication? The answer is internalized stigma.
Mental health stigma has taught me to be ashamed that I take psychiatric medication. Internalized stigma causes me to think that I shouldn’t take the medication, that I should try to stop taking it as soon as possible, that I’m weak and somehow not good enough because I need medication to stay functional. Basically, stigma lies.
Recently I started an alternative treatment which was helping me to sleep. Because I was able to fall asleep, I decided to reduce my anti-psychotic medication. I don’t need this! I can function without it! I’ll be fine as long as I’m still sleeping! I feel okay! What could go wrong?
As it turns out, a lot could go wrong.
Within a week of reducing my prescription medication, I was having multiple panic attacks a day, having paranoid thoughts, thinking that I was seeing my ex everywhere, afraid to leave the house and almost impulsively quit my job!
I was physically sick, dealing with a lot of triggers and somehow I thought it was going to be absolutely fine to reduce my psych meds!
I’m going to blame this on stigma.
I’m also going to blame stigma for how long it took me to realize that the change in medication was directly linked to my crisis state.
I mentioned it to my psychiatrist over the phone. We talk very infrequently since I’ve been stable for the past few years. He told me to take the medication. He told me that I have so much going on and so much stress that I don’t need to justify to anyone that I need the medication. He said, just take it. Just take it and don’t worry about it.
I thought about it and I realized he was right. Why was I fighting so hard to reduce the dose of a medication that wasn’t causing me terrible side effects and, in fact, was reducing some of the most unpleasant PTSD symptoms (panic, paranoia, seeing things as a result of flashbacks)? Why was I judging myself so harshly? Why was it more important to reduce the medication and not be “dependent” than it was to keep my job?
The answer was that it wasn’t more important. That I didn’t need to judge myself. That I needed the medication to keep the symptoms at bay. Yes, the anti-psychotic medication (as it’s name implies) was ACTUALLY keeping me functional and not on the edge of psychosis!
I started on the higher dose that night. Within 2 days I was back at work, within 4 days the panic attacks were reduced and almost back to “normal” levels. Within a week, I’m feeling more hopeful and less terrified.
These pills help me.
Yes, I’ve had horrific experiences with psychiatry and psychiatric medications. Yes, some of these drugs have made me worse and almost killed me. Yes, there is a social stigma associated with anti-psychotic drugs.
But I’m going to work on not internalizing this stigma. I’m going to work on accepting what is. Accepting my current limitations. Accepting that PTSD is a brain injury and it’s logical to take medication if it helps balance things out.
So next time I start talking about decreasing my medication, please remind me to re-read this post. Please remind me that my health is more important than stigma. That I’d rather be functioning and medicated, than in crisis and able to say that I don’t take any medication! Remind me that going off my medication is NOT a good idea right now. And maybe be gentle with yourself too…do what you need for your recovery. Do what you need and don’t let judgment (by self or others) get in your way. You are the expert in your own healing. Trust that.