Is medication right for you?

meds

I take a frankly ridiculous amount of medication daily. And I am not going to lie and say I enjoy taking them, because I don’t. But each tablet I take was prescribed after careful research and consideration on the parts of both myself and my GP. I weighed up the risks and benefits of each medication, considered if I thought it was worth it (in terms of risk/ benefit), and considered what the next steps would be if this particular medication didn’t work. Both my and my doctor also took into account the fact that the more medications you take, the less predictable the interactions can be.

Medications, however, aren’t always- read usually- the ‘magic cures’ we believe and want them to be. Unfortunately there is no such thing as a magic pill that works for everyone all the time. That is why the decision to start on medications is such a huge one. It can be much more of a long-term commitment than people realise. Of course, there are plenty of lucky ones who find the perfect medicine first time, but for many people finding the right medication or mix of medications at the right dosage takes time. True, most medications we start we don’t need to take for long, but there are plenty that are a longer term commitment. It is also important to note that in terms of antidepressants and similar medications, sometimes you need to take them for a few months or even years before you are able to stop. But it would be a mistake to assume (except in rare cases like meds to stop you rejecting transplanted organs) that you will have to be on these medications for life. Antidepressants are there to help you regain control of your life and the aim is always to be able to live a healthy and productive life without them in the future.

For most people, there will be a medication, or combination of medications, that control and manage their symptoms. Getting to that point is well worth the wait… however it can sometimes be a relatively long journey that involves trying a number of different medications and doses while you are figuring out what works for you. Since some medications can have bad side effects it can be disheartening to discover yet another medication isn’t working for you. I can only urge that you continue looking. It is very important you are honest with your doctor. If the side effects to a medication are unbearable then let them know. It is worth remembering though that in a lot of cases the side effects lessen and eventually disappear once you have been on the medication a while. My personal recommendation (always to be discussed with your GP) is to give the meds 3/4 months before deciding to move on. Unless they make your symptoms worse or you are unable to cope with the side-effects, that is. For minor issues you may well find they disappear with time.

Medications, particularly for mental health issues, are not the only (or even the best) way to help yourself though. These medications are generally there to help you get into a better frame of mind so you can tackle the things that are behind the mental illnesses. This may include counselling or therapy. That, in combination with medications, can often mean a faster and more complete recovery.

For some people, medications are simply not the answer. There are a hundred reasons that could be the case, including simple patient preference. If you don’t want to start medication for whatever reason, please don’t feel like you are powerless. There are still plenty of things you can do to help yourself. Perhaps the most important (and most often overlooked) way to help heal your mind is to heal your body. And I realise that sounds counter intuitive. But doing what you can to eat a healthy diet with plenty of vitamins, minerals and micronutrients will help every aspect of your health, including your brain and mind. Getting exercise releases endorphins (or ‘happy hormones’) that make you feel happy, safe and secure. It is also an excellent way to reduce stress. Getting the proper amount of sleep is also vital to both good physical and mental health. Anyone with insomnia can attest to the fact that a lack of sleep affects everything from memory to stress levels, it slows healing and can lead to a myriad of health issues including heart problems.

This is something I struggle with immensely, but it is also worth remembering keeping a clean and tidy home will also help your mental health. The saying ‘tidy house, tidy mind’ is very true.

Here is the issue… having mental health problems can make doing those things a million times harder than usual- and they aren’t easy to start with. But it is not impossible. A lot of it involves getting the right support around you, so let your friends and family know what your goals are and what they can do to help you achieve them. Love yourself unconditionally. Accept there will be days where you fail or where you just can’t be bothered.. and that is perfectly okay so long as you get up the day after. Don’t give up on yourself, and others won’t give up on you. If you really want to help yourself, there are relatively easy ways in which you can do it, with little cost involved.

Ultimately, the decision about whether or not to take medication is entirely up to you. There is no right or wrong answer, and as much as I wish I could… I can’t make the decision for you. The only thing I will say is that if you go down that road then prepare yourself.. it may be a longer road than you want.. but when you get to the right mix you feel like you gained your life back and it is a little bit magical! All I can say is… look after yourselves!

I am not a doctor, and I don’t play one on the internet. As with any medication, it should be carefully discussed with your doctor, and you should do your own research to ensure it is right for you. You are your own advocate so if you don’t feel like something is right, let your doctor know. Trust me, they genuinely want you to feel better and will do whatever they can to make that happen. And just like you should never start a medication without talking to your doctor first, you should NEVER stop taking one without talking to your doctor either. I have seen it a million times where people feel fine so stop the medication that is helping them feel that way, and they have often gone back to square one pretty quickly. If you feel like it is time to come off a medication, particularly one you have been on for a while, it should be done slowly over a number of weeks under close supervision.

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The Truth About: Insomnia

Most of us have had the odd sleepless night. If you have, you will know how annoying they are. You can’t quite get comfortable, you know you are exhausted, and you just can’t understand why sleep isn’t happening. It shouldn’t be a problem, after all, it has been a very regular part of your life since you were born. You spend the next day almost in a trance.  You are so tired you can’t concentrate, and everything you do becomes a chore. You feel old when you have to go to bed so early the next night, but, at last, the beautiful peaceful sleep descends, and the world becomes right again.

Except it doesn’t become right again. Not if you are an insomniac. These sleepless nights happen more often than they don’t. For a lot of people cursed with insomnia, it comes and goes in cycles. Sleep could be fine for a while, and then all of a sudden another episode attacks. For some, like me, there is no ‘cycle’ and it is just very little sleep for a lot of the time. Of course, I do get good nights sleep every now and again. But even on a ‘good’ night I wake up several times. I just consider it a blessing if I can get back to sleep afterwards!

For those with insomnia, life is a vicious circle. We end up dreading bed time because we don’t want to lay awake for hours. Yet we long for bed time because we are so tired. And the worry about bed time makes the insomnia worse, in turn making the worrying worse. It is awful.

However, there are things we can do to help ourselves. First stop is always the doctor. Insomnia can be caused by underlying  health conditions which may need attention- depression being a very common one. It may be that fixing the underlying problem fixes the insomnia! Whilst you are there, any doctor worth their salt will tell you about ‘Sleep Hygiene’. You should be given a print out of information, but Dr Google will give generally good advice on this one, as long as you visit reputable sites. Otherwise you might have amateur blogs like mine come up!

I have been on medication to help me sleep for quite some time now. However, if you visit a reputable doctor you will learn how difficult it is to get medication to help you sleep, particularly in the long run. Most will only give you a few tablets at a time. Which is a good thing, as sleep medications in particular are very addictive.

I am going to list some tips that should help you. Some of them (particularly sleep hygiene) will need to be a regular part of your bedtime routine for a number of weeks before you can gauge if they are being successful. I will always recommend trying each step for a MINIMUM of 6 weeks, preferably 8-10 weeks, before dismissing them as unhelpful.

Again, please note I am not a medical professional, I am writing my opinions and experiences only. If you decide to try herbal medications, be sure to talk this through with your pharmacist or doctor, as many herbal sleeping tablets will interfere with other medications. Good luck!

  •  Set up a bedtime routine. There is a reason it works so well for small children! Doing the same things, in the same order, at the same time each night will train your body to know when it is sleep time. This may just be the most important tip.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine is obvious, but many people turn to alcohol for its sedative effects. This is a mistake for a few reasons, including it being habit-forming, disrupting the quality of your sleep, and making your body work more to get rid of it!
  • Have a warm cup of milk before bed. Again, there is a reason it works for the kids!
  • Exercise in the day. Exercising will, will, will improve your sleep. It is best to avoid it for about 4 hours before bed though, as you will be ‘buzzing’ from the post work-out energy.
  • Lower lights. Our bodies get confused these days, because (unlike in times gone by) there is no ‘twilight’, we have bright lights, and then darkness. It is during the process of it getting dark that our bodies release melatonin, amongst other things, that helps regulate our sleep cycle. Having a dimmer switch or using bedside lamps will help mimic these conditions.
  • Relax before bed. Sounds silly, I know. But it is very important to wind down. Otherwise all the problems from the day will be racing around in your head all night. Remove electrical devices from the bedroom. No TV, computers or phones should be used in the bedroom, and for an hour before bed. Yes, you will survive. Read a book. If you do read a book though, choose a light one. It wont help if your head is spinning trying to figure out ‘whodunnit’, and reading an exciting book you don’t want to put down will have the same effect! Reading light-hearted short stories is your best bet.
  • Don’t sleep on an argument. Again,  you need your brain to relax if you want a decent nights kip!
  • Temperature: Getting the right temperature in the bedroom is vital, if it is too hot you will wake up, and if it is too cold you will wake up. I keep my bedroom at 18/19 degrees C, but I have a friend whose perfect temperature is 26 degrees C! You will have to experiment to find what is best for you.
  • If you find you have trouble sleeping because you are trying to remember things, or you are thinking about certain things, try writing them down before you go to bed. That way, you can leave them there in your notebook until the morning instead of spinning round your head!
  • Lavender is your friend. Lavender is brilliant for sleep. You can get lavender and chamomile scented plug-ins, lavender pillow sprays, sleep balms, candles, teddies, room sprays, essential oils and all sorts. There will definitely be some form of lavender that suits your lifestyle.
  • If you like a cup of tea before bed, switch to chamomile tea. It has calming properties and helps your mind rest.
  • Smoking. Don’t smoke for an hour before bed (quit altogether if you can). Smoking increases your blood pressure and pulse, sets neurons (brain cells) flying off everywhere, and, at the end of the day, is poisonous. You are wrong if you believe it helps you relax (I used to think the same)… in fact it does the opposite! People just think it relaxes them because they end up doing what everyone tells them to do if they are stressed… taking a few deep breaths! The more you know 😉
  • Eat healthily!

So, there are a few tips to be getting on with. If you have researched this topic before, you will realise that the same things get said a lot. And if you are anything like me, you will have dismissed most of these, not believing they would make a difference. However, the truth, as they say, will out. And the fact that every reputable place is saying the same things can mean only one thing: What they are saying is actually right.

So, give all of the above a good go. None of it is expensive, you don’t need to hire someone to teach you how to do them, and you don’t need to buy loads of specialist  equipment. These are safe, cheap, easy things you can do yourself in the comfort of your own home. What have you got to lose?

If you have given the above a genuine go and haven’t found them helpful, your GP may refer you for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help. From there, they can then discuss the medication route with you- some do well with herbal remedies such as Nytol and Rescue, and some people who need help with long-term insomnia may be given specific antidepressants that might help, such as Mirtazapine. It is vital that you never start ANY medication, even if it is herbal, without first consulting your Doctor or Pharmacist (or other appropriate health professional).