I have wanted to write this post for a while as it is something I often get asked. I am very open about my struggle with mental health, as you may be aware (read about it here and here) and while I openly discuss what has helped me with my mental illness, I have never talked about it in detail. I believe this post will help people, as it gives an understanding of how two very different forms of support can help an individual. However, before I go any further I must say that I am by NO MEANS an expert on medication. These are my own experiences and opinions. I understand that medicine and counselling may not help everyone and if you want professional advice, please PLEASE see a doctor.
Now, this post will be done chronologically, which means that first I will talk about my experience with medication for my mental illness, as meds are what I was given at first.
My anxiety started to get unmanageable back at the end of last year (you can read more about that here), and after a particularly bad few episodes of panic attacks and hyperventilating my mother basically dragged me into my doctors mid panic attack and demand I be seen right away (this was without an appointment on a very busy day and they saw me within 2 minutes with no problem at all), I was given advice then and there and told to go back home, eat, sleep and go back later that day for an appointment to discuss further help. That day my doctor (who was absolutely wonderful) and I decided that I would try a medication called Propranolol. Propranolol is a beta blocker, which is prescribed for many things, from migraines, to patients after a heart attack, and also anxiety. For anxiety the way it helps is by slowing down the heart rate, one of the most common symptoms of anxiety is an increased heart rate, and very often, at least for me, feeling an increased heart rate makes me panic even more. These tablets started to work very well, I was on 10mg tablets three times a day. The beta blockers didn’t make it go away fully but certainly lessened it and made me feel a little better. However, soon anxiety came back and with a vengeance. My anxiety disorder was known to be Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) but I knew deep down that something was causing it…my fear of illness. After some research, it became very very clear to me that I suffer from health anxiety as well as GAD, a very serious and debilitating form of anxiety that sometimes gives sufferers symptom similar to those of OCD (again, I won’t go into detail here but I have a whole post dedicated to it here). I was also experiencing some depressive thoughts at this time because of the health anxiety. I went to my doctor, again in a huge panic and basically begged for more help. This time I saw a different doctor who again was wonderful. He was very calm and asked me lots of questions trying to come to the best decision for me. He concluded that it was indeed health anxiety and so gave me another medication, Citalopram. Citalopram is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and commonly given for depression, as well as being used to treat anxiety. Due to the nature of this medicine, I was told that my symptoms could get worse before they got better but I would see a difference after a few weeks. This was true, and although the first week was hell, I soon felt like my usual self but better! Medication has honestly changed my life. There was a time that I couldn’t even get on a train to university but with the help of meds I can finally do that and feel confident doing it.
However, the thing with medication is that although in my case it was a god send, it didn’t actually resolve the problem. Underneath it all I still wasn’t quite right. I’d still sometimes get depressive thoughts, anxiety and low confidence, medication just meant that panic attacks were less common and I’d be able to function more easily. This told me that perhaps I needed something other than meds, something to get to the bottom of why I feel this way. So, I thought of talking therapies. My first port of call was my doctors surgery. Here I was told that I could be referred but that the waiting list was VERY long, and to be quite honest, at the time I was pretty desperate for some more help. I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting for months on end, and was feeling pretty hopeless when a friend recommended the health services in my university. I looked online and found that I could book an on the day emergency appointment which I was SO grateful for. I went into uni, saw a wonderful lady who assessed me and decided that I’d be referred for immediate counselling. Just a short while later I met with my counsellor (a different lady from the assessor) who I saw once a week for 8 weeks. I can’t begin to express how grateful I am for this woman. She made me feel like my old self, before anxiety even existed for me. She was so understanding, never ever judged me and gave me so much valuable advice, not just about my mental illness, but also about my self confidence, university work and my future career. She gave me the confidence to be the person I want to be and I can honestly say she changed my life. Before university ended for the holidays, she gave me lots of information and support as well as contact details for organisations who could help me over the summer, should I need it. She really made me feel like she cared, and I cannot thank her enough.
Since my counselling finished I have stayed on my meds, sometimes I take one less tablet a day and feel absolutely fine. Other times I need my full dosage and have a ‘not so good’ day. These are completely normal though, and no matter how crap I feel on times, my counsellor taught me so many coping strategies that I KNOW I can get through it.
So, this was my experience with medication and counselling for my mental illness. I hope this has helped, even if I have just helped one person.
Don’t hesitate to ask me anything if you have questions.
Love Rach xoxo