To the Person Who Called Me a ‘Drug User’ for Taking Anti-Anxiety Medication
When the Twitter account Team Not Ashamed tried to get the #imnotashamed movement going to spread mental health awareness, you used the hashtag to make your own point. You tweeted that people should naturally regulate the biochemicals in their brains by living healthy, and that drugs only keep people artificially happy.
Harmful, shameful and not true. Although diet and exercise can help manage symptoms, mental illness doesn’t care how well you eat or how fit you are.
As someone who lives with mental illness and knows the benefits of these meds, I tried to explain that your tweets were harmful. At a certain point, I realized there was no getting through to you so I tweeted, “I’m sad that you’re scaring people away from meds that could save their lives. Meds aren’t the enemy, stigma is. #imnotashamed.” It wasn’t a personal attack; I was trying to show people that medications for mental illness should be normalized. You replied, “Like any drug user, you are protecting your drug. People say they’re bad; except other drug users and dealers.” I was not offended by you, but was instead hurt that so many people have the same mentality I had years ago. If I had read your tweets then, I’m not sure if I would be here today.
It’s hard to tell if you’re a person who has been negatively impacted by psychiatric medications or just a “troll,” but whoever you are I hope you’ll listen to my story. As you know, my name is Nicole Campbell. What you don’t know is that I’ve lived with generalized anxiety disorder for over 10 years and major depression on and off despite only being 23 years old. For years I tried to get help for feelings I didn’t understand and couldn’t put into words. Before I was diagnosed, I was just the “overly sensitive girl” and a “moody teenager.” I was bubbly at school and threw myself into any activity I could to distract from my pain. Once I got into my bedroom after school, I was paralyzed and suffocated by my anxiety and cried myself to sleep. When I was first diagnosed and treated, it was a guessing game. I tried medication after medication. Moved from one therapist to another. Had to deal with my diagnosis changing faster than I changed my gym clothes.
I understand the negative place you’re coming from. Many of the medications prescribed weren’t right for me. Some aggravated my migraines, made me a zombie and some just didn’t work at all. At the worst point, when I was misdiagnosed with bipolar II disorder, I was put on mood stabilizers that made my depression the worst it had ever been. I had to jump through so many hoops to get a doctor to listen to me when I said my medication was making me feel suicidal. I had to be voluntarily hospitalized to get switched off that medication and start another one. That one didn’t help my symptoms, but I was no longer suffering as much as I had been.
After a while I gave up on meds all together. But the therapist I was seeing was phenomenal. She never babied me, but she didn’t tear me down either. I could be honest with her about anything and she didn’t judge. With her help, I thought I was fixed. My depression was gone, my anxiety was minimal and life was good. Unfortunately, anxiety doesn’t care if you get straight As, have a great boyfriend or a great life plan. My crippling anxiety came back in full force.
Over the years, I’ve learned to treat my anxiety and depression like my asthma; sometimes I just need an inhaler or emergency panic attack medicine, while other times I need to take maintenance medication to keep these conditions in check. I see my therapist every other month and practice mindfulness. Most of the time, I can talk myself through a panic attack and don’t need meds, but I will never resent the times I have been helped by them. I am lucky to have access to them.
I’m very familiar with the tragedies that can happen when people don’t get proper treatment for mental illness. I lost five people in my life, including one of my uncles and several classmates, because of stigmatizing views like yours. People like you are why I keep speaking, tweeting and fighting.
A stigma fighter