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Why Psychiatric Medication Can Be a Vital Form of Self-Care

Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

Hi, my name is Megan and I take psychiatric medication. 

I have been taking medication for my mental health for about six years now, and my feelings about it continue to shift and change as my understanding of mental health, both my own and in general, also shifts and changes.

But here’s one thing I am sure of: taking my medication is self-care, at least for me. I’m not saying it fixes everything, I’m not saying it’s right for everyone, but in many cases, psychiatric medication can be an absolutely vital part of self-care.

How Does Medication Fit Into Self-Care?

Self-care has kind of become a catch-all term for everything from luxurious rest and relaxation to practical tips for adulting, but here’s how I like to think of self-care:

Self-care actively restores mental energy. 

I know this is vague, but that’s actually a good thing. It means everyone can find the self-care activities that work for them.

The key word here is “actively.” Watching mindless TV that you aren’t even sure you enjoy is relaxation, but it’s not self-care. Scrolling through Instagram until your eyes bleed doesn’t take up much energy, but it doesn’t actively restore it either. 

Self-care isn’t necessarily about doing things that feel good in the moment, it’s more about doing things that make you feel good long-term. Things that give you energy to do other things, or at least feel a little more comfortable in your body. 

Psychiatric medication can do exactly that. Taking your medication is self-care because, once you find the right one(s) for you, medication can absolutely give you more mental energy and make existing in your body and mind more comfortable. 

The Stigma of Psychiatric Medication

If you’ve considered taking psychiatric medication, but there’s a voice in your head saying that taking those medications makes you weak, or a zombie, or some other rude, very unlike you thought, you aren’t alone. That’s the stigma talking, and it’s a message we absorb subconsciously from a very young age. 

I’m no stranger to this stigma.

Like I said, I’ve been taking medications for nearly six years, but the other day when my psychiatrist suggested we increase one of my current medications, I still dealt with all of those thoughts all over again. I felt like I shouldn’t need more medicine, I was afraid I would just numb myself to everything, I worried I was trying to be happy all the time, it went on and on.

Here’s the thing: stigma isn’t the truth. It might feel true because it’s been simmering in your subconscious since you were a child, but it isn’t true.

There’s nothing wrong with taking psychiatric medication. Taking your medication is self-care.

The Problems with Psychiatric Medication

OK, all of that being said, I feel like it’s important to note that psychiatric medication isn’t perfect and there are many issues worthy of discussion. I hesitated to include this section because part of me just wants to encourage people to get the help they need, and so often that help can come in the form of medication. 

However, I feel like it would be disingenuous to promote medication without also discussing the problems that can come with it. So here are some issues we should discuss.

First, medication can’t cure trauma. It can be an essential tool in helping us cope with the effects of trauma, but the only way to heal and resolve the issues stemming from trauma is through trauma work and therapy. 

Second, psychiatric medications can come with side effects that are worse than your original symptoms. Side effects differ on a person-to-person basis, making it nearly impossible to predict whether you’ll experience side effects and which ones and how big of a deal it will be to you. For instance, I took a medication in college that made me super spacey, but at the time, my symptoms were so bad I didn’t mind. I started taking that medication again a year ago and couldn’t stand the spacey feeling and had to change medications. This risk can make starting medication very anxiety-inducing because you just don’t know how the meds will affect you.

Third, not all doctors are good at prescribing psychiatric medication. Some doctors prescribe meds without a clear understanding of your symptoms, which could actually make your mental health worse, while other doctors tend to over- or under-prescribe medications.

Basically, even though medication has made a huge difference in my mental health and stigma is an objectively harmful influence, there are some genuine concerns worth discussing.

How to Fight Stigma If You Decide to Take Medication

OK, so what if you decide that, despite the potential issues, medication is a form of self-care that could really help you? How are you supposed to quiet those stigma thoughts?

Like I said before, I still struggle with the stigma of taking medication after six years, so there’s a chance that those thoughts never completely go away. But I have learned a few ways to deal with them. 

OK, the first trick is to assign the stigma thoughts their own personality and voice separate from your own. This helps remind you that these thoughts aren’t really yours, you’ve just internalized them from other people over the years. This makes it a little easier to argue with or ignore these thoughts.

Next, take the time to list all of the self-care benefits of your medication and put that list somewhere you will see it every day. It’s hard to doubt yourself when all the reasons you’re making a good choice are staring you in the face day in and day out.

Finally, this last bit might be kind of hard, but it’s important: take steps to put some emotional distance between yourself and people who spout stigmatized language about medication. If your parents don’t approve of your medication, make it clear that discussions about your medication are not allowed. I know setting firm boundaries is hard (check out my Boundary-Setting for Beginners mini eBook) but it’s an essential part of self-care.

A version of this article was previously published on the author’s blog, Healing Unscripted.

Getty Images photo via Cameravit

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