Happy New Year everyone! I hope the first day of the new year has started off right, in whatever ways honour you. For me, being my favourite day of the year, today has been a day of rest and reflection. I started my day thinking about my commitment to my physical and mental health and wellness this year. One of the steps I took in that direction was deciding to go on anti-depressants for my anxiety recently. I had been mulling over this decision for several months, but in the last few months of last year being the year it was, it really came to the fore for me in my life as my anxiety symptoms became worse and worse.
In reflecting back on it, I had unknowingly suffered anxiety my entire life. There were self soothing things I did from a very young age that temporarily calmed my anxiety, but nothing ever truly worked or was effective. Surprisingly, I never struggled with drugs or alcohol to try numbing out, and for this I am personally thankful. I don’t judge anyone who does as I know many people who do struggle with those substances; but for me that was never my personal challenge. But what I did do was manifest my anxiety in my body. I remember the first time many years ago that my dentist asked me if I grinded my teeth at night. I adamantly denied that I did, even though the dentist could see the evidence reflected in my mouth. I had no idea that I was even doing do it. This continued for several years until the day I started realizing that I was in fact clenching my jaw at night while I slept. I started waking up with my mouth and jaw feeling really sore in the mornings. Then my dentist advised me that if I didn’t get a mouth guard immediately, I’d have no teeth because I was destroying them with my constant grinding. I eventually got a mouth guard, but then chewed right through it. It was around this time that I started realizing there might be something seriously wrong with me that I couldn’t see.
Then came the eating. I started craving sugar in an almost uncontrollable way. I would sit and eat a tub of these cookie cluster snacks that were literally pure sugar, and I’d go through about a tub and a half per day. It was like an addiction. Interestingly enough, no matter how much sugar I consumed, it never seemed to be enough. I wasn’t craving chips or bread or anything like that. Just sugar. As those cravings intensified and got worse, I also noticed that my chronic pain had increased. As someone who has endometriosis and ulcerative colitis, I was used to chronic pain but it was getting worse. I honestly couldn’t understand why any of this was happening and chalked it up to mostly being stress related. Which in part was true, but it was primarily driven by my underlying anxiety, which caused the stress in the first place. Then my mental health started really taking a bit of a dive. I started manifesting deep depressive emotions that I couldn’t seem to control. I’d wake up and first thing in the morning, my mind would start racing with how crappy my life was (in my mind at the time) and then I’d just spiral. When the spiraling started getting really bad and pervasive, I knew I needed help. And this time, it wasn’t going to be a quick fix like doing some deep breathing, meditating or doing yoga. While all of these healing modalities are valuable and needed, in and of themselves they do not heal chemical imbalances in your brain. Sometimes, we need a medication, whether it be allopathic or naturopathic to help us balance out our brain chemistry and stabilize our mood.
After consulting with my doctor over several weeks and trying natural remedies and practices first, I made the decision to try a low dose of a anti-depressant/anti-anxiety/anti-OCD medication. I remember the anxiety I had about even starting the medication in the first place, as I was deathly afraid of being put on something I couldn’t come off of. But in speaking to my doctor, who’s obviously way more educated on these meds than I am, she advised me that the medication she was putting me on was not only none-habit forming, but I could come off of it whenever I wanted to, albeit I would have to wean off of it slowly. After weighing the pros and cons of it, I decided to try it short term to see if I liked it or not. While the medication is supposed to take up to two full weeks to feel the effects, I can honestly say I felt the effects within the first 24 hours. It was in that moment that I realized I had made the best decision for my mental health that I could have made in a long time. The first almost most immediate effect I felt was my intense craving for sugar was completely gone. The second thing I noticed was that my appetite was severely reduced in the best way possible. I was still able to eat and enjoy my food, but I wasn’t constantly hungry or snacking. I couldn’t believe how much I didn’t eat after the first dose. It was then that I realized that all those times before when I was eating, I really wasn’t even hungry. It was just my brain being out of whack a little. I also noticed within the first 24 hours that while I could still feel every emotion, I was no longer feeling that depressive spiral that small things could sometimes send me into. So basically, after the first dosage, I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time…completely normal. Not too high, not too low. Just completely normal. I was still able to get angry, but I didn’t stay angry. I was still able to get sad about things, but I didn’t stay there. For the first time in years, I wasn’t getting stuck in the emotional place of wherever I was in.
As this became more clear to me after the first dose, I knew I needed to continue taking the meds to see how my body did with them. So for now, I’ve decided to continue taking these meds to help me balance out my brain and stabilize my mood. Now, some of you may be wondering why I would put all of my business out there, especially as a Life Coach. Well, here’s why. There is a such a stigma, in the Black community specifically, around mental health and more pointedly, medications to help balance out or stabilize moods. Many in the community do not trust these medications or have religious or personal beliefs that do not support taking medication and going to therapy. Because of ignorance due to a lack of knowledge about proper medications and also due to a lack of genuine caring from the medical community to treat people of colour with mental illnesses, there is major distrust of mental health therapy modalities of any kind really. For religious Black people, their faith is their therapist, whether they be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc. The idea that they would seek professional help from a qualified licensed therapist or doctor who is not affiliated with their faith for some people is beyond comprehension. For others, it has nothing to do with their faith but rather their distrust of the medical system, particularly when it comes to Black people and this is a very valid concern. Historically, there have been inhuman medical tests and violations done on Black bodies that have not lent a favourable outlook when it comes to Black people and the medical community. However, putting all of that aside, it all boils down to fear. Most Black people don’t know what to expect if they decide to go on meds. Some have heard of relatives or loved ones having bad reactions to meds or their meds not working or them having to take a cocktail of meds to find something that works for them. And all of these are valid concerns. But I’m going to pose a question to those of you who may be struggling with this as well: What exactly is the alternative? Because if you think that somehow ignoring the problem that it is going to get better, I can assure you it will not.
I am a huge fan of naturopathic remedies and wholistic healing. But I will tell you as someone who has suffered with ulcerative colitis for years and did everything from herbal remedies to acupuncture, yoga, meditation, etc. for years, I have learned first hand that there is a place in healing for allopathic medicine. I am very aware that taking omega fatty oils, certain herbal supplements, etc. and doing deep breathing, meditation, yoga and the like can legitimately help and should be done in conjunction to your meds. But to sit here and say that naturopathic remedies can fully replace what allopathic medication does when it comes to balancing out the chemicals in your brain is an absolute fallacy. All healing modalities have their place. Even the medications that can sometimes cause immense harm temporarily to your body like chemo drugs all have their place. I am not here to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do. We are all on our own journey of healing our mental and physical body. I’m simply stating that I have had to learn balance in my healing journey. I cannot depend solely on naturopathic remedies. I cannot depend solely on allopathic ones either. I need to have balance and always be aware of what I am putting into my body and for how long. I am so utterly grateful for the team of doctors and specialists that I have around me, especially my GP as she and I are completely aligned on wholistic healing which includes taking care of the mental body as well as the physical and incorporating both naturopathic and allopathic means to healing. Having a doctor who not only validates me and my concerns, but also supports my wholistic healing is one of the greatest gifts that I have in my life and I don’t take that for granted. So when my doctor tells me these meds will help, I believe her. And she was completely right.
As a Life Coach, I made a commitment and promise to helping people live their best lives by helping them achieve their goals. I cannot think of a better way to help people than to not only lend my skills as a coach to help bring discipline, accountability and structure to their lives to help them achieve what they want but to also model to them what taking care of yourself holistically looks like. I was speaking to a girlfriend of mine recently and shared with her that I had decided to try medication for a bit. She was so happy for me for taking that step in really owning my mental wellness and she had so many questions as she was also considering doing the same but didn’t know many Black women who were on meds to ask questions about what their experience was like. It was in that conversation that I realized just how little as Black people and Black women specifically that we talk about medications that can help us. There are SO many Black women struggling with their mental health that probably would benefit from being on some form of medication even if it was temporarily. Yet because of the stigmas in our community about being medicated, there is so much shame, embarrassment, humiliation and anxiety around even discussing this topic for many Black people. It truly saddens me that this is the state of affairs in our community and we don’t seem to have a safe space or place where we can speak to people who are on meds to ask them what the pros and cons are so we can have the proper discussions with our doctors and make better informed decisions. While no one can tell another person how to treat any medical condition unless they are a licensed physician, sometimes speaking to someone who is going through a similar situation can help ease the nervousness and anxiety of the unknown.
This is why community is SO vitality important. While I welcome and love diversity, I will tell you that there are certain things about the Black experience that only Black people can understand. Period. So when we have a space to be able to come together and speak freely and openly about the things that are affecting us and potential remedies, it helps the entire community heal. Mental wellness is, in my opinion, becoming one of the fastest growing segments for the Black community worldwide. I have seen an incredible influx of Black therapists, doctors and life coaches all prepared and ready to help our clients in the healthiest ways possible. There is so much value to be had when you know that the person who is helping you is not just someone who is talking the talk, but actually walking it as well. So that was my primary motivation for sharing my personal story about deciding to go on meds. I am a great Life Coach who definitely has tools and mechanisms to help me and my clients cope with the stresses of every day life. But I am also a human being who goes through tough challenges like everyone else does and sometimes I don’t know how to handle them. So seeking wise council in the form of my doctor, getting back into therapy and providing a safe space around me of people I trust who I can talk to has not only made me a better person, but a better Life Coach. My experience has taught me that in order to lead, you first have to learn how to follow. It has also given me an opportunity to decide what kind of Life Coach I want to be; someone who pretends to have their entire life altogether and is flawless in how they handle things…or someone who decides to be honest, and vulnerable and open about some of the things they struggle with and allow others to feel safe enough to share the same. I believe that being honest and open within boundaries about the lessons my life have taught me can be one of the most valuable things I bring to my clients.
So to all of you out there who may be considering medication to help you cope and balance your life for however long that may be, I sincerely encourage you to speak to your doctor and the people you trust the most and seriously consider helping yourself. I will tell you from my personal experience, going on my meds was the best decision I EVER made for my mental wellness, and I’m no longer afraid of not being able to come off of these meds as I have a family member who was on them and was able to come off with very little side effects. I would never have known that unless I opened up and shared my journey with them. So I truly believe in the power of sharing (within boundaries) our stories and testimonies. We never know what battles people are fighting that just by us sharing our story, we could potentially help someone. I am so proud of all of us for how far we’ve come and hw well we re doing. My greatest hope especially in this new year is that by me being my authentic self and sharing my story, I give permission and space for others to do the same. Healed people heal people.