Part of my job over here at Joyous Health is to answer reader questions. If you've emailed Joyous Health, or commented on the blog or social media pages, youve probably spoken with me at some point. Interacting with the Joyous Community is one of the favourite parts of my job, but there's one question I have a tough time with, and it usually goes something like this:
I have [health concern or condition] and Im absolutely determined to treat it naturally, but my doctor says I need medication. What should I do?
Another variation I see a lot goes like this:
"I've been taking [medication] for years, and I really want to come off it, but my healthcare team thinks I need to keep taking it. What should I do?"
You might be wondering why I find this so challenging. Well, here's the thing, Im a big fan of taking charge of your own healthcare and being your own best patient advocate. And I'm a big fan of holistic and complimentary healing modalities. I'm also a woman who takes prescription medication designed to alter my brain chemistry to deal with a specific medical condition and I have no plans to come off it in the immediate future. I'm okay with that, and despite some of the feedback I've gotten from the holistic health community, I do not feel that my comfort with taking prescription anti-depressants in any way conflicts with my interest in treating things holistically.
While I was in school, I remember a teacher telling us how she had just found out her dad was diagnosed with cancer and that he was undergoing chemo. She told us how angry she was that she didn't have the chance to give her dad natural options before he had to start chemo. I remember getting angry too, but I wasn't angry the way she was. I was angry that she'd presume to think she knew more than her dad about what he needed. After all, it was his cancer, and he had the right to decide what he wanted to do about it.
Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. My fantastically supportive friends and family tried to help make sure I ate right, socialized more, went to therapy, exercised, meditated, and all the other things depressed people are supposed to do.
But I didnt get better. In fact, I got worse.
At some point in our lives, most of us are going to face a health concern that all the green juices and yoga cant fix.
If left untreated, almost any health issue has the capacity to develop into something life threatening. While I could write at least a dozen posts on dealing with anxiety and depression, those are stories for another day, because for these purposes, you could take anxiety and depression and replace it with any other health condition. It just so happened that severe clinical depression was my healthcare Waterloo.
So I went back to the doctor, and several different prescriptions and dosage adjustments later, things started to get better. I felt that sharing my story might help do a tiny part to dispel some of the stigma around mental health issues, so I slowly started to share my story. Most people were happy for me, but I did come up against a minority in the holistic health community who felt like my decision to take anti-depressants was some sort of betrayal of the values of holistic care. Heres a a sampling of conversations Ive had with various Well-Meaning People:
Well-Meaning Person 1: I was depressed once, but then I went on this yoga retreat ...
Kate: Yeah, I don't want to take away from your experience, but I dont think this is the same thing.
WMP 2:But youre planning on coming off them soon, right?
K: Why would I want to do that when they're still working?
WMP 3-14: Oh, you dont need those, you just need to take [probiotics, fish oil, other supplement du jour].
K: Thanks for your advice, but I'm really not in the mood to rock the pill-taking boat right now.
And my personal favourite:
WMP 99+: You know anti-depressants are linked to weight gain, right?
K: [in my most sarcastic voice possible] Oh yeah, cause being skinny and too depressed to eat is making me so happy right now. [eye roll]
As frustrating as this experience has been, it has reinforced my firm belief that holistic health care is about balance, and that includes balance between the natural and the pharmaceutical. Opting to take a prescription medication that makes you feel better does not kick you out of the holistic health club.
If I could share one piece of advice from my journey as a patient, it would be this:
You are the boss of your healthcare team, with the right to hire and fire any members as you see fit.
The most important thing when you're trying to decide if a healthcare practitioner is right for you is not that they're the most natural option for you, but that no matter what their stance, designation and training, they are qualified for the position they're looking to fill on your team, and that they listen to you and respect and meet your physical, mental and emotional needs as a patient.