Mindfulness & Medication.


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Mindfulness, meditation, mindful, breath, relief, pause

What is normal?

As small children, we believe that everyone’s experience is identical to ours. As teens, we torture ourselves over our complete inability to be “normal,” despite our desperate mimicry of each other. As adults, we gradually accept that normal is, at the very least, unique to specific groups and cultures.

But as adults, we also have the capacity to recognize when an aspect of our personal normal is, in fact, abnormal.

That’s why we go to therapy, right?

We observe friends and acquaintances and begin to deduce that something is different. This person can have a fight with her mom and not fall apart emotionally afterwards. That person can poop in a public toilet. Almost everyone uses time and money on the clock for anything but work! We want to address our differences and live a “normal” life.

I realized in my mid-20’s that my anxiety was not normal.

Convinced of the power of talk therapy and self-improvement, I embarked on a non-pharmaceutical treatment plan. After all, I didn’t need medicine to just be “normal.” I saw a psychologist for a year. I did the Artist’s Way curriculum: a mindfulness book study (written by Julia Cameron) designed to help artists access their creativity without fear. I followed the Joy Diet (written by life coach Martha Beck) to the letter. I began a meditation practice and sat in silence 20 minutes every day. I wrote my life mission and broke it down into smart goals to achieve my dreams. But it wasn’t enough.

My mindfulness was concurrently a beautiful and terrible cycle: wheels within wheels.

My mind ran on and on without ceasing, despite all the good things I was mindfully doing. I couldn’t understand that the constant critical voice in my head wasn’t normal.

You see, my brain just wasn’t able to control my anxiety. She tried hard. There was never lack of trying. But despite my mindfulness efforts, my meditation practice and my determined pursuit of serenity, my brain faltered. She didn’t have enough serotonin. I actually was one of those people: a person who needed drugs to be normal.

So years later, when a therapist suggested I try medication, I considered the option with full mindfulness. I didn’t want to take medication but my doctor was really eager to give me this medication. But an endless stream of worries started running through my head.

Does he think I’m stressed out or too anxious? I probably won’t get nearly as much accomplished while I’m on medication. But that’s okay, I can create my own reality. I’ll just create a reality where little to no accomplishment is okay. These pills won’t change who I am. It’s silly for me to be superstitious—I believe that anyone with mental illness can benefit from medication. I wouldn’t hesitate to take a pain pill, after all. I can always go off these pills. I don’t need to be hooked on them.

My life wasn’t really that bad. I mean, everybody enjoys periodically losing their temper and breaking things. It’s not like I’m hurting anyone. I’ll be fine. I’ll just take the pills and then see that nothing is different and I’ll go off them. I mean, I meditate, I pray, I set goals, I follow the Four Agreements. My relationships aren’t perfect but they work. Everybody is self-critical. They just won’t admit it.

Okay, fine, I decided I’ll try the pills.

And then, suddenly, silence.

Have you ever noticed that whenever you go outside to read or meditate, a lawn crew starts working? Riding mowers and leaf blowers blast their white noise into the air, wiping out the sounds of birds and squirrels and the occasional car. It’s annoying, but then comes the wonderful moment when they all stop and the silence in the air is thick like cream of potato soup. Then you can hear the birds singing and the squirrels scolding and the silence recedes as you hear nature’s sound track again.

That was what it was like in my brain two days after starting my pills. A clean, clear silence, thick with its absence. No voice reviewing and critiquing my words. No constant wincing over mistakes I perceived. No mindfulness of my mindfulness.

If I was tired, I took a nap. If I had work to do, I did it. When I spent time with people, I relaxed and said what I was thinking.

And the world didn’t stop. No one stopped speaking to me. I didn’t lose my job. I didn’t gain 20 pounds. I didn’t descend into a world of mediocrity. I didn’t lose my emotions.

Despite all the progress and education in the last 20 years, mental illness is stigmatized, and taking medication to treat it is seen as weakness. After all, no one wants to take a pill just “to be normal.” Sometimes talk therapy and meditation is enough. Sometimes working out issues and changing mental habits is all that is needed.

But sometimes a person needs both: medication and meditation.

Now that the lawnmower of anxiety is gone, I can hear the world as it is. I can hear the birds singing and calling. I can hear the wind blowing leaves from the trees. I can hear the rain pattering on the roof. I am truly mindful. And I proudly proclaim that my “normal” life is due, in part, to a daily pill. Because “normal” doesn’t mean boring, or chemically dependent or numbed out. It means the freedom to be yourself.



Medication or Meditation?


Author: Elaine Bayless

Editor: Caitlin Oriel

Image: Minoru Nitta/Flickr & r. nial bradshaw


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Elaine Bayless

Elaine Bayless is an empowerment coach and writer in Raleigh, NC. In addition to her education and training in counseling, coaching, and spiritual development, she has personally dealt with anxiety, seasonal affective disorder and post partum depression. As a recovering people pleaser and former perfectionist, she is passionate about helping others find freedom and joy in life.

To learn more about practical ways to improve your relationships, time management, and overall mood, check out Elaine’s Delicious Life Webinar series. You can also follow Elaine on Twitter.




14 Responses to “Mindfulness & Medication.”

  1. Dee says:

    May I ask what medication you were on? Antidepressant, anti-anxiety, or something else? Thanks!

    • Elaine says:

      Sure! I am currently on an SSRI, generic Lexapro. I tried a different SSRI a few years ago when I had post partum depression, but it didn't work at all.

    • Ali says:

      The only medication that helped me was xanax. I tried lexapro and all the other anti depressants but they all made me sick and dizzy. I think it was my body telling me that it wasn’t what I needed. I’m not saying that medication is never the answer and that no one needs it. But, if you could be inside my brain/body BEFORE I started a vitamin regimen and what it feels like NOW. There is no doubt that my problem was nutrient based. With all of the chemicals and things they put in out food I think it makes a lot of sense. The day all health starts in the gut, if you’re “good bacteria” is all messed up and your body can’t absorb what it needs, things start to go wrong. And large amounts of stress will just add to that problem. I started by drinking the “Calm” magnesium drink and felt a difference within 2 days. So, I thought that maybe that my problem was simpler tha I thought. I was put on an adrenal support supplement, a digestive enzyme, and a few other vitamins. I’ve now found that taking a probiotic, a daily vitamin, adrenal strength and “unstress” supplement is exactly what I need. It makes me feel terrible to see people suffering from not having what they need and trying to cover up the symptoms with medication. It’s also bad for us to think we all have “mental problems” when I believe a lot of us just have “nutrient absorbing” problems. Anyway, I hope this will help someone to feel like they are not going crazy and losing control of their lives like I was.

  2. ALI says:

    Medication helped me for a little while, but then the effects of the pills started to be just as bad as my starting problems and then they stopper helping at all. After being completely dependent and miserable for a long time, I went to a holistic doctor who figured our that my problems were imbalances and malnutients. I started taking a daily vitamin, adrenal support supplement, and a supplement called ‘unstress’. I am a whole new person. I can handle things like a normal person. The only anxiety issues I have are the habit thoughts that I still am expecting to come over me. But, then I realize I’m fine and they go away. It’s a whole new world. If nothing else, try taking some magnesium ot soaking regularly in Epsom salt baths. I can’t believe all that time I wasted and medicated myself when I just needed to give my brain the right nutrition to function.

    • Elaine says:

      Hello Ali! That's wonderful that you found a solution with no side effects. It's all about developing awareness of our body mind connection and then nurturing ourselves. For me, the SSRI is exactly what my body needed – it didn't just solve my anxiety, it also solved some physical issues I suffered from. I have also added Reiki self-treatment which has gotten rid of all my back aches and head aches. The important thing is that we take action to nurture ourselves and persist (like you did) if the first solution doesn't work!

  3. ZauFishan says:

    As a Psychologist, I would really really really like to appreciate the writer of this article. For me, it's the best from EJ in last few weeks.

  4. practitioner says:

    Thank you for the honest assessment of your situation. The skills you developed with your therapy will serve you for the rest of your life, but correcting a chemical imbalance in your brain helps to access those skills and as you described so well, "quiets" an anxious brain.

  5. Elaine says:

    Thanks! I really appreciate your kind words.

  6. tierney says:

    I have always been a more anxious person myself. This past year it struck me that my twins are graduating and flying the coop soon. Things will never be the same again. I couldnt get past this thought. The overwhelming grief was to much. I couldnt think about it or talk about it with waves of tears, sadness and fear. My NP wanted to go on an antidepressant and I balked at it.. had heard all sorts of scary things about the side effects.. wouldn’t do it,but things got harder. I work with clients and all day everyone would ask “so what are you going to do, how do you feel about them graduating”. It became to much so I talked with my brother who actually works for the same pharmaceutical company of the drug my NP wanted to prescribe. He told me how an psychiatrist explained it to him. “Some people are like a full glass of water you add one more drop (the anxious moment, the grief thought) and they overflow. Lexapro (the one I was perscribed) just takes the level of water down so you can handle the extra drops in life.” This analogy made me okay with trying it. I can’t remember exactly how many weeks it took for it to work for me..there was an adjustment period at the beginning (my heart would speed up a bit when I would lay on couch to watch a show at night so I started taking in morning and that went away), but all of a sudden one day I noticed that when people asked me questions about the future, I could answer them. When I was out for my morning walk and would think of future,, I wasn’t overwhelmed with tears. I am still the same person.. I can actually think and talk about the upcoming changes and am able to handle the thoughts.. the level of “water in my cup” was brought down enough for me to deal and I am forever grateful that I listened and gave it a try! I know its not for everyone but for me it is a saving grace.

  7. Laura Williams says:

    Elaine, thank you so very much for sharing. And so eloquently. You wrote what I have been trying to tell people for years! I have battled with my chemicals, I like to call them, for more than 20 years. The stigma of taking medications, on top of the stigma for ‘mental illness’, has had me try everything, and several periods of stopping my medication – somehow trying to be “strong” enough to overcome my issues. Now, I am happy on my medications – you’re right the silence is wonderful – I can silence the manic monkeys, and am just honest with people about my needing those medications. Like you my serotonin is off. It’s not a flaw, it’s not a weakness, it’s not an easy way out, it’s not always perfect, but it’s so much better than suffering. Your article was fantastic. If I had the guts, I’d send it to a few people who think I took the easy way out. And I would be able to tell them I have already tried EVERYTHING, like you, and medication works, along with meditation. Thank you Elaine.

    • Laura, amen to silencing the manic monkeys!! I'm proud to share my story as much as possible because a serotonin imbalance is just another medical condition like low functioning thyroid! And yes, we all need to take good care of our physical health, but sometimes a medication is exactly how we do that.

  8. Susan says:

    Elaine, This post is so beautiful. Beautifully written and SO heartfelt and vulnerable. Thank you so much for sharing your pain with such courage. I applaud your dedication and your self-acceptance. <3

  9. Lisa says:

    Thanks Elaine! I was afraid you were going to say you realized you didn’t need the meds when I saw “and then, suddenly, silence.” Like the meds shut down YOU. Happy you found the right drug for you and you are a proponent of brain help. Anxiety and depression are chemical-soup-of-the-brain disorders! As my doc likes to say.

    For those who know they are medication sensitive, I’d offer that if one drug doesn’t help, try another…my hands ballooned on one and I was homicidal YIKES! on another. SSRIs are great for anxiety, followed by snris, tricyclics and only intermittently for most- benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium. The latter can dull senses too much and create dependency…some brains WILL need them regularly anyways.

    There are 2 genetic metabolism tests doctors can use now to help discover best meds for you if the first few guesses don’t work optimally. They show how fast you metabolize different types of meds.

    Personally, I’d ask about ease of quitting the drug if I don’t want meds anymore….some are known to be excruciatingly difficult to stop (Paxil for me). A very clean macro diet helped.

    And concerning supplements like St. John’s wort or 5-htp…I’m a proponent…but really…the generic meds will cost way less!

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