Woe #10: Wait. Wait. Wait.
Everyone hates waiting, which is why you will hate this tip.
And yet, when you’re mentally ill, you spend a lot of time waiting.
You wait at the pharmacy. You wait on the phone with the insurance company. You wait for a therapist or a psychopharmacologist or a new treatment. You wait to see if new meds will work, you wait for side effects to dissipate or not. You wait for the phlebotomist and you wait for the lab results. You wait for prescriptions to be pre-approved. You wait to get into the hospital and then you wait to get out.
Most of all, you wait to feel better.
The title of this issue comes from a standard psychopharmacology reference called Stahl’s Prescriber’s Guide. It’s what your docs are all using when they prescribe psych meds, although often the main thing they’re looking up in the moment is dosages and formulations, for example which dosages does the sustained release version of buproprion come in. It’s a good book to own if you’re constantly changing meds, and it’ll come up again in future tips about good books to own, about understanding psych meds, about how to exert agency in your own mental health care. Y’all, I am seriously never going to run out of tips.
Anyway in addition to dosages and formulations and other key information about each drug, there is a section about side effects you might expect. And for every single drug in the book, there’s a box that says “What to do about side effects” and in every single one of those boxes it says “Wait. Wait. Wait.”
It’s good advice, and not just about side effects. Some mental illnesses are episodic by nature, like depression and bipolar. The natural history of such diseases is to come and go. Bad things can certainly happen during the coming and the going, but you can be pretty sure an episode is going to end. Even less naturally episodic conditions, like anxiety or ptsd, will rise and fall in intensity and the level of distress they are causing you.
So a lot of the time the main thing you can do to feel better is: Wait. Wait. Wait.
When I advise you to wait I don’t mean do nothing, necessarily. Call your doctor. Call your therapist. Try a new med. By all means, change something.
I mean accept that you will need to wait, that whether you do something or whether you just wait, something will eventually change, and, most importantly, get good at waiting.
Learn what kinds of things you might do while you’re waiting, to make the waiting easier.
I can tell you what I do, but your things might be different.
I lie down in the sun, if there’s sun to be had.
I rewatch 30 Rock.
I look at the clouds.
I watch birds, or insects, or the sunset, or the moonrise.
Sometimes I meditate, or pray, or read my tarot cards.
I paint, or listen to music, or dance or stretch or bathe.
I sit down with my back against a weeping willow.
I go for walks.
I pet my cat.
I put my trust in the truth of Impermance, and I settle myself in the present moment.
And then eventually something is different and there may be an opportunity for action that wasn’t there before.
Unfortunately I can’t give you any guidance about how long to wait, when you should stop waiting and try something else, or when your waiting or your means of waiting are no longer serving you. There’s no set answer there. All I can suggest is that every so often you ask yourself some questions about the waiting, and see what answer.
Until next week,
PS Should I offer discussion threads? Like “What do you do to wait?”
PPS what about an audio version? Who wants that?
PPPS Do you find these tips useful enough that you would pay for them?
Smash that reply button and let me know what you think!