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Exercise Did Not Cure My Mood Disorder(s) and I Feel a Little Ripped Off [Medication Nation]

Posted Jul 03 2013 1:37am


I am so totally a trendsetter, you guys. At least according to the CDC – the arbiter of all things cool, right? Being a long-standing citizen of Medication Nation, I was very interested in their latest numbers on how much Americans love our pills. Two fun trends have emerged over the past decade:

1. According to the Today show commentary, “These days Americans are taking more prescription medications than ever, with nearly 16 million scripts written for painkillers like hydrocodone, oxycodone and tramadol each year, according to IMS Health. A full 5 million prescriptions are written for sleep aids, while 18 million are written for anti-depressants, according to the healthcare information company.”

{Anyone surprised? Anyone? Nope.}


Turns out this was morphine. No wonder the kiddies are all over it!

2. The CDC adds that while OD’ing on prescription pain meds is problematic for everyone, deaths of women from the drugs has increased 400%.

So what gives with the pill popping, ladies? Increasing incidence of chronic pain? Overeager doctors? Addiction? An epidemic of depression? Environmental factors? D) all of the above? Out of all the plausible explanations for our increasing dependence on medicines to help us perform “normal” daily tasks like sleeping, walking, eating and, oh, being happy, one made me do a double take.

Harvard’s Dr. Jerry Avorn posited that these troubling trends might possibly be thanks to aggressive drug advertising. “In the 1990s when it became legal for drug makers to advertise, the demand for prescription medications skyrocketed. That created this sense on the part of many patients that, ‘Oh, I saw that ad on television, I think I should be on that medicine,’” he explained.

Does anyone seriously do that? I’m not knocking it if you have, I was just surprised. The only times I’ve heard my friends talk about these ads is to mock them. (Remember Fukitol ? Ah, good times.) And I have never once gone to my doctor after seeing an ad for a medication. If anything, they have the opposite effect on me. I mean when the TV told me to “ask my doctor if Viagra is right for you” I was terrified she’d say yes. Mostly because I hate baths (sitting in a pool of your own filth, you are!) and everyone knows that Viagra makes you take a lot of baths. In separate tubs. With clothes on. Because that’s how babies are made.


(Although remember the one for female incontinence that had those adorable water balloons bopping around and bursting leaks everywhere? I kinda loved that ad. How cute is urine leakage when wrapped in candy colored latex?!)


 I don’t know what this one was but I need it. STAT.

Anyhow, when it comes to pain pills I haven’t had anything other than ibuprofen in 14 years, not even during or after childbirth. And it’s not because I have some weird moral stance against medicine or am pro-pain or have a crazy high pain tolerance. It’s because I like them way too much. To this day I tell people I’ve never been happier than the day I got my colonoscopy, thanks to the wonderful floaty free-from-all-cares feeling the Demerol gave me. I honestly can’t remember feeling that good either before or after. Which freaks me the heck out. I’ve had a long-standing suspicion that I have a predilection towards drug addiction – I have an addictive personality, for Pete’s sake – and when I got my genetic test results back from, one of the things it told me was that I have a “greater than average risk” for opiate and alcohol dependency. I was not surprised at this, for reasons I won’t go into here, and it was actually nice to have my hunch validated. Which is why I’ve avoided them ever since.


 Yep, morphine again!

But on the other hand (clenched around a fistful of pills), I’m certainly one of the 18 million on an anti-depressant and I have been for years now. You may recall earlier this year when thanks to a snafu with my stupid health insurance (they’re probably double bathtub sitters) I tried giving up my meds . It didn’t go well. After a couple of months of spiraling downward but pretending that I wasn’t I finally went back on my pills and it was like all the lights went back on. The change was remarkable, almost immediate and pretty much convinced me that I really really do need them.

Which ticks me off. Because I feel like I shouldn’t need them. One of the things people always promise you about exercising and, to a lesser extent, eating right, is that it will make you happier, less anxious, more able to deal with every day stressors and pee like a leaky water balloon. The only one that has come true for me is the peeing. (And that’s only a benefit if you’re into latex.) The research undeniably supports this. One study found that 90% of people with “major depressive disorder” still found relief from their symptoms six months after starting an exercise regimen. (Surprise fact: Contrary to the whole “runner’s high” thing, a separate study found that people who walked daily had more relief from their depression than people who ran.)

Anecdotally it’s there too. I can’t tell you how many Internet True Life stories (my fave kind!) I’ve read about people who were not only able to ditch their blood pressure and diabetes meds but also their anti-depressants after adopting a healthy lifestyle. Paleo, vegan, fruititarian – doesn’t matter, they all have their “cured from my lifelong mood disorder” stories. I exercise a ton! I genuinely adore kale chips! So why do I still have to take that little white pill to maintain some semblance of emotional equilibrium?

pinkpill This is totally a problem I have. I should talk to my doctor immediately. 


- I’m a weirdo. This wouldn’t be the first time I’m a statistical anomaly, frankly. I am the 1%, baby!! Just not when it comes to income…

- I’d actually be more depressed/anxious without the exercise. Perhaps I am reaping the mood-enhancing benefits and I just don’t realize it because my emotional baseline is so much lower than everyone else’s? Now, that’s a depressing thought.

- My previous unhealthy relationship with exercise (what up, exercise addiction!) has tainted the mood benefits for me. I really really hope that isn’t true.

- Maybe it only really works for depression. I’ve said this before but while I’ve certainly had periods of depression, my main struggle in life is my anxiety. Taking out dairy helped “cure” my panic attacks (that were actually severe lactose intolerance – who knew?) but I am still a very, very anxious person. And most of the research on this subject has been about the relationship between depression and exercise. Although you know what is correlated strongly in the research with less anxiety? MEDITATION. My arch nemesis. I really need to get on the Ohm Bus. (I will say that I always feel a marked reduction in my anxiety during exercise. Unfortunately that feeling only lasts as long as my pit sweat. Which is basically how I ended up an exercise addict, in a nutshell.)

- What’s normal anyhow? Maybe – and this is a real possibility – I’m striving for a goal that’s not even attainable. Perhaps what I see as “normal” happiness in other people is not necessarily so. Maybe I’m expecting too much? Maybe I’m already as normal as the next girl? (Buwhahahahah!!! Ahem.)

So what are your thoughts on this? Clearly pain, sleep and mood meds can be literal lifesavers but do you think we take them when we don’t need them? Have any of you been able to go off your mood meds after healthifying your life? Do you have a favorite drug ad?


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