"Xanax helps me be a better mom," claims Hope Chanda, a mother of twins, in a story that brings together the thorny topics of parenting and prescription drug use. Chanda has been trying to conceive for two years, and in that time she has had two miscarriages and several rounds of fertility hormone treatments.
“All the hormones made me crazy,” she told CNN. “After the second miscarriage, it all came out,” Chanda says. “I had this feeling that something was really wrong.”
Chanda started having regular panic attacks. Often they would waker her up in the middle of the night with tightness in her chest, pressure on her rib cage and shortness of breath. "Every time I feel like I'm going to die," she says.
Her doctor prescribed a twice-daily dose half a milligram of Xanax, a powerful anti-anxiety drug. Xanax helped her panic attacks considerably, but benefitted Chanda with something else: parenting.
"It helps me be a better mom," says Chanda. "I look forward to taking my medication. I'm more flexible, tolerant, and rational. Before, when the kids were being a problem, I would get frustrated and yell immediately. Now, we work through the problem."
Hope Chanda's story came to light in an article in Parenting magazine. The issue touches off some interesting debates, namely, when are we okay with people taking drugs? For purely medical issues, it's almost never a question, but things get more difficult when emotions come into play. Emotion is a mix of the mental (how we perceive and process the world around us) and the biochemical (how our bodies react to that perception), and of course, the emotional and biochemical are constantly intermingling and affecting each other. "Fixing" the problem biochemically--with a pill--can make people squeamish to begin with, but there are cases, such as Chanda's, where it has a clear and large benefit.
Another mom interviewed for the story, JD Bailey, who takes SSRIs (selective seritonin reuptake inhibitors, a class of drugs commonly used to fight depression) echoes this sentiment on her blog, Honest Mom:
I was thrilled to be a part of the article, but what’s interesting is this: When I was interviewed for it I was not on SSRIs, but I am back on them now. It’s kind of odd, looking back on when I was interviewed for the article. I was so hopeful I was done with my bout of depression and that I could handle everyday parental stress on my own. But here I am, back on meds. But that’s okay. I’m feeling good. And that’s what counts.
The comment thread regarding Bailey and Chanda's prescription drug use on Parenting Magazine's facebook page is predictably vitriolic. One mom responded to them on Parenting's website:
I just read the article and the resulting thread. As someone who has been on Zoloft for the better part of 10 years, some of those comments really pissed me off. I don't take my meds for fun or to get a buzz...I take them so I'm able to function like a normal human being, instead of a messed up emotional zombie that can barely get out of bed in the morning. And while exercise, vitamins and deep breathing are all good, they will not fix a chemical imbalance in my brain. And the "try harder" reaction? Spoken by people who have obviously never lived in that circle of hell that is depression
We have come to accept that a pill like Xanax can improve people's lives, so why wouldn't that improvement extend to the most important, time-consuming, high-stakes job out there: parenting? When you think about it, it would be really strange if Xanax didn't make Chanda a better parent, if it is in fact succeeding at making her happier and calmer.
That's not the end of the discussion, but it is useful to notice what exactly we are reacting to when we hear something that might be initially shocking like "Xanax helps me be a better mom."