I’m not sure if I’ve ever directly addressed my mental health issues or just alluded to them, but here we go!
An extremely large part of what prompted my move from Michigan to Portland almost a year and a half ago was a battle I was (unknowlingly, or unwilling-to-knowingly) fighting with depression. I wasn’t sleeping regularly, I was rarely leaving my apartment, I was hiding all my struggles from all the world.
It came to a point when my boss, who just couldn’t take my absence any longer, basically called me out on falling off the face of the planet. I know this because I would still, from home, log into my laptop every day so that friends wouldn’t ask any questions. But obviously, my boss could tell I wasn’t in the office. I don’t know if I was fooling anyone, but it felt like I was getting away with it for the few weeks that I was “working from home” and then from the 7ish days that I had totally disappeared.
That day I finally told my parents, who had no idea what was going on. And by told my parents, I mean called my mom and told her I hadn’t been to work for a while and had totally disappeared for about a week. This prompted her to have her own anxiety attack (sorry, famiglia). Luckily she was already diagnosed and in treatment at this point. But we all kind of freaked out.
My parents suggested I go to the doctor to cover my ass. And even though I was 100% honest when I answered the little depression questionnaire they gave out, I still took my depression diagnosis for granted. I didn’t really believe I was depressed, I was just using it as an excuse to explain to everyone what had been going on.
Part of my moving back to Portland meant seeking treatment for my condition, which is when I met my favorite of my therapists whom I am sure I mentioned in the past. I respected her, and when someone is telling you that you’ve been continually (ie on and off) depressed since you were 11 or 12 you better god damn respect them.
Very early on we talked about prescribing antidepressants and I told her, as I always do, that I don’t feel comfortable with that. Because I don’t. Antidepressant scare the shit out of me (this is only weird because there have been other medications *cough* birth control *cough**cough* that I was taking thoughtlessly for almost a decade). So we agreed to put off antidepressants, get my sleep under control with melatonin, and use talk therapy and see how far that takes us.
I remember one day I came in and told her about a breakdown I had. I was PMSing (guys, we women use this excuse as much as you throw it at us, but we’re allowed to, ok? Never ask a woman if she is PMSing. Let her offer that information if she so pleases. PMSing does not nullify our emotions. PMS doesn’t invent these feelings from nothingness, it only amplifies them if that). I can’t remember EXACTLY what happened now (it was probably about a year ago), but some family innocuous question had been asked by my dad and my response was to lose my shit and SCREAM at him. I ended up sobbing in the back yard, sitting on the grass. I was sobbing because I knew my reaction had been completely out of proportion to what had taken place. I was sobbing because I realized how little control I seemed to have over my emotions.
This, my therapist said, was what anti-depressants is for. Anti-depressants don’t make sad people happy. And that’s not the purpose of them. Anti-depressants help make the negative extremes a little less extreme, a little more controllable.
I recently read a passage in a book that really reminded me of the conversation I had with my therapist when she finally convinced me to start a very low dose of Fluoxetine. The book was It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell. (I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book, to be honest. In my current journey towards body and self love, the book was very triggering. She often talks in weight loss and numbers. And even though it appears Andie finally arrived at a place of self-acceptance, I can’t help but struggle with the fact that she still seemed to get there along with a lot of what she wanted only after she found her way of eating right and losing weight). BUT this post is not about that! This post is about depression.
At one point, Andie sees a therapist. She says
“She prescribed me an antidepressant, telling me that, no, it would not be a cure-all. The medication wouldn’t make me happier or fix any of my problems, but it would help to lift the heavy cloud that was weighing me down and making me feel hopeless. She wanted me to be able to see beyond the gray fog I was stuck in, at least temporarily.
‘Taking medication to adjust this imbalance is not taking the easy way out. You’re not taking drugs to feel amazing; you’re taking them to feel normal…The talk therapy is where you’re working through it all.'”
I want everyone to read just this one passage over and over again and just think on that. I hate the word normal, because I don’t believe there is a normal, but go with the sentiment for a second. There is so much stigma that comes with being on antidepressants. Enough that even most of us struggle with being prescribed the stuff ourselves. I can’t help but liken it to self-inflicted fat-phobia. It’s another thing that we’ve been taught is not ok and therefore we don’t let ourselves do it.
But really, for those of you that have never suffered the weight of depressions how can you really understand? I know, I can survive without antidepressants. I mean was suffering from depression on and off for well over a decade. I wasn’t prescribed antidepressants until last year. That means that, true, in that time I managed to get myself out of depression without the help of medication. But I wonder how that impacted my quality of life. I wonder how many things I missed out on because I happened to be depressed that month. I wonder how many things I misconstrued, misinterpreted, how many people I didn’t mean, how many friends I lost touch with, how many opportunities just slipped through my fingers in those times.
Thanks to that therapist from last summer, I’ve become a lot more aware of when my emotional reactions don’t feel like myself. It’s been happening more and more lately. And now, this week, my sleep has gotten completely out of whack. I’m freaking out that I’m about to dip again, and I feel guilty that I’m considering a change in my prescription. On top of everything else I feel weakness and guilt. But guilt towards who? Who am I offending by not “roughing it?” And, if they knew what it was like inside my head sometimes, would they really want me to go through life this way? I don’t know, but maybe if they read this they will reconsider.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I am not prescribing any of you antidepressants. I am a BIG believer in only psychiatrists (ie not your general practitioner physician, but rather someone who is an expert in mental illness) prescribing such medications. In fact I refused to even consider the medication when my general practitioner in Michigan offered to prescribe it to me. Be aware antidepressants have a long list of potential side effects that you should always be on the lookout for.