When I share with people that I’m on antidepressants I’m usually greeted with either surprise or quiet confession “I’m on them too. What do you take.”
I forget what stigma seems to persist against medical treatment for depression. In my experience people seem to operate under the assumption that everyone’s mind operates generally the same. The highs and lows that an individual experiences set their parameters for how all minds experience shifts in hope and hopelessness. So when you tell someone that you’re medicating your imbalance, you find yourself judged by someone who has no experience with the depths of depression you deal with. “Why don’t you try x and y?” , “I don’t believe in medication”, “I used to be depressed but then I found God”
We really are all different and assuming what worked for you will work for someone else is not only ignorant but hurtful as well.
Around the age of 8 I developed a fear of death that would send me into a panic nearly every night. My heart would race. I imagined the horrors of eternal life and the terror of nothingness. I worried for my parents and their inevitable deaths. I was raised in a Christian church and feared the rapture. Would God take me or would I be left behind? Would God really destroy the earth with fire? Would all the animals burn to death when he did so? Certainly the animals are innocent!
As I got older other fears worked their way in, insecurities, the horrible things I knew my friends were living through. Every night as I laid down to sleep my head would seek out new fears. I’d conjure images graphic and visceral in order to torment myself with worst cases and the inevitable. Sleeping was hell. I dreaded my bed, I dreaded sleep.
Coping with this fear, I’d seek distraction. I’d sleep with the radio playing loudly and i’d leave my lights on. I tried sleeping on the floor, the closet, the couch anywhere but that bed that had become associated with anxiety.
This followed me into adulthood. As I shed myself of religion my fears shifted focus but never went away. It was crippling. I could become overwhelmed in the middle of the day with a wave of dread and i would collapse. The noise in my head was so intense I could not function. I mean, what was the point, it was pure and complete hopelessness. Life was nothing but a series of pointless suffering.
Finally, at about age 25, i reluctantly went to a therapist. I’m not sure what kind of hope i was looking for but i told her that i REALLY did not want to be on medication. I told her i had a creative job that required me to be able to think. I had associated my creativity with my over productive mind. More than anything else, i just needed someone to listen to me talk about the things i couldn’t say to anyone else. Through conversation i was able to tease out the things in my life i could change and the things i could not. I came to understand that while the experience i was having was common, it was due to very unfortunate chemistry.
My lows were so low that they fully drained me and i could NOT pull out it on my own. I learned that when other people experience lows they can go for a run, or focus on a hobby or talk to a friend and pull themselves out of it. For me, if i went below a certain point my brain chemistry changed and I’d stay there for months.
In time i agreed to try medication. For me, it was a surrender. I’d rather be numb and continue to support my family that shrivel into uselessness.
Three weeks into taking my medication ( Celexa ) I realized i was sleeping through the night. I was still depressed, I still had a fair share of worries, but i WAS sleeping and i was laughing at jokes. I realized that i was gradually able to find myself distracted enough to enjoy things again. I wasn’t sure if it was the medication, it seemed to have no effect on me, but things WERE looking better. Coincidence? Who knew.
Creatively, I found myself far more focused without the constant chatter of anxiety raging in the background of my mind. I was MORE creative and i learned that i actually work better when i’m happy. Over the course of 2 months, I was functioning in a way I’d never functioned before.
Given this experience, i understand the depths and hopelessness of depression. I know for a fact that there are lows i’ve never experienced and i know that when i talk to someone who’s suffering that while i can relate on some level, my experience will be different.
So, I felt compelled to write this for several reasons. If you’re reading this and suffering from depression, you’re NOT alone and that hopelessness that you’re suffering from is a head trap. Find people that are good at listening and if needed, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. If you know someone who is depressed know they need an ear more than they need advice. These people feel isolated and need to be able to talk about what they’re suffering through. Understand that works for you is unlikely to work for them. The internet is full of good advice on this subject, take it seriously.
I also wrote this to dispel a bit of the stigma. You do what you need to do to function and enjoy your life. My struggle isn’t something i’m going to be ashamed of. Depression and bad chemistry is part of who I am. I consider myself lucky to live in a time where there is help, i’m lucky to have a good job with good health insurance and i’m extremely lucky to have loving supportive people in my life.