By Angela Giles Patel.
The most dangerous time for me are the moments after I remember that I forgot to take my medication. This is the time when I can convince myself that I am on the path to weaning myself from the required daily dose, that I am already hours into a medication free life and can keep going, that there is no time like the present, that I will be okay.
I have been on anti-depressants since I was fifteen and first prescribed a tricyclic. Though I cannot recall it among the string of arguments with my mother, there must have been something I said that jolted her. I was unhappy and articulate which meant that I could tell her with venomous precision just how much sadness I was experiencing. And I did so, on a regular basis, telling her how I wanted to live anywhere else, how I hated school, how I wanted to disappear.
If I felt like I wasn’t being heard, I would stick hand written lyrics to the refrigerator door. Little sad notes next to reminders that we needed to buy more milk. The Cure, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Joy Division – they were the soundtrack to my high school years. When it became clear that I was well beyond the realm of teenage angst, or, more likely, when it became clear that she couldn’t navigate my waters in the midst of my father’s vodka tinged storms, she sent me to a psychiatrist. Finding someone else to help me was one of the best parenting decisions she made.
I went willingly.
I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder.
My therapist was a good fit for me. He took me seriously, listened to what I said, answered questions I had. He also prescribed an anti-depressant. He fed my love of reading, recommending books that would give me a broader perspective than the one I had living in a small town in southern Utah. Soul on Ice, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The books were edgy and expansive. I wrote about how I felt, he read it, and we talked about it. There was never any real discussion of me not making it through my teenage years, it was always a question of how. We set a goal: I would make it through high school and move out to attend college.
I considered my need to use an anti-depressant nothing more than a by-product of living in a dysfunctional home and I never balked at taking it, or at the weekly sessions I had with my therapist. The small white pill made the edges less sharp, and life felt easier. I thought the medication was temporary, that once I no longer lived at home, I would no longer need it.
In college, I let the prescription lapse and found myself sliding back into a space I thought was hundreds of miles away. What I was feeling was so familiar that it scared me and I again began a regimen of therapy and medication. Rather than discussing how to endure my environment, the therapy focused on how to best be me. Among the many things that make me who I am is the fact that I am a person with a clinical disorder.
I’ve been on five different antidepressants since I was a teenager, moving from one to another as I changed doctors or as newer medication became available. The biggest change to the type of medication I was taking came in my 30s. After my sister died, the run-of-the-mill antidepressant wasn’t working, my body chemistry had upped its game and thrown anxiety into the mix. Combinations of medication were tried until I felt balanced. Although I stopped therapy years ago, I continue to see a doctor who helps monitor my medication.
And here I am.
So nothing pisses me off more than to see someone talk about how they used to take medication for depression or anxiety, but now they don’t have to anymore, because they discovered yoga or running or god. The idea that somehow they have managed a victory that is important enough to broadcast, that what they have accomplished can be outlined and followed is misleading at best. And although they won’t say it explicitly, the implied judgment is clear – if you are not enlightened enough to be able to survive without medication, something is wrong with you.
Something is wrong with me.
What is wrong with me is not a bump in the road, or a case of the blues, and it is not something that can be addressed by the right herbal tea. It is not a pothole, it is a fucking canyon – one I can only navigate with help. This is why I have to take two burgundy colored capsules every morning. If I don’t my mind turns against me. It’s not a failure to be enlightened, it’s who I am. The kicker is that I am enlightened enough to know that who I am is someone who’s mind can fail to be her friend.
I hate taking the medication. The idea that I cannot fully function without it breaks my heart on a regular basis, but I can’t. I’ve tried. It wasn’t pretty. I hate my dis-order and my dis-ease enough that I occasionally allow myself to become tricked by depression. I am not sure who said it first, but they are right – depression lies. One of the biggest lies it tells is the one that starts with the idea that medication is unnecessary. Maybe it is optional for someone who just needed a little boost to get through a rocky period, but for those of us who are predisposed to depression, proper medication is critical. To suggest otherwise is a failure to understand the true nature of the problem.
There have been a handful of times where I have stopped taking my prescription on my own, always after missing a dose. The immediate onset of withdrawal symptoms coupled with a careening mood were enough to snap me back to my senses within a few days. I have stopped my medication under supervision twice. Making it past the painful withdrawal period and becoming fully engaged with my depression felt perilous, and I was quickly placed back on medication after articulating my concerns. Even so, if I could trade the fact that my pharmacist knows my name before I open my mouth to ask for the prescriptions my doctor has called in, I would. I don’t need that kind of recognition.
What I do need is space to be me. I need quiet and time to reflect. I need room to be still and recollect. Truth be told, I occasionally do a bit of yoga and I regularly run my heart out, but neither of those is a panacea. I also need my friends. They accept that my disposition is a part of me, nothing more and nothing less, just another feature I have, like my messy red hair. Above all else, they understand what it is to be gloriously unique. And I need a reliable pharmacist, preferably one who genuinely smiles when she sees me walk through the door.
Angela Giles Patel has had her work appear in The Healing Muse as well as on The Nervous Breakdown and The Manifest-Station. She tweets as @domesticmuse, and when inspired updates her Air Hunger. She lives in Massachusetts where she conquers the world, one day at a time. She is one of the editors of this site.
Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station, is a writer living on an airplane.
Thank you Angela for the clarity and honesty in describing who you truly are.
Beautiful and beautifully expressive.
This post means a lot to me Angela, thank you for saying it so articulately and thank you Jen for giving her a platform. As a yoga teacher I battle continuously against taking antidepressants. For years I’ve hates myself for it and have felt like the upmost failure. If only I could meditate more or eat the right kinds of food or balance this or that… I’ve finally resigned to taking them and you know what, my quality of life is better for it. I did learn however not to tell anyone in the yoga community until I met Jen. And now I’m so grateful we are all talking about this. Much love, Meagan
Oh shoot! I didn’t mean to leave two comments! I thought my other didn’t go through. :/ (feeling vulnerable and foolish now)
there’s only one. xx
Reblogged this on Life Through My Eyes and commented:
So honest! I love this
I agree that is importantly honest. I’m glad you reblogged.
Thank you, Angela, for stating so succinctly, what I have trouble explaining to those around me. It’s tough when your loved ones don’t get it, and luckily, I’ve got a husband and daughter that do get it.
I am trying to imagine a diabetic weaning herself from insulin. Who would applaud that? It’s a dangerous act, and it shows she doesn’t know much about herself at all. She has a biological deficiency of insulin. Turn the diabetic into someone with major depressive disorder (MDD) and the insulin into an SSRI, and all of a suddenly it is an amazing feat of strength and a testament to her character to give up medication. Just like the diabetic cannot will herself to kick her dependence on insulin, someone with MDD cannot will herself to throw away her anti-depressant and live pill- free. Depression comes from a complicated interplay of neuroreceptors and neurotransmitters, perhaps because a genetic switch was flipped on because of some life event. There isn’t enough serotonin, norepinephrine and/or dopamine available to keep the receptors adequately stocked , so the anti-depressant helps balance supply and demand. The brain needs these neurotransmitters to function. The yogini with MDD who gets proper treatment knows herself and her body. She’s taking care of herself. That’s the feat of strength. The testament to her character.
Thank you for this.
I totally agree, I’ve been saying this all along, chemical imbalance needs to be treated. I believe in God and have done yoga, I meditate and pray often….I still need my antidepressant!! The end!!
Thank you for telling your story. This is my story, too. I try it go of meds, planned and unplanned. It doesn’t work for me. I needs meds to be me. I’m a little less lonely knowing I’m not the only one.
And, yes. Depression lies.
thank you so much for this. after years on prozac, i took myself off last fall. by february, after some health issues and stresses, i fell into the worst depression of my life. all i could do was cry and tremble, and every day wished i was dead. I’d never been in that place before, and it was terrifying. going back on the prozac didn’t work. An NP put me on zoloft, but two weeks in, no noticeable change. I was in such bad shape that i started an outpatient day treatment program and they added abilify….you know, the one with the commercial that lists terrifying side effects (I’d seen it many times and thought, I’ll never take THAT!). well, just one week in, it has lifted my mood and, although i’m not 100% yet, I can look at people smiling or watch a sunset without feeling like every part of my body and mind and soul was in torment. i’ve smiled. i’m listening to music again and singing. it had been many months since i could do those things because it broke my heart…how to explain that to people….that the things they tell you to do to feel better actually are painful to do because they make you more aware of how you aren’t able to feel a moment’s peace of mind ,let alone joy. I am so much better than just one week ago. But I’m not going to watch that commercial ever again, and if it comes on, i will run from the room faster than you can say major clinical depression. blessings to you all.
Thanks Jen and Angela! I love that Jen has given Angela a platform as well! This needs to be widespread! It’s ok to take medication for these disorders! They work and absolutely give us the QUALITY of life that we need to comfort those who struggle with this dreadful condition. Thanks again!
Thank you for articulating what I’ve been wrestling with
thank you for taking my life and putting it in words …. struggling with chronic depression is hell …. going thru different meds is hell ….. trying to help people to understand … and then those who never will ………. thank you, your writing is fantastic
Wow, wow, wow….Many heartfelt Thanks You’s Angela. My story is not much different. Been on multiple meds for 20+ years now and still, when it comes to that time of day, I try to swallow them fast so nobody sees what I’m doing. Or see how much I have to take. You’re writing tells me yet again, that it’s okay.
I struggle sometimes with wondering if I would be “Me” if I wasn’t on these meds. Then I think, there wouldn’t be a “Me” anymore if I wasn’t on these meds because the depression was that bad. I am Thankful and Grateful for them.
Kudos to those who can function without medication. I believe that I will never be there.
Btw – I am in LOVE with your hair! I think I had red hair in a past life or something!
Also, I’m pretty lucky to have a pharmacist who does smile when I see them. I just wish they would STOP asking me my DOB…I know they know it….sheesh! lol!!
Adding my thanks to everyone here for sharing so honestly (and well-stated) about a topic so near and dear to my heart and chemically maintained brain!! I often flip flop between accepting myself “as is” and feeling like a failure for needing my antidepressants to function. Especially lately, as I’ve come to terms with being an alcoholic over 2 years ago (through the grace of AA and my higher power and my sponsor!!), it’s a struggle to accept that my need for my meds is not the same as my “need” was for alcohol. I used alcohol to hide from my feelings, escape from my life, and ultimately I became addicted and used it even when I didn’t want to. On surface, the reasons I take antidepressants are the similar, but for one important fact. My life became unmanageable with my drinking and I was probably going to die from it or at least lose everything meaningful in my life. My antidepressants allow me to manage my life; without them, I’m not convinced that the life I fight for everyday by working my Program would be worth it. This is my opinion only, of course, and true for me today. What the future holds, I leave to God’s will.
This interview from Sounds True focuses on depression and anti-depressants. I got a lot from it, and I highly recommend it.
It’s not a failure to be enlightened, it’s who I am. – word.
Reblogged this on This Is Me and commented:
A painstakingly honest post revealing the truth about depression and taking anti-depressants.
[…] Holding On: My Journey With Antidepressants. […]
Thank you for sharing your “experience” with us. You described so much of who I am…not exactly but definitely the lies that depression tells you and so many other parts! There is something so helpful about not feeling alone in life and all of its many struggles. Your description of thinking you can stop taking the medication, I have experienced many times and get so frustrated with myself because I just cannot understand why I do that. I truly thank you for sharing your feelings, if for no other reason, I know that I am not alone!
I also suffer mdd. I was medicated for years… I become pregnant with my beautiful daughter, called my gyno as soon as I saw the two lines. Is this medication safe to take during pregnancy? Yes…. at least that’s what they said, 8 months into my pregnancy I get a call from my gyno office you need to come in we need to change your prescription your current prescription is no longer considered safe for pregnant women!!!! I met my beautiful baby one month later who was born with out thumbs…. 3 hand surgeries, 4 eye surgeries and a learning disability among other issues. I need medication, I want the medication. The guilt holds me still in this darkness. I’ve been functioning for 7 years without, not because yoga or meditation cured me. I simply can’t stomach the thought of what I’ve done. I’ve even tried to take medication and my mind/body rejects it. What a predicament huh……
Debra, your comment has really touched me, I imagine I would feel the same if this had happened to me. Please don’t let your guilt be your prison. My mother suffered from depression. I wish she had been on antidepressants, her depression had many detrimental effects on our family. Also please check out Nick Vujicic at lifewithoutlimbs.org, he was born without limbs, but has gone on to have an amazing life.
as someone in the same boat I completely understand, I have learned to break the stigma and realize my issues. With the help of a wonderful therapist i know it isn’t something that just goes away this is a life long struggle. But to be where I am today I would not change any of the prescriptions I am on. To feel semi normal and not the way I used to is so amazingly different and wonderful. Yes I may forever be tied to these medications but you are right depression lies and I have stopped listening to the lie. I finally feel like I can face the world and deal with it not hide from it and that is the most FREEING feeling anyone can have.
[…] Depression lies. It’s a duplicitous asshole designed to confuse, distort and destroy. It isolates and it wages a fierce fight with one objective: cause maximum harm. […]
Reblogged this on The Oyster Index and commented:
In the wake of the shocking loss of Robin Williams, let’s get real, and serious, about accepting and supporting those with depression. It’s me, you, our best friends and brothers. Our neighbors and the woman in the car next to you. Be kind. Be patient. Be real.
I wanted to let you know that you are not alone, you probably know this. I have had major depression since my teens, and I am now 54 years old. For 10 years starting when I was 29, I was bi-polar as well. But in this case, I finally just got tired of thinking of myself as sick. So I did stop the medication for the bi-polar, but not the anti-depressant. Through working on my thought process, I was able to cure the bi-polar disorder. Even the depression went away for a long time and I didn’t take anything at all. But after menopause, the depression came back and is now disabling. I know I too will have these meds for the rest of my life most likely. What I choose to focus on now is this: I am not sick, I am different. I feel too much, and its overwhelming to feel so much in the world as it is today. Finding a creative outlet for my feelings by writing is helping me to adjust and accept that who I am is who I am. And, I like who I am becoming. I hope the same for you.
I have been on medication since around age seventeen. When I miss a dose my body starts to fail me, I get debilitating headaches, fatigue and I cant think.Thankyou for sharing.I too have been told by others that I need to be off meds and that supplements etc can do that for me. I dont believe they can and I am not willing to go thorugh the withdrawl to get off meds because I have a life to live! I dont have time to be debilitated!
Thank you for this. As someone who has been struggling with this since my teens and have been on different medications.. I can relate. I am sure a lot of us can. Being told again and again that you don’t need medication and if you just exercised you’ll be fine is just maddening.
[…] https://www.themanifeststation.net/2014/06/07/holding-on-my-journey-with-antidepressants/ […]
I have witnessed a loved one’s parents shame (and even scold) him for taking the medication he needs. They need to read this. Thank you.
I love this post. Without telling a long strong, I’ve been on anti-depressants & Xanax for about four years now. I was so depressed that anxiety decided to rear it’s ugly head to the pot. I haven’t driven on the freeway for probably 10 years now. Everyone’s solution is “just jump on there & do it; you have to face the fear.” Well, I don’t feel like having a 10 car pile up, so I stick to what I know. However, it is like a bit like being a prisoner in my own body. And so it goes….. Thanks for sharing this!
Angela you are amazing. I know what that black hole feels like and if I lived on the east coast you would be picking me up off the floor like my girls used to do. I was given the meds and put in the hospital in a locked word for depression but alas my liver had/has a problem with medications and overdoses and does not process them and I went into a coma and almost died. Luckily I found out by sheer luck/accident that my DD was Seasonal Affective Disorder and if I live on the west coast my body produces enough serotonin and I am ok with just a slight drop during those months but nothing bad. The closer to the equator the better. It used to hit me right after my birthday in November after Thanksgiving and last until Easter every damn year. It was horrible and the doctors could not figure it out. Of course I was told by some to just get over it. I could not function at all and I used to think everyday that I am in a coffin but they forgot to close the lid. It was so bad. I dreamed about committing suicide but then I bought about my 2 little girls. Luckily they were able to figure it out but I will never forget that feeling of that depression that there is no control over. Love to you.
While there is no doubt that many people need to continue both with an antidepressant and therapy, I’m concerned about vilifying those who do not. Someone who used to take medication and does not likely had a different illness, which required different treatment. I’d just ignore them and move on.
[…] Depression lies. It’s a duplicitous asshole designed to confuse, distort and destroy. It isolates and it wages a fierce fight with one objective: cause maximum harm. […]
[…] “Holding On: My Journey With Antidepressants” by Angela Giles Patel at The Manifest-Station […]