I have major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I have suffered from these conditions since I was seven years old. Beginning at age 18, I have tried: St. John’s Wort, B vitamins, Sam-E, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Gabapentin, Vistiril, Xanax, Klonopin, Abilify, and Brintellix. I have given up gluten and dairy. I have exercised. I have sunbathed, gone on vacation, changed my life circumstances, lost my religion, regained my religion, received acupuncture, and tried talk therapy.
While my depression has waxed and waned in severity, it has never completely disappeared for good. Every few months, or years, we have to change my medication. Yes: my medication. Because the only reason I am alive to parent my children, write this post, or love my husband is the tiny handful of pills I take every single morning.
I am one of those On Drugs.
I don’t lie about it. I don’t hide it. When I had gestational diabetes, I didn’t hide that either. I said, “I need to go give myself an insulin shot.” And I loaded up my needle, pulled back the plunger, and stabbed my thigh like Stacey McGill from the Babysitter’s Club. Too bad Ann M. Martin never wrote a depressed character. Maybe if Claudia had downed Prozac we wouldn’t live in this cesspool of secrecy and shame.
I hear from so many depressed women, mostly women in the deep gray fog of postpartum depression, a fog that I know too well. We long to join hands and make toilet-paper-roll art, but we can hardly summon the energy to click on another Daniel Tiger. We want to enjoy our babies, we sisters in despair, we sisters in guilt and gray. But chemicals conspire against us.
Depression is a dirty trick of seratonin and norepinephrine.It is not a parental deficiency. It is not a character flaw, a moral falling, or a lack of love. It is a misstep in the dance of hormones that tangles the whole pattern. It is not your fault.
Many times, when I hear from women, I hear the rhetoric of failure. I also hear “I don’t really want to take drugs.”
The reasons vary. Most of the women are nursing. Some claim they don’t want to be happy just because of a chemical. Others fear becoming dependent, or feel the drugs will change their essential selves somehow. They fear, it seems, becoming Stepford Wives.
Take it from this Stepford Wife, then: Fuck that.
Though all drugs pass into breastmilk, most drugs are safe to take while nursing. The safest is generally recognized as Zoloft. Google Scholar has reams of studies that the child of a depressed mother – who isn’t treated – is at risk for attachment issues, language acquisition problems, sleep issues, and more. Your child may be safer drinking milk laced with Zoloft than dealing with a depressed caretaker.
If you don’t want to be happy because of a chemical, guess what? You’re already sad because of one. Unless you see depression as a personal flaw, using chemicals to treat it makes sense. We treat physical illness the same way.
If you become dependent on a basic SSRI, please call the American Medical Association, because you’re a first. You may go through withdraw if you stop cold turkey. But that doesn’t make you a heroin addict.
And the last insinuation, the idea that a psychiatric medication will somehow change who you are as an essential being: It enrages me.I am not essentially flawed and unhappy. I do not deserve to, and should not, sit alone in the dark and think about knives. I should not, like one woman, hide in the closet when the train goes by, because she wants to throw herself in front of it. I deserve to live. Should people with a treatable brain condition suffer because that suffering is some integral part of who they are as a parent, a lover, or a functioning member of society?
I”m tired of fellow hippie parents side-eyeing me for taking meds. Many of them blast over-medication or psychiatric drugs around me before they realize I’m One of the Drugged. They don’t know what to say – sometimes I get a mumbled sorry, Usually I receive an earnest, well, they’re okay for some people. Some people have the nerve to ask if I’ve tried this or that natural remedy, which is akin to asking a woman with cancer if she’s heard of The Secret.
I have depression. It is not who I am. I need drugs to manage it. Maybe you do too. Consider it.
Unless you believe depression and anxiety should be part of who you are, you deserve treatment. You deserve help. You deserve a drug that can save your life.
So do I. And I am eternally grateful for them.