Grappling with a silent foe
And how I learned to overcome … continued
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 12:09
About one in 10 Americans take anti-depressants. While it is incredible that people are reaching out for help, the weight of being diagnosed with a mental illness and subsequently prescribed a medication are often more complex and nuanced than discussed.
Although it was eight years ago when I first started anti-depressants, I still acutely remember shivering in the cold, vinyl chair of my doctor’s office. I struggled to find the words to explain my symptoms. How could I begin to articulate the gnawing void of hopelessness, the abyss? It seemed too intangible, too ridiculous to explain to a medical doctor.
So I told her about my physical symptoms- I could barely get out of bed, had no appetite and had lost weight. I had lost a lot of things- my concentration, motivation and sense of awe and wonder about the world, my desire to live. She asked me a few more generic questions and then told me I had major depression. Five minutes later she scribbled a script for a Zoloft prescription and told me I would feel better in six to eight weeks.
After years of experiencing a blanket of melancholy, deep depression and engaging in self-destructive tendencies, a gratifying wave of relief poured over me to put a label on my struggles. I felt validated. The diagnosis felt like a refuge from guilt and shame that I was overly sensitive and weak. It freed me from the weight of trying so many times to “just snap out of it” and failing miserably because I could not. In my desperation, the capsules truly seemed like a bridge to happiness.
A rap sheet of side effects started soon after I began taking Zoloft: even more trouble sleeping, upset stomach, dizziness, drowsiness and overall feeling a brain fog. I had to see a psychiatrist and then was switched to Effexor and several months later when depression was more severe, a mood stabilizer called Lamictal was added to my regimen.
I soon began to feel trapped by my diagnosis and burdened by the pills I had to take every day to help me function. I was so angry and resentful! It seemed so utterly hopeless to ask for help and then be given no alternative aside from expensive prescription drugs with a maelstrom of side effects. My psychiatrist told me I would need them for the rest of my life. I did not understand how this stranger who spent half an hour with me once a month could decide my fate in such a decisive, condescending manner.
For years I would vacillate between my prescribed medication regimen and self-medication. I just could not accept that anti-depressants were the only answer for me. I felt so numbed, disillusioned, heartbroken and defeated with the way things were. Yet, there was a fire within me that there had to be a way beyond the pills that seemed to sedate me and quiet my creativity.
I tried every naturalistic remedy in the book: yoga, meditation, St. John’s, going vegan and even going gluten free. Nothing worked. Like a phoenix, I burst into ashes without my medication and it was utterly awful time. I stopped fighting myself and went back on my medications out of pure necessity. I decided (albeit reluctantly) that medication is the best option for me now in addition to counseling, exercise and light therapy.
I still occasionally feel weighed down sometimes with the implications of having to choke down pills every morning to get me through the day. Some days I wonder how I will ever be able to get off of anti-depressants with awful withdrawal syndromes combined with how long I have been taking them.
It has helped for me try to embrace who I am, take life day by day and prioritize self-care. It has helped to be my own advocate by tracking my moods and side effects to report to my psychiatrist and calling him promptly with any concerns.
I still wish there were more alternatives to medication for people who are struggling and that doctors would not hastily prescribe such serious medications after barely speaking with a patient.
I guess in such deeply abstract, personal feelings such as mental illness there is no easy rule, no easy answer. Every individual has to struggle to find out what works best. I just hope that we can make the road to healing less bumpy by realizing there is no shame in our past, by sharing our stories and offering support to one another.
Tessa is a senior majoring in English.