Depression and medication

Depression: Taking Antidepressant Medication

Though I was in my early 30’s when I was diagnosed with chronic depression, I had gone to counselors from time to time since my teens. And listen, I’m a big believer in therapy. Frankly, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t go to see a counselor.* I mean if you can afford it, for heaven’s sakes get into therapy. Actually, even if you can’t afford it, check into some options for inexpensive or even free services. Really.

Anyway, counseling was familiar and comfortable and not at all scary. Antidepressant pharmaceuticals? Pills that chemically alter my brain? Yikes!

Plus, at the time of my diagnosis, I was nursing my youngest child; I was wary of anything that might affect her nourishment. So, I did my research, using a new resource called the world wide web, and asked my medical doctor and counselor lots of questions.

(An aside: I learned how to do efficient and thorough research thanks to my undergrad degree in history from Campbell University. History majors—and other liberal arts grads—learn how to collect and process information, and to draw conclusions from that data: helpful skills in any career. Hire a liberal arts major. We are good deciders.)

After weighing the benefits and risks, I decided to give Prosac a try. The initial dose was ineffective, so the doctor increased my prescription to the next level.

Now remember, pre-antidepressants, I cried a lot. Everything made me sad. I had to be careful watching movies or reading books, listening to the news, whatever. Crying was the norm. It was as if I put my whole self into the story—true or fiction—and experienced the same reality as those in the story.

  • Flooding in the Midwest? Like everyone else, I would think of the loss of loved ones and pets, and the pain of losing things like heirlooms and family photographs. Yet, not only did I grieve with these strangers, I could almost feel the despair of sorting through soggy belongings, hoping to find any tangible shred of family memories.
  • Character kidnapped in the novel? What must the family of the missing one be experiencing? And how did the kidnapper become this way in the first place? Was this person a victim of child abuse or neglect? What makes someone do this to another human? I truly ached for the real people the characters represented. Agony.
  • And the TV show Roots, based on Alex Haley’s biographical novel of the same name? I may never recover from that one.

I upped the dose of Prosac. Soon, I realized I wasn’t constantly on the verge of tears. In fact, I felt almost nothing at all. It was glorious (in the beginning). Freeing. I flat did not care! My mantra may actually have been the original “sorry, not sorry.” Then came the night when I was watching 60 Minutes or 20/20 (one of those human interest/news shows). The story that night told of a man and his wife, their beautiful love story that began in grade school and continued into their golden years, and her agonizingly pointless battle with pancreatic cancer. Her dear husband cared for her tenderly until she passed away; now, according to the show, he grieved so profoundly that he struggled each day to achieve basic function. It was a gut-wrenching TRUE tale of love and loss, pain and death.

And yet, as I watched the weeping widower on the screen, I thought, “Dude. People die. Get over it. What? You didn’t think she was going to die? We’re all dying. You, me, all of us. Geez, get a grip.”

I talked to the doctor the next day about considering another medication.

Eventually I tried Effexor and did really well with few side effects. I did so well, in fact, that after just a few months (never mind I’d struggled with depression for the better part of three decades) I decided I probably didn’t need medication at all (raise your hand if you’ve been there). I contacted a local psychiatrist and scheduled the next available appointment; my visit with him lasted an hour. It started with me telling him I thought I could come off the medication, continued with me giving him a detailed history of my depression, and ended with him giving me a prescription for double the dose. True story.

There’s been a time or two over the years that I’ve tried something new on the market, wanting to see if I had fewer breakthrough episodes and if the newer med suited me better. Not a good idea for me: I've just never done a great job of transitioning off one and onto the other. I always ended up under my covers, curled in the fetal position, overwhelmed by such things as poverty, oppression, and world hunger (which I think we can all agree are, in fact, overwhelming in nature).

So now it has been about 20 years since I started taking antidepressant medication and I no longer try to rationalize myself off of it. Here’s why:

  1. The medication does not conceal my true self. Instead, it removes the barriers that block me from feeling like me.
  2. Chronic conditions of many types require medication for relief. Diabetes. High blood pressure. Migraines. Think about it. No one says, “Don’t you think that insulin is covering up your true self? Being in a diabetic coma is just part of who you are.” They also don’t say things like, “You know, if you had prayed more, you’d never have gotten high blood pressure.” Instead, they say such things as, “Wow! You must have gotten your migraines under control! You seem like your old self again!” Depression is like these other chronic medical conditions: when you treat it, you feel better.
  3. The medication is one part of a three-part treatment plan I follow. I exercise regularly and attempt to consume healthful foods. Additionally, I take an antidepressant. When the three of these are in place, I can manage the depression. Without one of those parts, I don’t feel my best. Simple as that.

Bottom line? If you’re on the fence about taking antidepressants, keep researching, keep talking to your doctor, and keep considering your options. But remember that taking a medication is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of wisdom. And it is okay.

What about you? What are your thoughts on antidepressants?

 

 

*One thing about counseling: it’s hard; exhausting at least, grueling at worst, but in any case, seriously hard. And it often takes a while to find the right counselor. I have the world’s best therapist now, but it took many attempts. If you need a break from the effort, I get it. But don’t give up. Finding the right counselor is like finding true love: totally worth kissing a bunch of toads to get there.

About the Author Aileen Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 28 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.

Leave a Comment:

9 comments
Peggy Haymes says February 25, 2017

The image I use clients is that Medes can be like a bridge supporting you so that you CAN do whatever work you need to do. Therapy' isn't much help if you cannot get out of bed.

Reply
Jessica McGill says March 9, 2017

Bravo!!!! I can relate to this and it's wonderful that you shared your story without worry of judgment. This is something serious that so many people suffer from and stories like this will help give people the courage to talk about it and get help for their depression.

Reply
Pat Riviereseel says March 21, 2017

Thank you for an excellent essay, Aileen! Treatment of depression has come a long way since my mother's first bout of depression on Christmas Eve 1948. It was not until the 1970s that she was told by a doctor she trusted that her disease was chemical and could be treated. Lithium was a new drug, but it was a miracle for her. Even so, she did not like taking drugs. She was a nurse and an amazing, strong woman. Unfortunately, her early treatments for depression were out of the dark ages. We've come a long way in treatment and understanding of this crippling disease.

Reply
    Aileen Lawrimore says March 22, 2017

    Thanks for sharing Pat. I'm grateful, so grateful, fo quality doctors who've helped me on the journey!

    Reply
Marsha says April 18, 2017

I can't tell you how much this post resonates with me today. Just today I phoned my physician to discuss increasing the dosage of the meds I've been on for approximately 18 years. It just isn't working anymore. And as much as I have wanted to be off the medication over the years, I just cannot battle the depression unaided. Your statement "it removes the barriers that block me from feeling like me." may be the very thing that helps me not feel like a failure for continuing to need the medication. Thank you.

Reply
    Aileen Lawrimore says April 18, 2017

    Oh Marsha I'm so thankful this post empowered you--if only in a small way. I am so grateful for reliable pharmaceuticals and the quality healthcare pratitioners who have worked with me to find a solution. Prayers to you for the journey!

    Reply
    Aileen Lawrimore says May 3, 2017

    Oh Marsha! This is so wonderful to hear! I just today got notification of your comment or I would have responded sooner. I came out with my depression story for this very reason! Thank you so much for sharing! Peace to you and thanks again for reading.

    Reply
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