What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by an anonymous reader. When I started taking antidepressants three years ago, they were a life saver. They pulled me out of a very dark place. But because I’ve thrived since then, and because of the side effects, I tried going off of medication about a month ago. Things started out well. The side effects went away and I felt great for a couple weeks. But then something changed. I started getting weepy before leaving the house, and I felt overwhelmed in public. A few days later, I started having problems at work, too. Minor difficulties like a jammed copier would send me into hysterics, which I tried to keep to myself by cowering under my desk. When I started fantasizing about killing myself a few days later, it became obvious that I just can’t live without anti-depressants. The hardest part about being back on antidepressants is that I feel like a failure.
I know in my head this isn’t true. I mean, if anyone ever tried to treat depression naturally, I did. I cut sugar, gluten, and dairy out of my diet. I exercised 40-60 minutes daily. I got 9 hours of sleep each night. I sought out spiritual support and healing. I spent $350 a month in Vitamin D, 5-HTP, and other supplements. I saw my therapist every week. But all this was no match for my neurobiology. I know my genetics aren’t my fault. But comments like “Maybe once you get stabilized, you can try going off antidepressants again” certainly contribute to the sense of failure. In my mind, comments like that imply I shouldn’t be on antidepressants, or at least that it’s preferable to not be on them. But that’s just crazy! I mean, when would we tell someone with a heart problem to stop taking his or her meds, especially if it greatly improved his or her quality of life? I know there’s all this uproar about how antidepressants are over-prescribed. And who knows? Maybe they are. But it’s not up to anyone other than the depressed person and his or her mental health providers to make this determination. So don’t give your friends and family on antidepressants a hard time about it. It’s not their fault they feel depressed. And you might be surprised — the medications could mean the difference between life and death for them. They might act totally normal around you, but be struggling in private. This brings me to the second hardest part about being depressed — well-intentioned friends and family who try to relate to my situation, but don’t understand it. I’ve been a lot more honest with people lately, partly because I’ve needed support and supervision during this process. I’m surprised by how open my friends and family are to talking about depression. But certain comments cut to the bone, like, “Well, sometimes I feel depressed and….” or “Maybe you could just keep some pills around for the days you feel depressed.” I know these comments come from a heartfelt place. But they show a complete ignorance of clinical depression. It’s not like I have run-of-the-mill bad days like everyone else, and I just choose to deal with it by taking pills. With clinical depression, everyday is bad. Really bad. I literally can’t function (see above desk cowering). I feel hopeless, because I can’t imagine anything other than an endless string of bad days. If you want to comfort people with depression, you don’t always need words. Listening is one of the best things you can do. So, to cut to the chase, there’s two things I want you to know about depression and medication:
1) Don’t judge people for being on antidepressants. You probably don’t know the whole story.
2) Understand that clinical depression is a lot different than the depression you sometimes experience as a normal person.
And lest you worry about this anonymous writer, I’m back on antidepressants and doing much better. I have a solid (if sometimes imperfect) support system in my family and friends. And I’m sure with this much-need neurochemical boost, that I’ll soon be back to my happy self.