A couple months ago, KitKat posted a blog whose title caught my eye: Looking for a happy pill. This phrase jumped out at me because I’d been doing the same. But unlike KitKat’s metaphorical search, mine was literal. This wasn’t an overnight decision. As I mentioned in an early post, I was raised by WWII-era parents. One of the legacies of my upbringing is a strong sense of personal responsibility. In other words, if something was bothering me, I should just “quit whining and figure it out.” Therefore, my view of mental illness in general and depression in particular was that the only time medication was warranted was if the individual couldn’t manage to pull things together on his/her own.
Fast-forward to this past year. As readers of this blog, you know I haven’t hidden my struggle with the changing dynamics in my life—my husband’s illness, my kids leaving home, a frequently stressful job, aging parents, etc. But throughout it all I kept trying to will myself to keep a proper perspective (I’m still more fortunate than most of the world’s population, after all) and not dwell on things I can’t change. Despite this, I found myself sinking further into… persistent… unhappiness. It wasn’t full-out “depression” the way I had always thought of it (not being able to get out of bed, suicidal thoughts, etc.) but I found that things I could formerly let roll off my back were bothering me—a lot. Whereas I would normally be driven to tears once or twice a year, I was finding myself crying weekly. And I found myself raging against loved ones at little provocation. Basically, I felt like I was losing it, and I worried that if I couldn’t get a grip, I’d risk my job, my sanity, my friends and my family.
I explained it to my therapist this way, “I’ve lost my resiliency.” I asked for his opinion on whether he thought anti-depressants would help and when he said yes, I responded that maybe I’d wait until the fall to consider a prescription (thinking I’d really need it when the weather turned cold). He challenged me on that—why would you wait when something could potentially make your life better? We talked through my bias against medication and my general control-freak nature, but at the end of it all, his case was compelling and I made a consultation with someone who could prescribe the required meds. After talking with her and explaining how I reacted to various “triggers,” she commented, “You have a lot of stressors in your life—actually, I’m amazed you made it this long without needing something.” This made me feel better about embracing better living through chemistry. She made a recommendation that she thought would best address the combination depression/anxiety I was experiencing and gave me a low-dose prescription.
At home that night, I read up on the medication and my concerns came creeping back. The drug required a slow ramp up and had a long list of potential side effects. Yet, at that point, the potential gains still outweighed the drawbacks, so I swallowed the pill—both figuratively and literally.
My experience with mind-altering substances is limited to alcohol and caffeine, so I didn’t know what to expect. When you take something that is supposed to affect your brain, it’s natural to analyze every feeling and thought—is this me or is this the medication?—I asked myself a dozen times a day. I felt a bit “spacey,” but knew it may have been my imagination since I was told it would take at least three weeks for the medication to take effect.
Eventually, I determined that I had noticed a subtle improvement in my outlook. It was by no means a “magic pill,” and my biggest concern—that the drugs would alter my core personality—was unfounded. I was the same person and the same things made me upset, only I had my resiliency back. Minor setbacks didn’t drive me to tears. I was able to put things in the proper perspective and deal with things without falling apart.
I wished I had sought treatment months before, instead of buying into the notion that medication would be taking the easy way out. However, I ultimately decided I’d rather seek help and be happy than be self-sustaining and miserable. After all, when I think about my mother (who has been moody and challenging for as long as I can recall) I wonder if maybe she doesn’t have a serotonin imbalance?
Yet, even after gaining a clear benefit from the drugs, it wasn’t something I wanted to broadcast (after all, it’s one thing to have people think you’re a little crazy and it’s another to give them proof). 😉
Then what has changed? Obviously, if I’m making this a blog topic my perspective has shifted and I can tell you when that happened. In mid-August, I was mourning the death of Robin Williams—along with the millions of other people whose lives he’d touched with his exceptional warmth and humor—when I learned that he had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. A disease my husband has had for more than a decade. I think our thoughts about this news were the same: This disease we live with every day was the thing that tipped his depression over the edge. That was an incredibly sobering thought. It made me realize that it’s impossible to know what other people are dealing with, so I thought if I could admit to a little bit of craziness myself, maybe it would make it easier for someone else to seek treatment if they need it. So there you go. I’m a little bit crazy. Crazy like a fox.