I was in college when I got my first prescription for antidepressants. It was my first time living away from home, my then boyfriend (now husband) was hundreds of miles away at another school and the bulimia I’d been battling since I was 14 had finally spun so out of control that a friend said he’d had enough — he was taking me to the mental health office on campus.
That was half a lifetime ago. Literally.
I’ve been off and on depression medications of all types ever since. The longer I’m on them, the less likely it looks that I’ll ever get off.
Prozac was the first.
Looking back, I know now that it was not the drug for me. Already prone to bouts of insomnia, it coursed through my brain like live wires, keeping me awake late into the night. When I went home on break, I went to my GP and begged for help. He handed over a prescription for sleeping pills, a dangerous thing for a girl already struggling to keep her head above water. I’d take them at odd moments during the day, when I just couldn’t handle being awake.
Months later I gave it all up, cold turkey. I thought I was done. I was fixed.
Then came the accident. It was nearly two years later, and by now I was a reporter for a small town newspaper, driving to an assignment, when headlights appeared in my lane. I slammed on my brakes. They kept coming. When we hit, the force was so intense it sheared the front driver’s side wheel from my sedan. I was fine, physically.
But when I’d close my eyes, I’d see headlights. Driving, especially at night, became nearly impossible. Panic attack after panic attack after panic attack sent me to talk therapy, which made me feel ridiculous (“Imagine the driver in front of you, what do you want to say to him?” “I want to tell him he’s a jackass, but he’s not here, so could we talk about something I actually can do?!”), and then back to the pills.
This time I tried Paxil, which slowly helped soothe my nerves and lessen the panic attacks. The drug didn’t keep me up at night, but it did severely affect my sex drive, which was at first a minor annoyance but grew as my husband and I debated starting a family. Back to the doctor I went, this time for another pill.
In the 10 years since, I’ve been on Celexa. Lexapro. Effexor. Paxil again. Effexor again. I’ve been told I can’t take Wellbutrin because of my bulimic past and while Zoloft was once considered, somehow it never made it to my medicine cabinet.
I’ve been diagnosed with depression. Postpartum depression. Seasonal affective disorder. Anxiety. PTSD. PMDD.
Several years ago I stopped playing around with general practitioners, who can hand out antidepressant prescriptions but lack the sensitivity of trained psychiatrists in the treatment of mental health disorders. I found a psychiatrist whose specialty is pharmacology who not only finalized my dual diagnoses (depression and pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder) but has helped me find just the right medicine at just the right dose for me. I see him several times a year to ensure that the drugs helping to control the chemicals in my brain stay on an even keel.
Sometimes I cry when I knock over a glass or crawl into bed at 3 in the afternoon because I just can’t deal. Sometimes I sob in the shower until the water runs cold. Sometimes I lie awake until the sun rises, worrying about (what to most people is) nothing.
But not often. Not like I do when I’m not on antidepressants. This is my life now. This may be the rest of my life.
I used to ask my psychiatrist how much longer I’d have to take the pills, how long until my brain would “reset.” His answers were always honest: “We don’t know. They may never reset.”
I’ve learned to accept that.
Some would say I’ve become addicted, hooked by Big Pharma, that I should learn to take something natural or meditate away my “stress.“
But I don’t have stress. I have depression. And depression, much like diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses, requires medical treatment. Fortunately, that medicine exists. And so I take it.