I will readily admit something to you: until recently, I did not treat my very own depression and anxiety like a chronic disease. Instead, I looked at it as a personal character flaw, despite the overwhelming evidence that it was a genetic disposition: e.g., family members present similar problems, these symptoms presented themselves right at adolescence when I got my first period, I have tried dozens of nonmedical treatments and they have not worked long-term. Etc.
Of course, if anyone asked what my opinion on whether depression/anxiety was an illness or a personal character flaw, I would tell you hands down: illness. It was just a personal flaw for me. Because I’m special like that.
Part of this specialness comes from when I first tried out medication. In short, it didn’t work. Not even a little bit. I tried a few, to no result. Then I went to therapy (oh, SO much therapy), and slowly, over time, I got better. I think I stayed “better” enough until last spring.
Last spring, and summer, were hell. HELL. Anyone who was emailing or texting or talking to me then would know that I was not myself. I was always anxious. I spent every moment I could in bed, sleeping, trying to sleep, reading, pretending to read, trying to stave off anxiety attacks. I cut off my hair in an attempt to get back to feeling better. I stopped blogging. I restarted blogging. I started a new job. I tried a few other life-altering things, including therapy. But nothing was working.
In my many years of therapy, all of my therapists said to me, “You wouldn’t deny a diabetic for taking his insulin, so why not try out medication?” On the surface, I agreed. In reality, I didn’t. (What? You can’t tell therapists the truth. They’d think I was crazy!)
In reality, this is what I thought: some diabetics, like my very own father, could control their disease through diet and exercise. So why couldn’t I cure myself? I just wasn’t trying hard enough. Obviously.
Then, of course, came a point where my dad couldn’t control his illness and had to take medication. D’oh.
So, I think I changed my mind about treating depression like an illness when it became glaringly evident that I had absolutely no other choice but to try it. I also think that I finally realized that I had nothing to work on in therapy. I mean, I had things, but not like before, when a therapist could have bought at least one of those crappy Mercedes with my payments. At least. Probably more like one of those crappy BMWs.
The thing that changed, that switched for me, was that before, I kind of hated my life. I didn’t have anything in particular to get well for. Crappy job, aimless, no kids, no real life, etc. I didn’t care. I’d been depressed since I was eleven years old, so it’s not like I ever even had a chance. (Wow, when I think about that, I’m actually quite impressed I did so much unmedicated. I studied micro-freaking-biology! I won scholarships! I got ENGAGED to a normal human being! And then MARRIED!)
But this last spring, I had: an agent, a job, two kids, a house, a dog, a husband, great friendships, and and and…I missed my life. I wanted it back. It was like when I decided to take Sudafed so I could go in to work, even though Sudafed makes me high as a kite. Better high than not working, I thought, and took it. I think that’s where I was: okay, better high as a kite than losing my life to depression, a life I didn’t want to lose. My motivation was different.
I tried again, and at first it was a huge disaster, but eventually, earlier this winter, I finally found a really great combination. It took months and months of tinkering, but I’m finally at that sweet spot with all my medication. I can honestly say that in some ways I’ve never felt better.
I used to wonder how people had so much energy throughout the day. By the end of every day, even in my “good” years, I was completely spent by the end of the day. I thought that was just me, but it turns out it was low-level chronic depression. I’ve never been very energetic in the evening, but it got so bad that I was going to bed at 8pm every night and sleeping until 7 the next morning. (I thought it was anemia.)
It’s not perfect. I had a bad day today, and had to take some emergency back-up medicine (which I refused to take until 5pm tonight, because I never, ever learn my lesson) because I was having a full-on anxiety attack. It was one of those moments, like the moments that led me to seeking medication instead–am I actually emotionally distraught over not finding my cell phone in my purse, and there are too many wadded up tissues in my pocket, or is this PERHAPS a medical condition, and not childhood trauma rearing its ugly head? (I am now picturing a therapist having to ask, “What do the wadded up tissues REPRESENT?”)
So maybe this new perspective is a little better.
I feel much better now. Like “myself,” except a version of myself that I didn’t actually know existed until this winter. I didn’t feel this way training for marathons, or drinking, or falling in love, or any other over-the-top feeling. I’ve NEVER felt this peaceful and calm and like I can actually see what the world looks like for the first time. Life is HD, and I can totally see every actor’s large face pores in my new medicated state and oh is it face-pore-glorious. (Seriously Dustin Hoffman. Those are some impressive nose pores.)
So, here is what I say to those of you who think you can solve your depression without drugs: better living through chemistry, man.