There is no shame in taking anti-depressants if you need to
A lot has been said about depression and anxiety lately and it’s wonderful to have people come out and share their experiences. Not only is it a step towards diminishing the longstanding and deep-rooted stigma attached to mental health, it also serves as a resource for people who have been grappling with symptoms and don’t know what’s happening to them. Sure, there is a lot of INFORMATION out there, but personal stories serve a different purpose. Reading them is like someone holding your hand and telling you that you are not alone in feeling the way you do, and that there is still hope. This is even more important b ecause there is nothing typical about depression. It does not adhere to any fixed set of symptoms and may manifest in ways that can confuse the hell out of you.
More than the condition itself, it is the stigma of medication. Even among people with depression, the ones not on medication tend to judge the ones who are. People on medication for mental health issues are often perceived as “weak” and assumed to have been unsuccessful in managing it on their own or through counseling or therapy. But I might debate that some other time. Right now I just want to talk about how anti-depressants have worked for me.
I have been prone to depression since my teens. It is something that is a part of me, and comes and goes in phases – sometimes with or without reason. Sometimes it is compounded by external circumstances and sometimes it just hits me out of the blue even when life is a fairytale on the outside. It might last for days, weeks, months or even longer and at the same time, there have been depression-free periods lasting a couple of years. Most times, I am able to cope up with it on my own or just wait for it to pass but there have been occasions when I’ve had to be on medication because it got too severe and out of control.
Unfortunately, most combinations of anti-depressants prescribed to me over the years did not work out too well. The side-effects were far more than the effects, ranging from grogginess, insomnia, numbness in limbs, right up to suicidal ideation. To friends and family, I appeared normal, even calmer and a lot less irritable so it gave out the impression that the drugs were helping. However, there were times when I thought I couldn’t ‘feel anything’ which was actually worse than feeling perpetually sad. It was like airbrush makeup on scarred skin. The negative thoughts didn’t go away or diminish, but the drugs made me appear more cheerful and well…”together” even though on the inside I felt pretty much the same. Often after every dose, I would feel nauseous and would have to wait for it to be absorbed. There were days when I would sleep 18 hours out of 24. The only way it helped was by creating enough collateral problems for me to keep my mind off the ACTUAL problem. Long story short – they made me spin around in circles. Ultimately, in consultation with the doctor, I had to phase them out and go back to fighting it on my own.
When I was off medication, there were days in between when I would wake up in the morning and feel like I could conquer the world, but I’ve been with depression long enough to know that this buzz is short-lived. I know I would plunge into darkness soon again but I have gradually learnt to make the most of that short window of productivity I have. I do wish I could be like that atleast most of the time, if not all the time because I loathe myself when I can’t pull myself out of bed, shower, get dressed and deal with life like a normal person. Instead, all I want to do – and can do – is lie in bed blankly staring at the ceiling and allowing all sorts of toxic thoughts flood up my mind. Of course, I can workout, socialize, drown myself in work even if it is difficult but at the end of the day when I am about to go to bed, I have nothing to distract myself with and nowhere to escape. The darkness is mine to keep and the demons are there to stay. I’ve tried therapy too but so far it has been of little help to me.
Some time ago, after a long-ish low period that eventually led to anxiety attacks, I was given a new prescription. The names of the drugs were familiar but the dosage and combination was different. It took me a while to get used to them but in a couple of weeks, my system took to it reasonably well and I could even manage on a lower dose. Having battled darkness for months, I realized, probably for the first time, how dysfunctional depression can make you. It was like a fog had lifted and I could see everything much more clearly. It was easier to get out of bed in the mornings. I began to sleep better and wake up feeling well rested and relatively more energetic. I could write, go out for walks, play with my pet cats. I could fold laundry and clean up the room. I could do things that I liked – read books, watch movies, enjoy music. People talking to me seemed less intimidating because I didn’t have to put up a façade. These things may seem trivial to talk about here but for a person with depression, these are battles to be fought every moment. It takes an insane amount of internal energy to accomplish even the smallest of everyday tasks because your mind is a battlefield in motion. It takes strength of a different kind to get your limbs to move even when your mind just refuses to cooperate. Only when I could do these things with a lot more ease, did I realize how difficult they had seemed to me over the past few months.
I am not qualified to recommend or not recommend anti-depressants. A lot depends on individual conditions and circumstances. All I have to say is that if a doctor has advised you to take some and you find that they are making you feel better, there’s no shame in depending on them for as long as you need to. Many of us are apprehensive about strong medication because of the short and long-term side-effects, including drug-dependence, but there’s something my doctor told me which made me think – nobody knows how long our bodies will last us but if there is something that can significantly improve your quality of life in the present moment and make you more productive despite some discomfort and odd symptoms, it might be a risk worth taking.
Shuchi is the author of two romantic comedies – ‘Done With Men’, and ‘I’m Big. So What!?’. She freelances as a writer, editor and blogger, and runs a writing firm called the Pixie Dust Writing Studio. When she’s not writing, Shuchi likes to travel, read and bake awesome cakes. Find out more at http://www.shuchikalra.com. You can also tweet to her @shuchikalra.