This Is Why I Resisted Medication (And Could Have Died From It)

[Trigger warning: descriptions of depression and suicidal ideation] [TMI warning: family who would rather not hear the raw details of my suicidal periods, turn back now]

First: holy shit, AOL still exists?  I thought that ancient behemoth died off by the time I'd graduated from high school.  Apparently not, given that the customers at work give me @aol.com email addresses fully half the time.

And AOL is even around as an internet news service these days, publishing ridiculously offensive content like this article (it's been scrubbed of the offensive bits already; here's a response to it that quotes the bad parts before they were taken out) about a woman who killed her children in South Carolina.  The short version is, a woman who may or may not have been suffering from post-partum depression (PPD) killed her children, and the police are looking at PPD as a potential motive.  The AOL article included quotes from a so-called "expert" - an expert in criminal profiling, mind you, not a doctor or anyone who would know two shits about how chemical imbalances in the brain *actually work* - basically saying that PPD is "a crock" and it's just an "excuse" for women who are whining about how they don't like their new babyified life.

Several mommybloggers got righteously outraged and called the "expert" on her shit, including an open letter posted here, which cited the author's own experience of PPD and describing the environmental, psychological, and physiological causes/triggers of PPD as best understood by current science.  She ended her letter by saying:
The women suffering from PPD/PAMD [Perinatal Anxiety and Mood Disorder], and those of us who have survived it, do not need any more blame and judgment.  Believe me when I tell you that we blame and judge ourselves quite enough.  We need compassion, help, and access to treatment.  We do not need to be told that our disorder is "a crock."
And lo and behold, a response appeared in the heavens...
I am not ignorant of your argument for PPD and I am not saying in some rare case such a thing could exist based on chemical issues. Generally speaking, I don't buy the chemical imbalance theory for any depression; I believe people just don't want to deal with real life issues and the fact that sometimes life is simply depressing and damn difficult. It isn't about chemical imbalance but tough times and our own issues.
Pat Brown
Investigative Criminal Profiler
Wow.  Not content with dismissing PPD/PAMD survivors, she's upped the ante to include ALL depression.  Let that sink in again...
I don't buy the chemical imbalance theory for any depression; I believe people just don't want to deal with real life issues...
I guess I spent most of my college years hiding in my apartment, barely able to get out of bed and face the world at least one or two days out of every week, battling on a daily basis the tantalizing thoughts of suicide that floated around in my mind, hating myself and picking apart my every tiniest flaw, terrified to go to class and be around people, sinking ever further into a desperate spiral of emotional/psychological agony not because I have a diagnosed mental illness, but because I just didn't want to deal with real life issues.

You know what?  Fuck you, you sanctimonious meat nugget.  I desperately wanted to deal with my real life issues.  I WANTED to be able to go to class, to keep my house clean, to have friends and a social life, keep up with my homework and get my degree.  I WANTED those things with a desperate hunger.  But I COULDN'T.  I wanted to deal, I tried to deal, but my brain kept getting in my way, dousing my efforts in fear and hurting until I could do nothing more strenuous than curl up under the covers and cry and wish I were dead.  You think that's fun?  You think fantasizing about one's own death in meticulous detail is preferable to dealing with real life issues?  What the fucking fuck.  

I wrote my first suicide note when I was 11.  I started self-injuring when I was 13.  I received some (ineffective) counseling when I was 15, then some better therapy when I was 17.  I didn't get onto medication, despite having very good insurance coverage that could have gotten it for me for free/low copay, until I was fucking TWENTY, nearly a DECADE after the first onset of depression.  You know why?  That stigma right there, that attitude the "expert" is showing.  Because I bought that shit wholesale, in Costco-sized quantities.  Medication was a sign of weakness.  There was nothing wrong with me except that I wanted there to be something wrong with me.  If I tried hard enough, I could just "snap out of it" and be ok.  I just had to think positive, buy a day planner, do my homework, and everything would be ok.  It was all in my head.  I just wasn't trying hard enough.  Antidepressants are just happy pills for people who can't cope with life.  You don't want to be the kind of person who relies on happy pills instead of her own strength, do you?  Be strong.  Be tough.  Suck it up and keep going.  Smile, even if you don't feel like it.  You thought yourself into this, you can think yourself back out.

Finally, finally, my therapist talked me into giving meds a try.  It took a therapist that I trusted and liked THREE FUCKING YEARS to talk me into trying meds for my depression, that's how strong the stigma against depression-as-illness had me in its grip.  I contacted a psychiatrist through the campus health center and began Lexapro.  It lessened the suicidal thoughts and made them easier to cope with, except it completely blocked my ability to orgasm, and after three weeks of that I stormed into my appointment and said "Find. Me. Something. Else. NOW."  Me - orgasms = REALLY REALLY UNHAPPY.  So we tried Wellbutrin instead.  And something happened.

Three or four weeks into taking it, I was walking home from class (a hell of a thing in and of itself; I was going to class more or less regularly!) and I realized I was smiling up at the sun for no particular reason, and I hadn't thought longingly about suicide once all day!  I was afraid to trust this sudden thing called happiness.  What if it was just a fluke?  What if it disappeared again?  I enrolled in a cognitive-behavioral therapy group - me, who was terrified of being around people! - and made friends.  One of my favorite memories of college was planning a day out together with three other women in the group, where we went to breakfast in town, then to the campus art department's Open Studios day together.  I was having a social life!  With other people!  It was amazing to me.  

So I have a question for this unmitigated fuckwit: if you "don't buy" that depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain - ie, you don't believe that it's a real mental illness (and why the fuck is it any of your business to buy or not buy the categorization of depression as a mental illness anyway?) - how do you explain my experience, and the hundreds of others who could tell you similar stories?  If we don't have an illness, what good could medication possibly do?  And yet medication has clearly helped many, many people.  So how do you explain that?

I wonder if she, and those who hold similar views, realize the very real damage they do by perpetuating that stigma?  It is purely by the grace of a few very, very good friends that I am still alive today.  Friends who talked me down from the ledge over and over again, once or twice a month, like clockwork, when the desire for death became too much to stave off again.  Friends who, at times, literally physically restrained me from attempting suicide.  Friends who helped keep these episodes a secret from the rest of the world, because I didn't want anyone else to know how broken I was.  I could have died, several times over, because I refused to accept medical treatment for my illness.  Because of the stigma.  Because of that "I don't buy it" attitude.

To Pat Brown, and those who believe as this fauxpert does, who would dismiss all depression as people who "just don't want to deal with life":  


No love,
A depressive in remission


Mia said...

I like this post, mainly because I was diagnosed with Depression in 8th grade. I haven't taken medications for it in the past 5 years. I'm dealing with it by blogs and other hobbies and so far it's working for me. My hobbies so far are all stuff that can be done inside the house. I want to be more outgoing, trying to get out of the house for the littlest thing is working for me. There was a time that I didn't believe in 'chemical imbalances' because I was in 8th grade (I didn't want to grow up issues and I assumed everyone else's depression was the same)...As I grew up and had a son, I've grown to realize that depression is NOT the same for everyone. It's unique to each person. My depression doesn't have to be controlled by medication but keeping myself busy. I know people who take medication for it and I guess that's why I like this post? Now I'm just rambling...

Melusin said...

This is an amazing post. Also, I have very similar stories- suicidal ideation from childhood (from about nine), self harm from eleven, terrible attempts at counselling and only going onto meds at 18ish (in my case after having been ordered to go to a doctor by the person I loved most in the world as ze couldn't handle me only telling her this stuff any more.) And I still get told how they don't work and I'm poisoning my body by strangers quite often, and have had suicidal friends who "don't want to change themselves" or just think they should be able to cope.

Do you mind if link to this on And What Was Ze and twitter?

Jadelyn said...

Don't worry about rambling; what d'you think this whole blog is? ;-)

I think that's part of what makes depression hard to categorize/easy to attack. It manifests differently for different people. And even for one person, it may manifest in different ways at different times. I'm glad you have found a way of management that works for you, and I hope that it keeps working so well for you!

Jadelyn said...

Oh, the "don't want to change oneself" argument. I used to have that one too, big time. >.< I wish people could just leave it alone, you know? Like, if it's working and helping you, what the fuck do they need to argue against it for? It's not like we're trying to make EVERYONE be on meds or something. Sheez.

My father has always been strongly anti-meds, even after I was on them for awhile, until one time when he made a crack about my happy pills I said "Dad, you love me, right?" "Yes..." "These "happy pills" are literally keeping me alive. If you want me to stay that way, lay off them." We haven't discussed it since. ^_^ Putting it in very stark, non-negotiable terms seems to have helped. Maybe it changed his mind, maybe it didn't, I don't know, but so long as he's not *saying* anything about it, I don't care.

Yeah, feel free to link around. I have no problem with link-love. ;-)

Ivy said...

A friend of mine sent me the link to this blog post, and it truly made my day. I actually wish I could've seen this a few days earlier when all those comments from Pat Brown (both in the AOL article and her unbelievable e-mail responses were made public. And even a couple days ago when we exchanged tweets. Would you believe she (supposedly) suffered from PPD herself? I just could NOT believe that. It's unfathomable that someone who has supposedly been through depression could actually say things that would so minimalize the experiences of others. She is freaking clueless. It really, really angers me when people make ignorant remarks like that, which only feed stigma. It seems the only way we can combat stigma is if those who know better (i.e., those who have actually experienced depression firsthand and "get it") speak up in public, books, blogs, etc. and actually outnumber those who are clueless and yet find it ever so easy to open their mouths to make demeaning remarks that don't help anyone. Here's my own blog post in response to the Pat Brown debacle:

P.S. - I am SO tempted to tweet this to Pat. Such a great post!

Jadelyn said...

Hi, Ivy, nice to meet you. Glad you liked this post! I clicked through to yours, I appreciate the link roundup you have. That fauxpert's astonishing arrogance, to completely dismiss real women's lived experiences, made me see red, and clearly I'm far from the only one!

I agree 100%, that as with most stigmatized experiences, the only way it will be overcome is by sharing the stories despite the stigma. So, here's to a few more voices standing up against the ignorance.

CaitieCat said...

Word, fellow depressive. Total grok.


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