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


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