There are so many blog posts, articles and books out there saying that anti-depressants don’t cure depression. To be sure, I’m no doctor or scientist who can confirm nor deny this. But I can say from my own experience – anti-depressants have helped me live a fulfilling life.
I have been through bouts of severe depression since I was about 19. I have taken anti-depressants since I was 20, and tried stopping them twice. Both times I fell into a pit of despair.
I want to be an advocate for the people out there like me. People who have a strong genetic pre-disposition towards developing depression. People who don’t fill their bodies with fast food, people who exercise regularly, people who spend hours and days and weeks reading about and implementing techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, counselling and self-care. People who truly love themselves, and have a lot to live for. People who can’t pinpoint an incident or occasion in their lives that may have triggered the first (or second, or third) depressive episode.
And yet... find themselves struggling with a deep hopelessness, in the utter depths of despair.
For someone who has never personally experienced depression, it can be hard to understand just how it feels. And for those that have, it can be equally hard to describe. Not to mention, it manifests in different ways for each person, albeit with a series of similar characteristics.
For me, depression means withdrawal. A pulling back, from engagement with others, from work, from social activities, and from those I love. I have a tendency to want to be in bed with the covers over my head. I instinctively crave a cave: a dark, warm, safe space.
It means constant and extreme mood swings. Set off by the smallest of triggers, like the sight of a pile of dirty dishes in the sink or dropping something onto the floor. In any one day, I can swing from feeling happy, confident and sure of myself, thinking that I am well and I “will beat this thing”, to bawling my eyes out, to feelings of extreme sadness, to anger, annoyance, irritation and numbness. The to-ing and fro-ing between emotions is, quite simply, exhausting.
The hardest part for me is often the disconnection. Similarly to the withdrawal, I disconnect emotionally from those I love the most. I struggle to look people in the eye, even my most beloved partner, and find it a challenge to talk about “what’s up”. I also disconnect from myself. When asked how I’m feeling, or what thoughts I’m having – I often can’t even find an answer. Random thoughts swim around in my head and I struggle to grab onto one to respond to questions. I can’t connect with myself long enough to ‘feel’ anything. Numb and disconnected, I lose the connection to the love I have for myself and others – although I can logically tell myself that I love my partner, I can’t feel it. This makes it extremely difficult to bother trying to answer his questions or engage with him. Although I see it’s hurting him, I can’t find the part of me that cares.
And the tiredness. So tired. No matter how much I sleep. My body uses so much energy trying to regulate my rollercoaster emotions, I feel constantly exhausted. As an accredited exercise scientist, I know down to the very molecular level how good exercise is for your body and your mind – but struggle to the extreme to do so on a regular basis when I’m going through a depressive episode. I try SO HARD to keep up with exercise and healthy eating and soul-filling activities – but as I get more depressed they start to fall by the wayside, more and more. My partner tells me “I don’t recognise the person you are right now.”
10 milligrams per day (not a high dose) of an anti-depressant later, and my life changes. All of a sudden my emotions are on an even keel. I don’t feel particularly happy, the word that comes to mind to describe my feelings is ‘grey’. And yet, I feel grey all day. No more rollercoaster. I can’t even describe the relief this one change brings. I feel more connected. I feel sad. (Sad for myself, and for the others affected by my illness). I feel guilty. (I tell myself that I cause others so much pain and worry). I feel embarrassed. (I tell myself that I’m weak for taking drugs, when so many are ‘cured’ by natural means). I feel so much – but I FEEL. No longer am I stuck in a pit of disconnect and withdrawal. I meet up with friends and talk (and cry) about how I’ve been over the last few weeks (or months).
And then, weeks later. I laugh, I sing, I dance. I have the energy for exercise. I nourish my body with healthy foods. I read books and articles and blogs. I feel hope, joy and love. My life is fulfilling.
And I read over and over about how anti-depressants don’t cure depression. About how making the choice to be free of the illness and then taking action towards that is all that’s needed. And I wonder – how can one person judge another’s story without knowing it? Just because medication didn’t help one person’s depression doesn’t mean it won’t help another’s. I agree – anti-d’s are perhaps overprescribed by time-poor doctors – and yet, making claims that everyone can ‘cure’ their depression, naturally, just creates more reasons for someone with depression to beat up on themselves. If you’ve been where I have, if all the natural remedies you’ve tried have left you back in that black hole, if you’ve honestly attempted to heal the parts of yourself that need healing, perhaps consider something else. Anti-depressants can be a tool in a healthy approach towards managing depression. If a small amount (or even a large amount!) of medication can keep you alive, help you flourish, help you to live a fulfilling life, please don’t let society’s judgements hold you back.
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