I recently decided to phase off of the antidepressants pills that I had been taking. My decision revolved partly around a desire to see if my brain chemistry had gone to a state of self-regulation. The other part involved my pure laziness of not wanting to go through the hassle of finding a psychiatrist in Boston. Yes, I am really that lazy.
Don’t worry, though. I still have enough Xanax to immobilize a small rhinoceros or enough to make a large rhino feel pretty darn good about his life.
I have gone through different periods of needing the ol’ head meds. While in grad school, I found that I suddenly had some serious anxiety issues. “You, GayProf?” I hear, “No, you are so calm! Nothing suggests that you are predisposed to an anxiety disorder. You never worry about anything.” Shut up, sarcastic voices in my head.
By anxiety, I don’t mean, “Oh, gee, flying makes me feel little queasy.” Rather, I mean, “How many years in jail will I spend if I force this pilot turn around the plane so that I can get out of this flying tube of toothpaste?”
During that time, I found out that depression and anxiety involved the same chemical processes in the brain. This information made me both sad and worried.
Going through the stress of a divorce and a quasi-hostile work environment only brought these feelings back once again post-grad school. In both instances, meds proved critically important to keeping me functional. Well, they kept me as functional as I ever could be.
I bring this up because in my tours around the blogosphere I have found that there is still a major stigma associated with antidepressant medication. Other bloggers have discussed either their decision to go on or off meds. While well meaning, time-and-time again they get commentators who claim that they “should try to be stronger” or that “meds are just a crutch.”
This type of thinking leaves me cold and prevents people from obtaining some valuable treatments that can improve their life. Just a crutch? Um, don’t crutches help keep people mobile? Would you say that the guy with a broken leg is better off just laying on the floor? Better he be an immobile blob than use a crutch. Using a crutch, after all, is a sign of weakness.
In other circumstances, the same well-meaning people suggest that I and others should try “natural” solutions. Um, okay, that’s akin to the Vatican’s stance on the birth-control pill, which they see as "unnatural." Both the pill and antidepressants work with the body’s existing chemistry. Of course the “natural” rhythm method proposed by the Catholic Church has also earned the nickname “Vatican Roulette” due to its level of effectiveness. Such “natural” cures for medical depression have the same dubious results.
Look, I take pretty okay care of myself. I eat more than I should, really. As a result, I also spend a good amount of time at the gym. Most times fruits and vegetables make it in my diet somewhere. I also make sure that I am always in bed by ten. Of course, I don’t get home until one, but that’s another issue.
At this point, we should all know that serious depression and anxiety occur from physiological irregularities. My body simply breaks down from time to time in its ability to regulate the level of serotonin in my brain. If I can take a pill to make that work again, don’t sweat me, man.
As with all medication, I understand there are people who abuse antidepressants. There are also doctors who wrongly prescribe them. These, though, are the minority of cases.
Comprehensive studies on antidepressant use have not yet materialized. From the information available, though, use of antidepressants are on the rise in the United States. Most people, though, report initial hesitancy about starting such a drug, largely because of the social stigma or that it is a sign of “personal failure.” Yet, most people who start antidepressants also phase off of them within a couple of years. They usually report that the drugs helped return a sense of balance during the period of use.
Contrary to popular belief, the drugs do not end one’s emotional consciousness. Rather, they provide a space to both balance one’s internal chemistry and also come up with strategies for living.
Of course, the drug companies are not helping matters. In a quest to sell ever more of their product, they trivialize the seriousness of depression or anxiety. Instead, they imply that simply taking a pill will solve your greatest problems from shyness to bankruptcy. There are also legitimate concerns about giving children medication created and tested on adult physiologies.
Still, a myth continues to exist that if you need an antidepressant then you are slothful, lack self respect, and are probably self-indulgent. Over and over again, we are told that a “successful” human would simply walk off the pain and just get over it. Quite frankly, that’s not always possible.
That’s why I am not inclined to obscure my use of antidepressants. As I phase off them now, I know it is likely that I will need them again at different points in my life. Like an asthmatic sometimes needs an inhaler, antidepressants have kept me in the game. And I am not alone.