September 15, 2017

Stop calling them antidepressants

Every morning, after I snooze my alarm and brush my teeth, I take 10mg of Prozac. Prozac is one of the many brands of antidepressants. I once heard someone call them “crazy pills.” I used to pride myself on the fact that I had never taken prescription drugs, despite my lifelong history of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and anxiety. I’d worked hard in cognitive-behavioral therapy, and by the time I went to college, I believed I had my OCD and anxiety “under control.” (Lol. Spoiler… I didn’t.)
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I thought antidepressants were the easy way out

Like many people, I thought antidepressants were the easy way out. I didn’t “need” medication. Some periods of my life were harder than others, but I just dealt with it. Because that’s what well-adjusted, self-sufficient people do. Right?

How I changed my mind about antidepressants

One of the joys of starting a serious relationship is slowly but surely revealing your own personal brand of crazy. Tracy (my now-fiancé) began to discover mine once we entered the “sleepover” stage of our relationship.

At least a couple nights a week, I’d lie awake in bed until it was time to get up

Sometimes my restlessness would prevent Tracy from sleeping, too. Other times, he’d wake up to find me wide awake and ask how long I’d been up. “I haven’t fallen asleep yet,” I’d say, nonchalantly. Tracy raised his concern about my utterly sleepless nights a few times. I always laughed it off. Thanks to anxiety and OCD, insomnia was the norm for me. I was shamelessly open about my anxiety (which I thought made me super evolved). So what was the big deal?

Anxiety, OCD, and depression are caused by a serotonin imbalance

These illnesses are due to flawed mood regulators in the brain. In other words, having them is not a choice. You can’t just “snap out of it.” It’s out of your control. They’re highly genetic. My family is a prime example. They’re also ridiculously common. Like 12% of men and 26% of women common. And yes, that’s 1 in every 4 women. Women are twice as likely as men to have anxiety, and 1 in 10 women experience depression after having a baby.

The stigma around antidepressants

I’d been prescribed antidepressants multiple times but had never taken a single pill. I’m a characteristically happy, enthusiastic, “sunny” person. There was no way I needed antiDEPRESSANTS. And ya, I was one of those people that thought antidepressants were for people that weren’t willing to put in the work. It’s true that therapy, exercise, and other lifestyle changes can do wonders. But as with most illnesses, they may not fix everything.

Tracy encouraged me to see a doctor about my anxiety. He didn’t understand why I would make myself suffer unnecessarily.

Here’s why. I was afraid people would judge me for taking antidepressants. More importantly, I’d judge myself. It felt like a failure. I was also terrified of antidepressants “changing” me. Would they make me a different person? Would they numb me? Would I even know it was happening? I spent a few months ruminating over the possibilities, the pros, and cons. Because that’s what people with anxiety do.
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Stop calling them antidepressants

The truth is, I probably would have taken antidepressants a lot earlier if they weren’t called antidepressants. They’re not “happy pills.” They help prevent the brain from reabsorbing serotonin too quickly. Instead, it took lots of encouragement and support from Tracy. He told me antidepressants wouldn’t change his perspective of me, and he’d be proud of me for trying them. I needed to hear that.

Antidepressants don’t solve all your problems

I’m still the exact same person I was before. In fact, I still have anxiety. But even a low dosage of Prozac helps take the edge off. Things don’t bother me quite as much, and those nights where my mind spins endlessly and won’t shut off are less common. By the way, it took a while to get there. It was a few months before I even noticed a difference. It’s subtle, but over time, I actually felt MORE like myself than ever. Essentially, I deprived myself of more balanced serotonin levels for the first 26 years of my life.

Screw the stigma

I’m seriously over people not talking about anxiety, OCD, and depression. And I’m over people feeling shameful about taking medication for an illness they can’t control. People with other types of illnesses aren’t shamed for taking their medication. Obvi I’m by no means suggesting that all of you head out to your local pharmacy and start popping pills. But if 80% of depression and anxiety is untreated, and I can help one person that could benefit from antidepressants give them a try, then this article was worth it.

It’s a lot more common than you think

Once I started to benefit from antidepressants, I opened up about taking them. My candor opened the door for a lot of my friends to disclose that they took antidepressants too. Or that they were considering it, but felt scared. And guess what, IT WAS A LOT OF PEOPLE. But until I started talking about it, I had no idea so many of my friends were in the same boat as I was.

Make antidepressants part of the conversation

Tracy assured me that it would be ok. That he would never judge me. I needed to hear that to give it a try. So I want to do that for you.

There’s no shame in trying antidepressants. There’s no shame in benefitting from them. Maybe you don’t “need” them; maybe you can tough it out and get by without them. Personally, I wish I hadn’t toughed it out for so long. I wish my pride hadn’t gotten in the way.

To those of you that don’t suffer from anxiety and depression

It’s not contagious. It’s not an excuse for being lazy. It’s not chilling on the couch because you “literally can’t even.” It’s fear and/or sadness for unknown reasons. It’s an endless stream of irrational thoughts. It’s an inability to take a breath. It’s lying awake with your heart racing. Silencing it takes a tremendous amount of energy and hard work, and sometimes that’s not even enough.

Anxiety and depression are separate from the sufferer’s identity

I can’t tell you how many people have told me, “Wow, I never thought YOU’D have anxiety or depression.” Like it’s some massive compliment. Well, ya, I am not my anxiety. I’m my own person, with my own personality and thoughts and feelings, and I suffer from a serotonin imbalance in my brain. A medication that’s unfortunately called “antidepressants” helps me manage it. I’m not ashamed of that.

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