I visited that pit of depression only a few short weeks ago. It caught me by surprise. Things were solid in my life. My relationships were strong, my kids were doing well, work was a delight and my husband and I had just celebrated our tenth year together. I was feeling so good I decided to back off my anti-depressant medication.
I thought I was finally in a place where I could live without the little white pill I take every day. I knew this time would eventually come, when the amount of inner work I had done, when underlying issues had been addressed, when my strategies for working my way through anxiety and depression would allow me to lose my dependency on this daily pharmaceutical. I was hugely optimistic.
After consulting my doctor, I lowered the dose of my SSRI, bit by bit. I followed her advice and missed two days for the first three weeks. I didn't feel much that first week, but by end of week I was feeling really tired and sad.
I rationalized that this was withdrawal and it would soon pass, but when week three came, I could hardly get out of bed. After a few more days, I was sinking in a pit of lethargy and sadness. My thoughts had become dark and irrational. I woke up in the morning and wondered what the use of my life was; what purpose there could be for me being here.
From the place of depression, my mood swings meant I was a bad mother. The fact that I was too absorbed in sadness to kiss my husband meant I was a terrible partner. The fact that I hadn't made time for a girl's night clearly showed I was an unreliable friend. All I could see was the inadequacy of the mess I was making at the job of living.
I made myself get out of bed, I turned on my insight timer and meditated, I called my counsellor, I went for a walk; I felt terrible. I went to work, I helped my daughter pack for school, I cooked dinner for the family; I felt worthless. I worked out, I went to a counselling session, I journaled; I felt better for a couple hours and then right back in the pit.
I began to be concerned that I wouldn't be able to crawl out of the hole, that the depression would go so deep that I wouldn't be able to access my coping strategies.
It's frustrating that people think taking medication is a personal choice.
After weeks of sadness, lethargy and darkness, I finally told my husband how I was feeling. He knew something was wrong, but was shocked when I shared the depth of my self-loathing and indifference toward my life.
I called a girlfriend and told her some of the despairing thoughts going through my head. I knew I was in trouble and didn't know how to get out of it. She insisted I go back on the medication, talk to my doctor, call her daily.
This darkness lasted for a month, and I see now it was a result of a shift in my chemistry. That pill, so tiny and benign looking, has a huge effect on lifting my chemistry to a healthy level. That pill that I was so sure I could do without was making me a whole lot more capable than I realized. It's pretty scary that taking a small dose of an antidepressant compared with taking just a little bit less can cause such a tailspin.
With this in mind, it's frustrating that people think taking medication is a personal choice. Some people — myself included — need the medication to be well.
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There is a lot we can do to destigmatize medication. We can educate ourselves and listen with an attitude seeking to understand. Listen to people who have lived experience. Listen with an open heart and an open mind. It's important to remember you don't know what another human being has experienced in life. We have many connective experiences, but we also have vast differences; one of those is how we wake up in the morning and how we feel.
Acceptance and compassion are tools that we all need when approaching mental health. When we open our minds to the possibility that medication isn't negative, we open the door to a better environment for treating mental illness. When we understand that medication is part of a whole treatment plan, instead of seeing it as "medication versus other treatments," we break down stigma.
When we break down stigma, we empower people to get help and we encourage those already getting help to stay on the programs keeping them well. Your acceptance and compassion truly can save a life.
Are you in a crisis? If you need help, contact Crisis Services Canada at their website or by calling 1-833-456-4566. If you know someone who may be having thoughts of suicide, visit CAMH's resource to learn how to talk about suicide with the person you're worried about.
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