Warning: This post contains contradictions and hypocrisy regarding depression and medication.
Why Do I Need That Blasted Pill, Anyway?
In THE TIME BEFORE, I thought of depression in three ways: mild, situational, and major.
Everyone got the blues sometimes, and perhaps a day on the couch or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s could soothe you sufficiently to get back out there and try again.
Sometimes, life events knocked you down, stole your loved ones, shattered relationships, and stripped your identity or security–and you needed professional support. I used to equate this type of depression to the flu: We all catch it now and then, particularly when our (physical/mental) immune system has been weakened or compromised. Sometimes we can cure it at home, and sometimes we need help from a doctor.
The last type (major depression) mystified me, because it struck good people for no apparent reason, and blocked their ability to choose all the components (taking a shower, eating healthy, calling a friend) necessary for their healing.
Depression knows no justice. It has devastated all three of my sons … And now, me.
From Normal to Weepy
When I was forty and had finally awakened to the reality that I needed to sever my relationship with my sons’ physically and verbally abusive father, he lashed out, big time. He threatened to “lawyer up” and “take all of MY money” (he was the primary breadwinner), rip our children away from me, and “throw you to the curb.”
He promised to hire someone to harm and/or kill me for “gleefully destroying the family.” The cause of all our problems, he’d long maintained, was my severe mental illness. He honestly believed that if I would undergo a lobotomy and take heavy medication, all would be merry and fine in our home.
By then, our eldest son had already been diagnosed with severe depression at age six and then with ultra-rapid-cycling bipolar II at age eight. Initially reluctant to medicate our child, we both changed our view when Samuel was literally able to perceive the sky as blue for the first time in his life.
So, here’s where the hypocrisy begins. I had a deep respect for psychiatric medications, but I was also a little bit terrified of them.
My ex begged/coerced me to undergo a full psychiatric evaluation. I agreed, because with all the turmoil of his rage, Sam’s illness, and nonstop aggression among all four males in our home, it seemed entirely possible that I was losing my mind.
“You have marital issues and midlife issues,” the doctor concluded. “Other than that, you are completely ‘normal.’ You couldn’t be insane if you tried,” she declared.
She then asked my ex if he would undergo a similar evaluation. He declined.
Suddenly, I Needed It To Breathe
Fourteen years later, I’d built a home full of peace. I had done a lot of therapy, prayer, meditation, reading, questioning, and journaling. I’d tried to look honestly into the mirror and listen deeply to life’s guidance. My sons had grown into intense, intelligent, independent young men.
Little did I know that I was about to become the most horrific kind of empty-nester.
Samuel had turned 18, flung his mood-stabilizing meds into the trash, fired his therapist, and disowned the entire family. He lived homeless in L.A. for a while, then moved around Asia and Europe, living cheaply, alone, and furious, always convinced the FBI was following him and that everyone abused him, especially his father and me. Zachary, in a whirl of both his ambition and need to flee, had left the country for college and grad school and then stayed away, (theoretically) safe from the danger and memories of his childhood.
And Jacob, nearly finished with college 1,000 miles from home, spiraling downward for years with the pain of his past held tightly inside, killed himself.
Suddenly, I understood viscerally what panic attacks feel like. Even though Jacob had died by drowning (not in a car accident), it was whizzing along at crazy speeds inside metal boxes that terrified me. I couldn’t breathe. Fits of sobbing came out of nowhere, no matter where I was, and one evening when my airways became blocked by terror and tears, I wound up in the emergency room.
And on an antidepressant.
Love and Hate and Vacillating
Right now, 23 percent of Americans report experiencing depressive symptoms. Why?–Why not? An endless pandemic, global wars, political turmoil, economic downturn, social isolation … Need I continue?!
Prescriptions for antidepressants have risen 35 percent in the last six years. Is that too much? Should we be able to power our way through, and tough it out?
I used to think so. In THE BEFORE TIME (before Jacob died), I’d been beaten, jumped, raped, cheated on, dumped, ghosted, divorced, and estranged. I’d been on food stamps, lived with cockroaches and rats, taken buses to work for minimum wage, and cleaned filthy toilets for a bit more. I had known betrayal, loss, and the utter injustice of life. As we all do.
But something about the loss of Jacob, shattered me to my core.
Now I needed, literally, to surrender my pride and eat my words. Having always preached to my sons that there is no stigma to mental illness–“Think of it as a wiring issue in your brain that needs to be reconnected … If you had diabetes, wouldn’t you take insulin? … There is no shame in depression/bipolar/schizophrenia; it’s a brain difference if it’s treated, not an illness.” Now I needed that little white pill (generic Celexa 10mg, to be exact) just to be able to breathe, and to be able to cry it out without desperately wanting to die.
Many times, over the years hence, I have believed myself ready to wean off the drug. With great care, I cut back a few milligrams at a time over several weeks, only to find myself in a heap of tears, curled up and unable to function.
So, for now, that damned little white pill will be my daily companion. I hate it. Its presence reminds me of Jacob’s absence. But for the love of him, and his brother, my partner, and all those who are still here in my life: If it helps me be less of a burden to those around me, I will swallow my pride, and my pill.
Cover image courtesy of danilo-alvesd-Y14ONzYtxb4-unsplash.