Depression, Medication, and the Vicious Mental Cycle

I’ve written about depression before, so some of this may seem to be out of context or to repeat itself. As with every time I talk about something person, I don’t think about it much before publishing the post for fear of self-editing to the point of losing the message I’m trying to convey or simply losing the courage to put these thoughts forward for others to read. Because of that please give me a little wiggle room to not catch typos or possible run-on sentences. Also, I’m interspersing this with many pictures because it seems less depressing to me if I do that.

The first thing I need to reiterate, for the people reading this and myself, is that mental illness is truly an illness. Depression and its miserable relatives like bipolar disorder are physical issues with physical symptoms that should be treated medically. The reason I’m bringing this up again (even though I covered it over and over in my last post about depression) is that while I know this fact, I don’t always make rational decisions based on this knowledge. Recent actions on my part prove unequivocally that:

ImageOne of the pitfalls many of us suffering with depression fall into is not taking into account the adjustment of our internal mood barometer. Antidepressants (I’m using this very broad term to cover all manner of psychiatric medication, from SSRIs to MAOIs to antipsychotics to mood stabilizers and beyond) work slowly. The first couple of days on them, they feel like they don’t work at all. It’s not like when you break your ankle and take a Vicodin… there is a very unsubtle point about 30 minutes after swallowing that pill where you go “holy shit I feel so fucking much better now.” With antidepressants the best you can do is wake up a week later and go “huh, I don’t have as much trouble getting out of bed today as I did a week ago.” Because of this many people don’t realize how much better they are really doing on their new treatment. Personally, the people around me notice it much faster than I do. I get told I look healthier or I’m smiling more.

ImageThe other, more serious pitfall we often find ourselves tumbling into head over heals is thinking we’re cured. We’ve been on our medication for months and feel so much better, we haven’t even felt depressed in weeks… obviously we don’t need these drugs anymore! Considering most of the people who read my site are at least moderately intelligent people, I’m guessing you can all spot the flaw in that logic. But in case you can’t spot it (or maybe just because I need to write this down myself as often as possible so I don’t fucking forget), we’re feeling better because of the medication we’re on. It’s just as stupid as starting a diet, losing weight, then declaring that you no longer need the diet now that you’re losing weight “all on your own.” It sounds so painfully obvious that the only reason why we’re feeling better is because of the medication, but I don’t know a single person who has been on psychiatric medications for an extended period of time who didn’t do this at least once.

Who knows why we delude ourselves about this? I can only speak for myself, and even that not so terrifically well (I’m not much of one for intraspection). The first reason is that I want, so terribly, to be normal.┬áHell, I remember a time not so long ago when I didn’t need medication to make it through a successful week. Then I look around and see all the shiny, happy people around me struggling with none of the shit I’m fighting every day, and I want to be like them. Of course, I consciously know that everybody has their own demons, many worse than mine. But that doesn’t change the fact that I see all these people walking around and I don’t see the struggle on their face that I feel inside.

ImageThe second reason is even more inane: I feel weak needing these pills. As much as I realize there is a chemical reaction in my brain that I have no conscious control over that needs to be treated, it still feels like a personal failing. The mental health stigma is still very prevalent in our society, and as much as I like to consider myself a freethinker, apparently my mind hasn’t severed that tie. If I were diabetic, I would never be internally screaming at myself about how only a pussy can’t manufacture insulin properly.

ImageSo I stopped taking my medications. And I got progressively more depressed. I didn’t even realize how much worse I felt until I noticed people around me constantly asking if I was OK, are you OK, you sure you’re OK, you don’t seem OK to me. I sat down and read some of the things I’d been writing for the last few weeks, and even though I was writing about things like the evolution of the shape of leaf insects or the workings of Potassium-Argon radiometric dating, I could look at my word use and sentence structure and realize that I had been getting consistently less-well in the head. So I kicked my ass, refilled my prescriptions, and am currently on the mend again. Drugs should be back to 100% effectiveness in the next few days.

So what’s the point of this post? First, it was a cathartic release for me to put these events and thoughts out to the world. Second, by writing this down I can go back and read this the next time I think maybe I’m healthy enough to go off my meds. And third, maybe it can help spare somebody else from going through this frankly idiotic self-experiment. If you still feel it’s something you have to go through, let me make a couple of suggestions. Make sure you have a friend you can talk to through this process, someone who will keep an eye on you and call you out on your bullshit of pretending you’re OK if it turns out you really aren’t. Also, keep a journal. Write down how you feel when you wake up, when you go to bed, and any particular high or low points of the day. Be brutally honest with yourself. Start the journal before you stop taking your medications. A week or so into your (misguided) experiment, read through your journal. It will give you more perspective on how to interpret how you’re doing in the here and now.

Finally, to those going through depression, realize you’re not alone. There are millions of us, even if we normally don’t go out of our way to make ourselves known. I’ll leave you all with a meme that I’ve been trying to find a proper home for awhile now. This seems as good a place as any:

Image

~ by kriskodisko on December 2, 2013.

19 Responses to “Depression, Medication, and the Vicious Mental Cycle”

  1. I have experienced this more than once. Not because I’m a slow learner, but because I’ve been trying to find that ‘normal’ for years. Also, I don’t like taking the medicine because my spiritual side occasionally whispers to me that I should be able to control my depression without pharmaceutical intervention. In most women who live with this, untreated depression manifests as anger before the soul-devouring darkness sets in. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that, but here’s what it’s like just in case:

    http://sionainne.livejournal.com/21878.html

    After that last round I decided I wouldn’t be doing that shit again. I hope you don’t, either. It sucks to be dependent on the meds, but it sucks far worse to be without them. It’s hard to get things done when it’s so bad that getting off of the sofa to make a sandwich seems like too much work, or an indulgence for the undeserving.

    • It’s never something I plan on. Like “Ok, next week looks pretty dull, maybe I should go off my meds for shits and gigs.” But yeah, part of writing this was to hammer into my head that this is a bad idea.

  2. Glad you’re feeling better. Agree with everything you said here.

  3. It’s an internal struggle for the medicated! I choose to take my meds for the sake of my husband. He doesn’t deserve to have to live with the crazy, annoying, bawling-then-laughing person I become without them. Otherwise, I might not take them and simply descend into madness and obliteration.
    They don’t make life perfect–just more bearable.

    • My bipolar ruined two relationships of mine (well, at least was the final nail in the coffin). Getting on my meds puts me back into a place where I could potentially be a decent boyfriend, so being stable is step one before I even consider dating.

  4. More kudos for writing about topics that are difficult to write about. Even more kudos for realizing that not taking medication that is keeping you from being a ball of mental hurt was probably a bad decision. Hope they kick in soon and you feel better.

    • I’m slowly getting better, and I’m writing down all the shit I’m going through right now in case I consider going off my meds again. I don’t want to go through this again.

  5. I’m there now, thinking maybe it’s time to stop and see how it goes. Truth is, though, I’m just tired of talking about my issues with my therapist and would be happy to just take the meds, but my doctor doesn’t work that way. I have to keep seeing the therapist or I’m cut off. I feel talked out, you know? I’m not sure it’s helpful to keep doing something I don’t feel like I need to do anymore, but I’m afraid that if I stop the meds I’ll be a mess again in no time. I’ve been in treatment for a year, and it’s my first go-round doing this, so I don’t know if it’s normal to feel this way, or if I should take a chance and wean myself off. I feel worried and dependant and aggravated. Not really sure what I’m going to do but I suppose if I don’t try, I’ll never know if I can live without the meds and not lose the ground I’ve gained. If and when I go that route, I’ll try your suggestion here. Thanks for sharing.

    • I can absolutely understand that. Professional therapy has never been helpful for me… maybe because I don’t feel comfortable telling the truth to a stranger, for fear of coming across as “bitching” or whatever. I just know that unless I’m at my wit’s end, I’m not likely to tell a professional the truth.

      If you do go through this experiment, please do as I said and journal through the whole thing. It’s extremely hard to measure your mood from today vs yesterday, especially measuring from the inside. My best advice is don’t go through it alone.

  6. Reblogged this on live free or die trying.

  7. This is something that is do painfully obvious but everyone forgets it. Even just now your post made me think of a girl who was bipolar with whom Id worked. My mother always made fun of her saying she was off her needs but it’s not a thing to make fun of, especially seeing how hard it is to deal with plus my mother really needs needs herself and refuses to admit something is wrong with her for the sake of vanity and what other people think. But yeah, I thought of that girl and why some days she just couldn’t come to work. And it is easy to see how this kind of struggle could ensue.

  8. Thanks for sharing this. I think most of us, as you point out, don’t fully understand depression and think that it is just something people should be able to “pull themselves out of”. Of course, it isn’t like that at all!

    • I don’t expect to ever make people understand how depression feels. Nor would I want to. I would just like to impress that they CAN’T know how it feels. It’s a bit like trying to make a white male understand being black or female. You just can’t really do it. But as long as I can make the case that it is completely different from your current worldview and get that across, I’ll be alright with my writing.

  9. As someone who is bipolar (and could lose my job if this was found out) I know firsthand what a hell depression is. Also physical problems and mental problems operate on different axises and having both is more than the sum of their parts.

    Also I have one of your quotes on my Facebook, the one that says Violence is never the answer. On Jeopardy, it’s “What is violence?”

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