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:
One 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.
The 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. Hell, 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.
The 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.
So 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: