Antidepressants Gave Me My Life Back
I’ve been seeing a few articles lately about how mood-altering medications, particularly antidepressants, may be (mostly) unnecessary. One recent article says that the food you eat can influence whether or not you have depression.
Yes, your diet can absolutely influence your mood and your health. But it’s not the whole story. There’s an implication here: if you have mental illness, it’s your fault.
I have a diagnosis of anxiety, and I’ve been struggling with it all my life. When I was a kid, I was “shy.” When I was growing up, I had no frame of reference for mental illness. Nobody discussed it. Everyone just seemed to deal with their life on their own.
So for a long time, I just tried to deal with it. Of course, this didn’t go very well. I had panic attacks. I’d miss out on social activities because I was too nervous to go. I dropped out of college once because my anxiety was too overwhelming. No amount of healthy eating can cure a generalized anxiety disorder.
It took more than one try to find a medication that worked for my anxiety, and when one worked, it was like flipping a light switch. The medication is usually prescribed for depression, but also works for anxiety. Suddenly I was going to parties and enjoying them, not having a feeling of panic and canceling my plans at the last minute. I walked into shops and drove unfamiliar routes without my heart pounding. I could take my classes without constant fear that I would be better off quitting.
I thought, This must be how everyone else feels! No wonder people looked at me quizzically when I felt like I had to get away from a crowded party. They didn’t experience the anxiety I did.
A recent article in The New Yorker talks about some of the dangers of psychiatric medications: over-prescribing, side effects, and the challenges of coming off them. And I do think antidepressants may be over-prescribed. In some instances, depression may be transient, or better treated with counseling.
But I tried therapy many times over many years and, while it helped, it didn’t really get to the root of my problem: constant, worrying thoughts. Simply trying to relax doesn’t do anything when your brain tells you to panic all the time. The medication treats it.
I’ve gone off my medication once before, after I ran out and couldn’t get a refill, and recently went back on it. I noticed a difference. People around me, even if they didn’t know I was taking medication, noticed a difference.
Will I be on it the rest of my life? I don’t know. I’m under a lot of stress now that might not always be there. My anxiety tends to flare up to disastrous levels around high-stress events: holidays, midterms, finals. I talked to my doctor about my medication use just last month, and she reassured me that I’m on a very low dose.
The only side effects I’ve noticed are nightmares (and I’m not even sure those are related, as I occasionally had them before).
I have, however, noticed that my writing output goes up when I’m taking the antidepressants. My mood is more stable, I’m less worried about things, and my brain has more space to be creative.
So yes, pay attention to your diet, and talk to your doctor if you feel like medication is too much, but don’t be afraid to seek out help. If medications can help you, take them and don’t feel guilty about it. It’s your life, and you need to take care of yourself.