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A Few Things I Want to Clear Up About Antidepressants

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For some reason, I always believed medication was “bad.” I don’t know if that was ingrained into my psyche or if it was taught, or just assumed, but it seems like medication for a mental need is treated much differently than the rest of the body.

Have you ever rolled your eyes at someone who needed medication for another issue? Have you ever wondered if someone was “faking it” for attention if they needed medication for their heart? Or did you tell someone with diabetes to “think positive” and skip the insulin? Of course not! But these are reactions that happen all the time in the field of mental health, and I believe these reactions are hurting all of us.

Let me clear a few things up, because I have battled depression for close to 30 years. Some years were harder than others, and some episodes simply didn’t clear until I relied on my doctor and medication. In fact, I am sure it has saved my life a number of times.

Here are some things I want to clear up:

Antidepressants are not “uppers.” They’re meant to reduce the symptoms of depression. It’s not like speed and it doesn’t make you weird. Let’s get that notion cleared up.

Antidepressants do not make you void of emotions. Someone close to me once said they were afraid if they went on medication they wouldn’t have spiritual experiences any more. I’ve heard people say they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to feel anything if they went on a med. Some people start meds and are shocked to learn they still have bad days and feel a little depressed occasionally.

Your soul is still in tact, your heart still beats, you still get excited and disappointed. I still feel like me — just a better, less-reactionary me. I can observe my worthless feeling and let it go, reminding myself of the good around me. I can have a thought of death enter my mind and see it, and have the mental power to deal with it in a healthy way. I cry if I’m sad. I laugh when I am happy. I feel things every day.

Staying on medication is not a sign of weakness. This one I wish I could shout from the rooftops: “If you need medication, stay on it!”  Too many people take their medication and “feel OK,” and tell themselves “I can go off this now.”

First of all, there’s a reason you started medication and a reason it worked. There’s a physical need here, and because of our shortsightedness we forget that. If you’re in this situation, please reflect on what urged you to actively treat your illness, and honor that.

Secondly, pulling yourself off meds can be risky. More risky and dangerous than people are willing to talk about (and they should be talking about it more). It should be treated as seriously as the heart, diabetic or blood pressure medication. Please, please, please, don’t just go off  “cold turkey” and wreak that havoc on your brain.

I don’t understand how society seems to believe it’s unacceptable to treat one of our most precious and vital working parts. I get it, because I feel it. It’s a real stigma and chances are at one time or another in your life, you have said or reacted in a way that added to this stigma. That is the tragedy of it.

While it’s true medication can be a temporary thing and does not have to be a life sentence, any change in dosage or phasing out of it should be done under the care of your doctor and with lots of help and support from those around you. It is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

I have tried to be braver in my conversations about my mental illness. I’ve started telling people how I treat it, talking about it more and sharing my experiences with a little more courage. I’ll admit, I’ve contributed to this stigma most my life through my fear to speak up and speak out. As long as those who deal with mental illness are ashamed of it, and those who don’t deal with mental illness give them reasons to be ashamed, things will never change. I just happen to believe we are all too caring and all too connected to let that happen.

Editor’s note: This piece is based on the experience of an individual and should not be taken as medical advice.

Originally published: May 4, 2016
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