Lesson #23: I have depression.
October was National Depression Education & Awareness Month which has me thinking about my own journey to naming, accepting and treating my depression. Yeah, it’s November. It took me a while to pen this one, so here we are.
It was years into my own therapy when I was finally ready to see that I needed medication. It was right after a job interview. I’d been in hysterics before and after, triggered by some daily occurance - a comment from my partner, the delay of my train. I still feel so much shame about how terrible of a human I must have been to be around. I was in so much pain and I was hiding it from so many people. So I set up this emergency session with my therapist for that afternoon and I told her I’m ready to explore the medication option.
Even now I feel this resentment that my therapist didn’t push me towards meds sooner. Couldn’t she see what a state I was in? How could she let me wait so long? But of course she’d suggested them, time and time again. When you aren’t ready you aren’t ready. And I’d dug my heels in for so long about not needing meds. To me, meds was just the ultimate admission of guilt and failure. I was a wrong sort of person if I was on meds.
And then one day I just couldn’t stand being so miserable and I couldn’t be in denial anymore. I finally believed I deserved to live a better life.
You know what’s funny? Even then, what I thought would happen is I’d go to a psychiatrist and get some sort of anxiety medication. I was anxious, not depressed, right?
And then I went to therapy and mentioned meds and she said - oh wonderful you’re going on anti depressants. And I genuinely had to ask her, why are you talking about anti-depressents like I’m depressed?
Denial is real, folks. Because now of course it is so obvious to me when I look back how depressed I’d been for so long. And it wasn’t like the commercials with the bouncy sad face bobbing along the rainy streets. It was constant misery and constant nothingness and constant meltdown.
I hated the idea of having to see a psychiatrist. But it’s true what they say - when the student is ready the teacher appears.
Dr. Hariprasad was this doctor that I was expecting to bombard me with Freudian questions and poo-poo at my talk-therapy practice. But he had a holistic approach to mental health which he and I talked about for a bit.
He said - you know Nina, it’s very clear from your questionnaire and our conversation that you’re suffering from anxiety and depression. Anxiety is the thing that makes you so focused on the future you move away from the present. And of course, depression is the thing that has you so focused on the past that you can’t be in the now.
What. The. Fuck.
He reminded me I wasn’t signing up for a magic pill. You’ve still got to do other things - meditation, yoga, whatever helps you feel centered. You can’t expect a pill to do all the work for you. But it will help. It will help your brain set you up for the possbility of feeling better. Because you have tried so many things to feel better and it isn’t your fault that you don’t - you need a bit of extra help here.
I cried and cried. I felt so much relief and felt so much like a failure. Why, why, why had I waited so long to come here? Why was it so hard to accept how miserable I was? Why did it feel so bad to ask for help in this way? But also - why wasn’t it a magical pill?
“What does it feel like?” I asked. “Will I feel nothing? Will I feel numb? Will I seem stoned all the time?”
He smiled. “You do have a lot of preconceived notions about medication, don’t you?” He walked me through the side effects.
“Do you wear glasses?”
“Yup and contacts. Since 7th grade,” I said.
“You remember when you get a new prescription and you wear those new glasses? You thought you were seeing everything so clearly but then you get your new glasses and you’re like oh man, I can see every leaf and every letter so much more clearly than I ever thought. How did I think I was seeing anything before?”
“Yes. It’s brilliant.”
“It’s like that, a bit,” he said.
And it was.
Six weeks later, I return for a follow up appointment. You seem lighter, he says.
“I feel lighter. I feel crazy for saying I feel lighter but I feel lighter.”
“What do you notice,” he asks.
“I heard birds this morning. I haven’t noticed birds in five years.”
He nods, understandingly. “Yes. It’s not a coincidence.”
To those of you who do not understand what it is to be treated for depression, you cannot understand what it is to have the life vest helping you float along the vastness of the ocean. It was not a magic pill but it WAS magical. There was a sense of hope and acceptance I had not felt in so long.
It had a price. I could no longer tolerate the things that continued to make me feel miserable. I was accutely aware of those things - the things that still made me feel utterly sad and upset. I left my job and started a new one. I shifted relationships with people.
And although our relationship improved, I eventually left my partner.
Meds give me strength. Meds keep me steady. Meds let me act upon all the things I’ve learned and experienced about depression and anxiety.
I didn’t become happy all the time. I didn’t stop struggling. I didn’t stop having anxiety. I didn’t stop feeling depressed. I didn’t stop wanting to eat a bag of cheetos and watch 15 hours of television in a day with the curtains closed.
But I had the strength to make different choices, to deal with that numbness differently.
It strengthened my therapy practice too. I could take what I’d learned from therapy and actually apply it to my life. I could process without becoming completely exhausted from doing so. I could cry about one thing without it slipping seamlessly into crying about everything, all at once.
I understand now what folks who struggle with their mental health deal with about the stigma of medication. How it’s portrayed in the media. I’ve seen the looks on people’s faces, the curiosity and skepticism. I’ve answered questions about how the pills don’t make me feel happy all the time. They aren’t a cop out for not being able to handle things on my own. I may be part of prozac nation or a western culture obsessed with medication, but it was still the absolute best choice for me and I’m grateful I had the means and the resources to get on meds.
Dr Hariprasad left to start his own practice a few months later. I think of him asking me about the garden surrounding his office.
“So beautiful! There’s so much greenery. I didn’t notice the garden last time - it’s new right? There are these pretty pink flowers you have growing right outside your window, see?”
“Ah yes. Nina, the garden’s been there the whole time. You weren’t able to notice it.”
“Oh,” I say, tearing up. “New glasses,” I say.
“New glasses,” he repeats.
I still feel shame that I couldn’t name my depression sooner. How many people’s lives I have strained as a result of not being able to manage my mental health. But there it is. It’s still not in me to forgive myself and that’s my own work to do, years later. But I have made strides - I did find the help I needed. I could finally accept that it’s ok that talk therapy and meditation and journaling weren’t enough.
To you reader who maybe wonders if it's ok to explore options for treating your depression, I say to you - It’s ok that you weren’t able to conquer this the way you envisioned, on your own, on some island. It’s ok to get the help you need to treat your mental health.
It’s ok. It really was. It really is.