(Once again, and especially today, I am not a doctor. This is just me talking about my depression. You can find the intro to the series here.)
Drugs for mental illness can be very difficult and controversial things. Today I’m going to be sharing my experience with them. We have a history.
First of all, something that is tough about drugs is that you need to see a doctor to get them. That might not sound like a big deal, but when I’m feeling depressed or anxious, going to see a doctor seems completely impossible. I’m not sure why; I think that as long as I am “handling” my problem myself, I can pretend that it’s not that big of a deal. But once I seek medical attention, I’m acknowledging that this is beyond my control and I need help. I hate doing that.
So how do I get around that? Well, most recently, Andy begged me to go. I was already on meds for depression and they weren’t working anymore. I needed to up my dosage. But that’s not the story I wanted to be living--I wanted to be getting better, not getting worse. Getting worse is the worst! But Andy, experiencing the joys of living with a depressed and delusional person (I’m getting better! I swear! *sobbing* Really, I’m fine!), asked me to please just GO to the doctor. For him. I finally did, and scheduled an appointment, and told my doctor what was wrong and she quickly and painlessly upped my dose and I started feeling better pretty soon after that. It really wasn’t that hard.
Once I get the drugs, they have usually worked pretty well for me. I was on Zoloft for the transition from high school to college. Then for a number of years I was taking Amitriptyline every day, as a migraine prevention pill. It just happens to also be an antidepressant. #bestdrugever.
Most recently, at the end of seminary, I was extremely depressed and my doctor put me on Citalopram. It started working in a couple of weeks and I felt much better. While on Citalopram I planned my wedding and got married. Then, shortly into our marriage, the scene that I described above took place. The magic dust was wearing off, so I got more. I did feel lots better, which was great, but I also started suffering from a common side effect: my sex drive tanked. Evaporated, pretty much. Which is not really what you want to happen a month into your marriage.
I went back to my doctor and let her know what was happening and she said that was a common side effect of Citalopram and we could switch me to Wellbutrin, which doesn’t usually cause that problem. I started reducing my dosage of Citalopram and then gradually added the Wellbutrin. I never made it to the full dosage, because I felt terrible. It was probably mostly the detoxing, but coming off I was dizzy and nauseated. Initially I stayed home from work for a couple of days because I thought I had the flu. Once I figured out my sickness was drug related, I still wasn’t entirely sure if these side effects were caused by the detoxing (likely) or the Wellbutrin, and I wanted out.
Thankfully, even though I was feeling nauseated, I was still feeling pretty emotionally stable. The drugs gave me the ability to start looking at alternative solutions. I’ll be talking about some of those next week.
For some people, drugs work really well for them long term. I know a number of people who will be on some sort of medication for life. That is just fine. Some people don’t have bad side effects, or if they do, living without the drug is harder than living with the side effect. That’s a personal choice everyone needs to make for himself and decide what works best.
I wish I didn’t even have to say this next part, but sometimes in the Christian community antidepressants and antianxiety and other medications for mental illness are seen as illegitimate. The thinking goes that people should be praying more and relying on God more instead of "copping out" and getting drugs.
I think that’s really silly. You can pray, and rely on God, and take medication! Those things are not at all mutually exclusive. Just like you can pray, rely on God, and get chemo for cancer. Unfortunately there is still a lot of confusion about what mental illness is, and that can lead to people saying really hurtful things (like critiquing an already depressed person for being on medication that’s really helping them).
On the whole, people have been very understanding of my mental illness and my need for medication, which is great. And medication has had its ups and downs, but it has been very helpful for me. I’m really glad it exists, and I’m glad that I have people in my life who strongly encourage me to avail myself of those resources when I need them!