A Dose of Happiness: Erasing the Stigma of Antidepressants

The walk in medical office is nondescript, the waiting room devoid of any personality, any artistic touch or warmth, even.  The ratty old chairs are lined up along three of the dingy white walls, filled to capacity with even duller looking patients waiting their turn, most of them glued to their mobile devices, zombie-like as they scroll through, a few of them staring blankly at the television screen perched on the wall, showing nothing but a slide show of possible diagnoses or reasons to ring the doctor.  “If you suffer from any of the following, consult a medical practitioner,” The screen reads, and scrolls through a laundry list of symptoms.

None of these symptoms are ones I possess; in fact, to look at me one would never know I was sick to begin with.  Was I even sick?  Should I just turn and head back home?  After all, I was only mildly depressed, I figured.  Perhaps I didn’t need the help of chemicals to make me happier.  Perhaps all I needed, as some proclaimed, was more fresh air, vegetables, nature; wasn’t that the case?  Wasn’t depression ‘all in my head’?

The shame that had brought me here was so great I hadn’t even wanted to visit my own family doctor.  Worried that he might judge me or offer me that same advice that so many others before had, tell me that I just needed to get out more or get over myself, I opted instead to take an afternoon off and visit the walk-in.  I’d wait as long as needed to speak to someone who had never met me, knew nothing of my life, and offer me a magic solution to make me happier.  I’d settle for a little more contented, even, or just less…willing to just stop going.

I’d tried to seek help, tried to convey to those close to me that something wasn’t quite right, but I just didn’t know how to communicate it.  The thing was, to know me, few would know that I was, in fact, struggling.  I’d smile and carry on about my day, always with the effort of not taking up too much room in anyone’s life, always reminding myself that others surely had it worse, that I should be more grateful, more peaceful, more patient.  And yet, I was having difficulty with the simplest things, such as waking up in the morning and getting out of bed, talking to friends, dealing with my daily responsibilities, which included raising my two daughters alone.

There were nights in which I laid in bed wondering if I had done well enough that day in my work, in my relationships, as a mother, as a friend.  Often times I would sleep too much, hardly able to stay awake, and others that the anxiety would wreak havoc with my mind, exhausting me to the point of being unable to sleep, unable to relax or “just let go”, as so many had advised in their supposed well-intentioned way.

I’d spoken to a higher up at my work.  “I think I might be nearing burnout,” I’d said one day, my voice barely a whisper, afraid to admit I wasn’t doing well, but needing someone to hear me.  “Well, I’m not your doctor,” she’d replied, matter-of-factly.  “If you’re having trouble, go see your doctor.  In the meantime, I’d like that report in by 4pm today.”  Perhaps, I thought, I was being selfish or foolish for even feeling this way.  Perhaps.

The receptionist called me in, a tablet in hand.  She barely looked up from it as I sat now, in the examination room, atop the exam table, expectant, worried, doubtful.

“Okay, so what brings you in today?” She asked, stifling a yawn, refusing eye contact.

“I think I might be a bit depressed,” I replied, looking down.  I could feel tears coming, but I willed them away.  “I mean, not crazy depressed, but you know…just not really living up to my full, uh, potential or whatever.”  Or whatever.  Why couldn’t I just say it?

“Mmhmm,” more typing into the tablet.  “Okay, well, let’s take your blood pressure and then the doctor will see you.”

The wait seemed like hours, though in retrospect, I’m sure it was minutes.  The doctor came in, a young man who looked fresh out of med school. He was friendly, chatty, just disinterested enough to make me feel safe to speak, somehow.

“I’m going to get you to fill out these two questionnaires,” he began, handing me the flimsy papers with maybe about ten questions per side.  “This will give us an indication of where you stand.”  I filled them out promptly, measured my answers carefully so as not to reflect just how sad I really was, but to infer that there was, indeed, some work that needed doing.  I was asking for help but not sure how to make that known.  I waited, watched his face as he appraised the results and pull out his script.

“So, you seem moderately depressed,” he began, and asked some of my medical history, which I offered back, tick, tick, tick.  “Here’s a prescription for an SSRI; you’ll take these daily and see how you feel within about a month, and then visit your GP to reassess.”

It was that simple.  I left the walk in with a script in hand for anti depressants.  I was about to take medication for depression for the first time in my life, and I didn’t know how to feel about it.  At the drug store, the pharmacist took her time in explaining to me how to take them, the potential side effects, the time frame it may take to “feel a difference”.  I, not knowing what to expect, smiled and nodded gratefully.  Now to go home and take them, and to wait to feel me again.

It’s been almost two years that I’ve been taking medication, switching doses, switching pills, countering my PTSD-induced depression with new chemicals to match the weekly therapy sessions, constant ‘homework’ and residual, ongoing stigma of living with a mental illness.  I see memes online, or Facebook updates stating that happiness is a choice, telling us that nature is the world’s best anti depressant, and that pills are poison.  I encounter people who tell me we’re all depressed to an extent, and that depression is selfish, that PTSD is based on ‘poor decisions’.  The battle is constant, not only in the desire to end the condescending, patronizing views of those who truly don’t understand, but within myself, coming to terms with the fact that I cannot change the past, or my emotions so easily.

Being depressed is not a reflection of weakness.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not an indication of poor decision making.  I am not selfish, I am not foolish, and I am most certainly not a victim of this world.  I have learned, in this journey through darkness, that asking for help is not an easy feat – indeed it can be hurtful when asking the wrong people – but at times, it is necessary.  We needn’t suffer in silence, and we needn’t be shamed for feeling what we do.