Depression and Medication

When I posted the piece on depression the other day, I admit I was a little concerned. Although I joke quite often that I’m “not quite right in the head”, it’s a whole other ballgame to lay it out on the table and give people a realistic view of what it’s like to experience this problem.

I was diagnosed with mild clinical depression at the age of 20, and then with post-partum depression after my 3rd child was born in 2005. Until my bout of PPD, I’d never been on any kind of anti-depressant. I knew the mood swings and depression had gotten considerably worse, so I talked to my OB and was given a prescription for Zoloft. Although it made me a little sick to my stomach, the relief I got began within days. I noticed right away an increase in energy, my moods were more stable, and I just felt more normal. I took it for several months, and then gradually went off it. Then in November of last year I started to have trouble again, only with the depression came constant anxiety. I am not the most mellow person to begin with, at this point I was wound tight as a tick, and I felt like I was a bomb just waiting to explode. I called my doctor, and they called me in a prescription for Celexa. This stuff was a godsend for me, and for the first time as long in as I can remember, I felt like a normal human being. I have been on it since, with the exception of a few weeks here and there where I get lazy and slack off. I never have withdrawal symptoms, but before long the mood swings, exhaustion, and anxiety start up again(like this past weekend) and it’s clear that I do much better on the medication than off.

For the most part I am ok with that. I’m not big on taking any kind of pills, but between that and the depression I’ll deal with taking medication. I know there is something of a backlash right now against anti-depressant use, but I didn’t realize how much so until I came across a thread on a message board yesterday debating whether or not prisoners should “be allowed to take anti-depressants”. I thought it was such an odd question, until I saw a couple of comments about how “That’s why they are in prison, they SHOULD feel bad about what they’ve done!”, and “Why should they get pills to make them happy when they’ve committed a crime?”. Luckily that was not the opinion of the majority, but I was startled that this kind of ignorance still exists. If there was one thing I wish people understood about anti-depressants is there is no such thing as a ‘happy pill’. These drugs do not make you happy, they make you stable, so you are able to feel the same emotions other people do, and on the same scale.

I realize people who haven’t struggled with depression could not hope to understand it, but it’s frustrating to hear people spout such opinions on things they haven’t experienced. Unfortunately this attitude is not isolated to a couple of people, I’ve heard all over how these drugs are bad, and how if people just took more vitamins, exercised more, or had a more positive attitude, they could get over it. (Underlying implication, “I was once depressed and I got over it that way, anyone should be able to.) If it were that easy, we’d all be investing more in vitamin B and fish oil supplements rather than pharmaceutical companies. But it’s not. Depression is not having a bad day, or even a bad week. It’s normal emotions, amplified. Minor annoyances become rage, forgetting something at the store turns into a crying breakdown, and you are so exhausted a simple load of laundry is as overwhelming as a trip up Mount Everest.

In reading more about as I call it the ‘anti-anti-depressants’ attitude, I came across this quote. It says a lot about the way people look at medicating for mental illness versus medicating for other things.

If a pill was developed that could restore the body after spinal injury without painful physical therapy, everyone would rejoice; well, everyone except unemployed physiotherapists. But the reaction is so very different to pills that restore the depressed mind without a need for emotionally-harrowing therapy.

Antidepressants are routinely dismissed as “Band-Aids” that merely hide the real problem, or they get smeared as being nothing more than nice little earners for “Big Pharma”. On the other hand, the talk therapists who oppose medication are portrayed as standing up for their patients, rather than as professionals protecting their own jobs and interests.

But why should those who already suffer from an illness have to suffer more to recover? Why, if medication works, shouldn’t they take a chemical shortcut to a healthier mind? Since mental health is not a struggle for most people, why do we demand extra work from those for whom it is?

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19 thoughts on “Depression and Medication

  1. I have no experience with depression – but I can tell you that your post today has given more of an insight into it. When I read your post yesterday I thought those were feelings that many an exhausted, but not necessarily depressed, mother could claim having – often. I guess that really only scratches the surface.

    As someone who reaches for meds when feeling ill (presently popping painkillers every 4 hours and antibiotic every 8 for strep) – you can bet I wouldn’t have a problem with anti depressants if the need arose.

    Your last paragraph captures the issue in a nutshell for me.


  2. Unfortunately, I have extensive experience with depression. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) as a college freshman. I suffered with the latter all through childhood … not much was known in those days.

    I had a terrible few years trying to find the right medication and right dose but finally I did. And I’ve been on it ever since. Well, except when I was trying to conceive and was pregnant when I lowered the dose considerably (not fun, by the way!). And I will NEVER EVER go off. Sure, I’d like to. But I no longer feel like I need to prove something to myself or anyone else. I know that I can’t function properly without it. No one would question a diabetic about taking their insulin. They need it to correct a biochemical imbalance in their body. Sure exercise and healthy eating are important. But they aren’t ENOUGH. The same is true with depression and other mental health disorders that occur because of neurotransmitters in the brain that don’t work like they’re supposed to and serotonin levels that aren’t what they should be.

    Good for you for being so open and honest with this. I know how hard that can be. The more people speak up, the less stigma there will be associated with mental illness.

    As for those who think think popping a few pills is an easy way out, the friends and family members I know who are taking meds for depression/etc. are also some of the brightest, hardest-working and motivated people I know. And most have combined drug therapy with some form of psychotherapy. No, the meds don’t make you happy. They just help to level the playing the field a little bit so that you CAN do the rest.

    Sorry to ramble for so long. Your post really struck a nerve with me. Thanks for tackling this head on!


  3. I agree with what you said about “happy pills”. Like somehow being depressed and feeling bad about a crime are one in the same? urgh. I hate it when a person with depression is expected to “snap out of it” by the people who claim to love them, it just makes it worse. I tried the Z before it worked great but I got really bad headaches. I was also prescribed another one (can’t remember name) but it turned out I had mono. I got pregnant and the withdrawal off those was a doozy. gawd and I hate the whole “I did it this way you should too” people, judgmental nags IMO.


  4. If they have not been there, they have no right to judge your choices. I think you need to do what’s right for you. I commend you for being willing to take care of yourself and your family. You know what you need to function. Thanks for talking about all of this.


  5. I whole heartedly agree with you. I ran across a lot of this type of stigma when I started my daughter on ADHD medication. People are comfortable with children taking meds for diabetes, cancer, ashtma, etc but get all weird about ADHD meds. Even my own husband had a hard time accepting that our daughter need ADHD medication but yet had no problem medicated our son’s asthma.


  6. I have to say that I’ve always been one of those people who has avoided medication like the plague. I have a post in the works right now about everything we went through with my oldest son’s asthma and my younger son’s possible ADD as far as holistic and not-so-holistic remedies go. I myself have not felt “right” for years now, and am sure I had PPD after the births of my children. I’ve been pursuing natural remedies, primarily in the form of hormonal therapies, and while I’m fairly certain that it’s a good thing … it’s not enough. It didn’t really hit me until I read your earlier post where you pretty much described my day – almost every day. It never really crossed my mind before then that I might be battling a form of depression – which is silly, because it runs in my family. I think because I do regularly feel spurts of joy throughout my day, I had thought that I couldn’t possibly be “depressed.”

    You’ve definitely got me thinking.


  7. Ah, also thank you for broaching the subject. I’ve talked about my depression on my blog, but don’t quite get the readership, and so therefore, not a lot of other’s opinions on the subject. It’s a touchy subject, to be sure…

    I was prescribed celexa’s generic equivalent, but my husband had a major COW over it because I’m breastfeeding, so any anti-dep. is out for me for now. But, I’m glad to know that it works for you such as it does because when I AM finished breastfeeding, I AM going to try them and see if it pulls my ass up out of the funk I’ve been in for the last ohhh… years.


  8. I took Zoloft many months after the birth of my daughter. I only wish I’d been prescribed meds years ago. I, too, for the first time in a long time felt “normal.” All my life I’ve struggled with anxiety, bouts of depression and major problems with hormonal changes and never really had anything to do about it besides self medicate and suffer. I can’t believe anyone would have a problem with people taking anti-depressants and I haven’t heard that much backlash except from Tom Cruise and he just came off as the nutbag he is. And by the way, I love a post about something real. It makes other people brave. Thank you.


  9. Here I’ve been writing this post about my depression for 6 weeks now, wondering if I would ever get the courage to post it…and then you give me that courage by posting about the same thing. Hats off to you….well written.

    I think the whole “happy pill” misnomer is part of the reason why most of my family and friends still don’t know that I am on medication for depression…and maybe that is why it’s taken me so long to post.

    You have recharge my desire and motivation to finish writing my post. Thank you for that…you will be seeing it soon.


  10. OK this yell is not directed at you….


    Oh my gosh, how can someone who has never “been there” say anything about another person’s need for medication???

    That’s just sick… they’re not happy pills.

    If a medicine works for someone then they NEED it for changing the chemical balance in their brain (you know, like diabetics need insulin???)

    Oh, ugh, poor Sara ignore all those people who have never been depressed and stick with those of us who can be empathetic.

    Wonderful post, by the way, it got me WAY UP on my personal mental health soap box.


  11. I couldn’t agree more with everyone. Wonderful post. And I can’t live without my Lexipro…and I am thankful for it every day, as are the people that live with me!!


  12. Bravo! This is such a well-written post. I also struggle with depression and I have to live with someone who doesn’t understand it. My dh does not want me talking about it at all on my blog. He doesn’t like the idea of drugs, but he cannot deny that I am a different person after Lexapro.

    If a person has to take medication to lower their blood pressure (which could arguably be controlled by diet, exercise, “natural” supplements, etc), the world is fine with that. But if a person has to take medication to stabilize their mood and control anxiety, the world sees them as weak. It makes no sense.


  13. Sometimes I think it is chemical imbalance and sometimes I think it is that the person in question needs to CHANGE their life. They are unhappy with this or that…and a pill is not going to make things better.


  14. I tried Zoloft years ago when diagnosed with trauma-related depression as a tween, but that medication didn’t work well for me. Due to that bad experience on meds, for years afterwards I refused to consider anti-depressants as an option in handling my depression and anxiety. My depression wreaked havoc on my marriage, which failed after 4 years, and my life in general to the extent where it severely compromised my ability to hold onto a job. Ugh. It sucked.

    And then a few months ago, I decided finally to give anti-depressants another chance and spoke with my doctor. She prescribed me Lexapro, which I’ve been taking ever since, and it seems to settle me down a bit. I’m still able to experience depressed feelings, but now the anxiety is reduced substantially and for the first time in a long time I seem to have a measure of control over my impulses. In the past, depressing thoughts and feelings would consume me and I couldn’t seem to push them aside. Now, my mind is freed up to concentrate on other tasks, which is a godsend.

    Personally, I do think it best that someone try holistic remedies and a change in environment before deciding to take anti-depressant medications. Why? Because sometimes a change in pace and exercise is truly all one needs to feel recharged. But for those that continue to struggle no matter what they’ve tried, these meds can be helpful.


  15. Battling with depression here — have been on Celexa for one week only (10mg for the 1st week, then 20mg starting today). Will have to give it time to work. Sometimes the depression is just too much — I can’t concentrate (which I need for work) — I’m just so apathetic — I’ve lost the joy in doing things and in planning the future — I just wanna stay in bed..ughh Question: How long does it take before it kicks in?


  16. Hi-I found your blog on blogs. I can see right away we have a lot in common. I just started my blog about 6 weeks ago and it was for these very reasons that I see here on your blog. Women and depression and “How do you earn that much money with a blog?” Depression is a very serious condition and unfortunately it still has that archaic stigma to it. I’m glad to find another woman out there who face these same issues everyday. I like your site and I will be coming back-so keep up your blogging!


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