I’ve been taking antidepressants for a few years now. I have Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Anxiety Disorder (AD), Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I spent the vast majority of my life suffering with undiagnosed mental illness. I never sought help and my family never sought help for me.
When I was in high school, at my most rebellious, my parents sent me to a psychologist. I responded with crossed arms and hostility. I told him straight-up that I was sexually abused as a child, my parents ignored it and never got me any help, and I resented the hell out of them for it. He sympathized and was rather shocked by my story since, when my parents decided to send me there, they didn’t tell him any of that. We had one session. One session.
I surmise that my family thought that’s all it took. It was way too little, way too late. They should have sent me there when I was seven years old. They should have forced me to continue seeing him, but I only went once. If I had been in therapy when I was in high school, I might not have become a homeless drug addict prostitute just a few years later.
I grew up in the 1980s when the stigma of mental illness was way worse than it is today. My family was inordinately concerned with appearances. They wanted their contemporaries to believe we were the perfect nuclear family. We were not. We were a family of ostriches, sticking our heads in the sand while our bodies remained exposed to danger.
My father was at the apex of his alcoholism, hiding bottles around the house and waking up in the middle of the night to mix a Manhattan in a beer mug. My mother was a puppet of my abusive grandmother. She didn’t have her own personality; she was just another tool of abuse in my grandmother’s arsenal. My sister was hiding within herself, keeping her head down and trying to be the good girl. I rebelled. I rebelled so hard and furiously that I injured myself in the process. If my family had told me to continue breathing, I was so contrary that I would have found a way to stop doing just that.
I have Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and all of it went undiagnosed and unchecked for decades. I was a cutter. I was anorexic. I was self-destructive. It was only a matter of time before I destroyed myself.
Somehow, through no fault of my own, I survived. After a prolonged stint of domestic violence where I nearly died, I finally sought help. I called every domestic violence hotline I could find, but they all refused me help. “Sorry. You make too much money.” Eventually, one of the hotlines I called recommended that I seek private help. “You have insurance, why not go into private therapy?” I was so lost that the thought had never occurred to me.
I went into private therapy. The health insurance I had at the time covered $500 worth of therapy. My therapist cost $90 a week. Some number cruncher at a desk somewhere at the insurance company decided that five and a half sessions of therapy was enough to solve any problem, including unchecked mental illness after years of abuse. I went anyway. At the time, I made a good living and $90 a week wasn’t a huge hardship.
I didn’t see a psychiatrist, but a therapist, who was not allowed to prescribe medication like antidepressants. I don’t really remember her ever recommending that I take medication, although she might have. In any event, I went to therapy once a week and it helped. I began to see patterns in my behavior. I became aware of behavior that I was blind to before.
Then I lost my job and with it, went therapy. Years after I moved to California, a friend of mine told me about the Jungian Institute. They train already licensed therapists in the ways of Jung’s subconscious dream business, which really, I think is bunk, but it was cheap and I needed therapy. During Jungian training, licensed therapist take new patients at a reduced price. I lucked out and found a great therapist who only charged me $50 a week. It was more than I could really afford, but I needed it in the worst way.
Then I lost my job and with it, went therapy. My therapist graduated from the Jungian Institute and sent me a notice of her new practice where I could go see her again for the low price of only $120 a week. For real? $120 a week?! Who can afford that? Not me. So, I haven’t been in therapy since.
During that time of unemployment, I had a really awful spell of depression. It was the worst I’d ever experienced. I cried constantly, I didn’t get out of bed, I neglected my animals, I constantly thought about suicide. A voice screamed “just stop it” in my head. “It” meaning being alive. A voice in my head yelled at me all the time to kill myself. All I thought about was how.
My friends forced me to get help. Since I was unemployed, my options were limited. I called up the California Department of Mental Health. You can read about how ridiculous the process was here. Months later, I was medicated. I’ve been medicated ever since.
Like everyone else on the planet, I was scared of taking antidepressants. I was afraid that they would turn me into a zombie automaton; that I wouldn’t be able to feel, think or laugh anymore; that I wouldn’t be me. I resisted taking medication for a very long time because I didn’t want to stop being me. If it hadn’t gotten so bad, I wouldn’t be medicated.
I’m still me. I’m still funny, candid and grouchy. I can still write. I can still draw. Everything that makes me me is still there, only now it’s all so much clearer. I can recognize the patterns of self-destructive behavior much more distinctly. The voice in my head doesn’t yell at me anymore. Now I cry for genuine distress, not because it’s a day ending in Y.
Everything is still there, including the depression, anxiety and discomfort. It’s all still there, only now, I can handle it rationally. When the voice starts yelling, I can see it as disparate from myself. It is not me; it is the depression. I could not do that before. I could not recognize it for what it is. I could not talk myself back from the ledge. Now, I can.
Other than a constant need to pee every half an hour and a slight loss of sleep, I have no side effects. I was lucky to get the correct pill right out of the gate. Most people have to try many treatments before they hit the right balance.
I share my story to those of you who are suffering from mental illness. I want to tell you that, while the pills are certainly not magic nor do they make it go away, they help me cope. They have made a huge difference in my life. If you are suffering from mental illness, please, get help.
I know medication is scary and you are afraid of not being yourself anymore because I’ve been there myself, but I’m here to tell you that you will still be you, only a version of you who is better able to cope with this horrible weight of mental illness. It won’t be easy, but you can do it. Don’t give up. Find a therapist. Take the pills. Just try it for a few months. That’s all I ask. I’m here if you need me.