A recent post over at Dooce (1000+ comments!) has gotten me thinking, yet again, about depression. One of the things I love about Dooce is that she talks openly about her own depression in the hopes that talking about it might snowball into lots of people talking and the whole damn thing not being accompanied by such silence and social stigma. But while her post is all about taking medication, mine is about willfully avoiding it.
I don’t like medication. This is a thing I know about myself. I’m totally comfortable with the fact that I need extra novocaine for dental procedures (and, as it happened, extra numbing agent when I got that cortisone injection in my lower back–apparently I have a low pain threshold) but beyond that, I have a real problem with meds. I’m not entirely sure where I came across this view, but it’s clear to me at this point that I equate taking medication with weakness. Not for other people, mind you–just for me.
So, I’ve had two psychiatric diagnoses in my life thus far. The first, the winter/spring of my senior year of high school, was severe anxiety with mild drepression. Then, in the winter of my freshman year of college, I was diagnosed with severe depression with mild anxiety. Hilarious!
The first go-round was, all things considered, pretty awful, both for me and the people around me. The moment I thought something might be wrong was the weekend afternoon when I was curled up on the couch watching Monty Python, and I simply couldn’t find it funny. Eventually my parents insisted that I see someone, after I’d lost a lot of weight (I’d pretty much stopped eating, for no particular reason other than food made me gag–during a visit to look at colleges with my brother, I can only really remember eating falafel and a bagel) and virtually every adult in my life had expressed concern about my well-being, several of them directly to my parents. I ended up seeing someone who specialized in teens–I’m still not entirely sure whether she was a physician or a psychiatrist–and asked that I see a therapist for at least two sessions (useless) and go on a low dosage of Paxil (extremely helpful). The medication absolutely helped my mood and helped me put weight back on, but I hated it. I hated taking it, I hated feeling dependent, and I asked to go off of it as soon as possible.
So I did, and then in the spring of my first year at college, those familiar warning signs popped up again. I was suffering pretty severe insomnia, coupled with intense suicidal thoughts. I finally felt overwhelmed enough to ask my proctor (my school’s version of an RA) for help, and we went to university health services. There they gave me some medication to help me sleep (which of course I never took) and directed me to see a therapist. The emergency psychiatrist hesitated to prescribe Paxil–apparently in clinical trials it’s associated with a higher incidence of breast cancer–so she offered Celexa instead. She mentioned that I might have some vivid dreams, which turned out to mean that the very first night I was on the meds I had an otherwise black and white dream about a visceral red pool of blood filled with bodies.
The medication really didn’t help with the insomnia, and on top of the being unable to fall asleep I was soon never able to sleep in past six or six thirty. To make matters worse, I completely lost my appetite. It wouldn’t come back until at least lunch, sometimes dinner, and then when I would finally eat I’d feel like gagging. Sound familiar? To make a long story short, the morning that I found myself dry heaving in the shower, I decided something had to change. I ended up spending a week in the infirmary and going back on Paxil.
And, again, hating every moment of it. I didn’t want to talk to my parents because I thought they would tell me I should have asked for help sooner. I didn’t want any of my friends to see me because I couldn’t explain the crushing sadness that had enveloped me. Couldn’t describe the thoughts that kept me awake at night, couldn’t convey the way my skin felt like it was buzzing and the only comfort I found was in fantasies of someone smashing my head into a wall.
What’s the point of all this? As women, we’re constantly told we’re too emotional. It’s totally hilarious to imply that a woman must be on her period if she dares express her emotions. So I don’t think it’s a surprise that so many of us have real difficulty expressing–even accessing–our emotions. I never want to go through another depressive period again, never want to be on medication again, never want to find myself falling asleep to violent fantasies. But I’m also extremely resistant to therapy and support groups, and have trouble opening up to people I don’t think have experienced depression themselves.
Because until you’ve been there, depression cannot make sense.
Whether you believe it’s a disease or a chemical imbalance or a genetic curse, you cannot understand how depression feels unless you’ve felt it yourself. And no matter how many Dooces open up, I have to wonder if the rest of the world is ever really going to get us.