My experience of anti-depressants, capitalism, disconnection and ultimately reconnection.
Handbrake on, deep breath. I open the car door and muster all my strength just to walk to reception. I approach the waiting room, my body language reveals all; slumped, shoulders rolled forward and eyes drooping, my breath quickens, heart thumping out my chest, a thousand thoughts racing through my mind. I sink into the leather, surgery chair. After what seems like a lifetime, my name is called; “Lee Fitzpatrick please”
Within the brief time the doctor had allocated to me, I try to paint a clear picture of my thoughts, feelings, and emotions. All that comes out is a jumble of words. It’s exhausting, I get anxious, my body starts to seize up. “I need help” I call out desperately.
What followed was a short discussion of my life circumstances, and the surprisingly quick conclusion;
“Mr Fitzpatrick, I think we will try a course of antidepressants. One a day, let’s see how you get on. There’s a local support group, but it has a three month waiting list, here’s a flyer, take care.”
The walk back to my car was confused. Was I depressed? Had I been prescribed the solution? Did I have a chemical imbalance in my brain? I choked a little with anxiety, but, I felt hopeful.
Over the next 3 month’s I popped a pill each day at 6am. I did feel alive again, and I was sure that the prescription had worked. My chemical imbalance repaired.
Then something happened, an event, a stressful one I’m sure. I cant recall the details but most likely it was related to work. Within day’s I felt down, and spiralling downward fast, the symptoms were back. “Surely, it must be the tablets” I assured myself, and repeated this assertively to the Doctor, whom gave me a different batch of anti-depressants.
This cycle repeated for near 2 years until, after a spell of feeling good for several month’s I felt confident enough to stop taking them.
Placebo effect, I’m sure, played a big part in my reliance on the anti-depressant’s, and not too long after coming off them I started to feel down yet again…
“What the hell is wrong with me?”
“Am I just stressed, do I need to man up and get a grip?”
I found myself asking all these questions, and on cue, I spiralled into a depressive state once again. This time I began to isolate myself, disconnecting from friends, family, any form of social interaction. I also blamed the doctor.
I suppose if I am truly honest with myself, my battle with mental health has never stopped, my fight against depression has been ongoing for the past eight years, and I have consistently had relapses throughout. Albeit, my circumstances have changes, I have connected to new people, become more aware of my triggers, researched, found support groups, engaged in meaningful work, reached out to a therapist, all in an effort to piece the puzzle together. But it has been a slog, and it continues to be exhausting.
Over the course of nearly a decade I have answered most of the questions my doctor failed to ask me, and I believe I’ve only scratched the surface of my understanding of mental health illness. My mental health illness.
One of the key questions I’ve pondered, is why my Doctor was so quick to offer me anti-depressants? My judgement; she was extremely busy, working with what knowledge she had available and what solutions she was equipped to prescribe. I felt she was influenced by a particular school of thought and a larger directive.
There have, of course, been an overwhelming amount of studies done on the biological causes of depression, in that, chemical imbalances in the brain and other internal factors result in mental illness.
The area is way too complex for me or anyone else to make sweeping claims of the solutions to depression that are not thoroughly researched or back by scientific studies. However, It seems that our understanding of mental health, especially relating to non biological factors such as environment and social influences, may be underdeveloped. And if I was to make such a sweeping statement, my assumption would be that this is partly related to the influence that big pharmaceutical companies have on the scientific research that is undertaken on the physical causes of depression, that low and behold can be treated by the drugs that they produce.
When you delve deeper, it seems a proportion of studies show that many major antidepressants are about as effective as a placebo, just like I had concluded in my own experience. But as always, in capitalist society, profit prevails.
With just as much weight, the solutions to depression are extremely individual, in that, what may be a suitable solution for a young student suffering from depression, will not in any case be the same formula for that of a parent with post-natal depression, kids, a mortgage, debt and a whole load of other commitments. To treat them as the same (with the usual prescription), and not spend the time identifying the root causes and possible spectrum of solutions is, in my opinion, laziness and neglect. And it happens.
There are various in depth studies, that show both traumatic life events and long term stressors (for example work and finances) exponentially increase our chances of developing depression. Therefore, It seems there is valid evidence that depression is not purely a problem of the brain, but of life in general. In that sense, depression is not a mystical and irrational illness, one that doctors can prescribe a miracle cure for.
In my opinion, and as the growing evidence suggests, is that depression is not purely a biological illness, but also a rational and understandable response to the adverse conditions of capitalist society.
Looking at my own unique set of circumstances. I may have had some form of childhood trauma in the form of disillusionment and bullying and I may have some form of biological brain malfunction, caused by a lack of serotonin or a host of other chemicals. But if I look closely at the timing of the onset of my most severe depressive symptoms, they paralleled, almost identically, to the time that I began to pursue success in true Gung-ho capitalistic fashion.
In my entrepreneurial endeavours I have always been the boss, and this has disconnected me from workplace relationships that I had developed previously through education and employment. I was now the person that had authority, and this masked relationships and ultimately put a filter on how much I could connect with the people that I spent 75% of my life with, such as staff, suppliers, accountants and so on. I was alienated.
This disconnection continued, in my pursuit of success I isolated myself from the people I called friends, our values had changed, and while they were pursuing careers, mortgages, meaningful friendships and relationships, I found myself bulldozing towards creating an empire and after a good stab at it my first business failed, the single thing I had connected to for 4 years failed, I found myself completely lost, I had no secure future, I had no friends, I had no hobbies, I hadn’t truly connected to my family for month’s, years, I had nothing… Or so I thought.
In my continued efforts to understand my illness, and mental health as a whole, I have found that my greatest insights and advancements have come when I have removed the focus from myself; the thought process that I am the most important factor in my life, my illness and my recovery, and replaced it with commitments that were collective.
So far, I have found the most happiness when I have plucked up the courage to remove myself from isolation, and to interact in meaningful work, conversation, and connection with family, friends, peers, and acquaintances with a similar story of struggle.
When I give my suffering meaning, I realise that my whole adult life has been an education, an education in entrepreneurship, mental health, depression, anxiety, struggle, community building, physical health, coaching, business, failure, success, and everything in between. An education, that is valuable.
And perhaps now it’s time to put it to use helping others.
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” — Jiddu Krishnamurti