Medication, Denial, and Me
How can 10mg change so much?
Note: This is my experience with medication and major depressive disorder. Starting, stopping, or changing your dose or medication should always be discussed with your physician(s). Normally I’m not one to include these types of warnings or notes but brain chemistry and such are very serious, and slight alterations to your regular use can cause disastrous consequences.
It’s an “and” now. It used to be a “versus.”
I was 21 when I was diagnosed with depression. At first they thought it was situational. When your mom dies, people tend to think it’s situational, you being sad. When your mom dies, and your cup runneth over with feelings, people cut you a big break. I even thought it was just phase. I’m sad now, but I have reasons to be and maybe this ship will right itself and blah blah blah.
Spoiler alert: It didn’t.
They gave me 10 milligrams of Zoloft and sent me on my way. I got a little better, I got a little worse. Ebb and flow. It was college. That shit is stressful. I took it, I didn’t take it. Eventually I didn’t take it more than I took it, but things were exciting. I had a job upon graduation, shit was good. I didn’t need it, I told myself. I got this.
But the sadness didn’t go away. It just sort of hovered around. In between the fun and adventures and happy smiling Facebook photos there was this dissatisfaction with everything. With myself, my job, my life. A sadness I couldn’t place. It didn’t overwhelm me, though. Not yet.
By the time I was rocking my mid-20’s, I had major depression. The kind that hangs around for no apparent reason, strikes when it fucking feels like it, and generally makes you feel like an anxious piece of shit. It’s fun. (Not really.)
I went to therapy and was honest with my doctor and they switched me to 10 milligrams of Celexa, which is a citalopram, not a setraline, like Zoloft. They’re both SSRI, so they both work relatively the same way. They make it so my brain doesn’t suck up all the serotonin it releases, letting me actually feel the feels I feel, instead of weird false feelings.
It worked better, the Celexa, but had more side effects. Dry mouth was the one that bugged me the most. I didn’t like taking my meds. If such a small dose of the stuff could do this… what did I need it? Did I need it? I told myself I didn’t need it.
I told myself I didn’t need it for years. I took it only when it was really bad. When I couldn’t get out of bed, or stop crying, or getting anxious about anything and everything. When I was visibly a mess, I would take it. Because I needed it then. Only then.
But I needed it always. I just couldn’t accept that.
Around 27 or so, I was dating a lovely guy named Nathaniel Wattenmaker and while we got along really well (we still do, he’s a good friend and an awesome person) I was… a bit of a mess. I was something that needed to be handled. Dealt with. I could feel it, and while my art at the time was exploding with feeling and I was really happy about the things I was making, I was really unhappy with just about everything else. Including him, even though he was great. (I see now that I wasn’t actually unhappy with him, I was unhappy with myself and projected that unhappiness onto him, but you know, hindsight’s 20/20 and all that.)
He’s dealt with mental illness in a couple forms before. Not himself, but he’s seen people struggle. He didn’t want to see me struggle like I was. It’s hard to watch someone suffer, and harder still when they won’t listen to your common sense. He practically begged me to take my meds regularly. I had them, why not take them?
“You take your birth control every day,” he’d say. “How is this different?”
“It isn’t, but it is. There’s… side effects and I just forget and-”
“You haven’t forgotten a birth control pill in… how long?”
“Ten years,” I muttered.
“Yeah. Ten years. Ten.” He frowned. “I’m just gonna let that sit there for awhile.”
The mental block around it was brick and mortar, 10 feet tall, by then. It had “denial” spray painted on it in big red cursive letters. Super fancy stuff. I had excuses you wouldn’t believe.
I don’t need them. Sure, it may look like I’m totally manic and unhinged emotionally but I got this. I got this! I have most certainly got this because I am awesome and there is nothing wrong with being a bit of a weirdo, right? Right.
Mind you, I wasn’t just being “a bit of a weirdo”, I was being an emotional roller coaster. And his urging, however gentle and well-meaning, had the reverse effect, of course, because I’m me and a bit of a douche about being told what to do. Mostly in that if you tell me to do something unless I’m enthusiastic about said thing, I’ll probably ignore you at best and do the opposite at worst.
Eventually we grew apart for that and a few other reasons, a lot of it just being I was almost five years older. In your 20’s that’s a lot of time, and so amicably we split up the summer I turned… 29? I think. Yes. He was 24. Sweet Jesus. I was a 29 year old goddamn mess.
I started dating someone else a bit after that, but the same problems plagued me. As I stated above, it wasn’t them, it was me. I was up and down, in and out. I got anxious. I pushed him away. I pulled him in. I was never the same person day to day, hour to hour. Something was always always always bothering me. Something small or big or it didn’t matter but it all was too much.
I drove him nuts. I drove me nuts. Relationships are partnerships, not about one person carrying another over the finish line. Never mind how far that finish line might possibly be. Never mind if they’re kicking and screaming the entire way, bruising the back you have them slung over. Some people, no matter how much you love or care for them, you can’t keep taking care of them. They have to learn to take care of themselves.
When he broke up with me, I was devastated in a way I’ve never been. I cried and cried until I just tasted salt. I made a bunch of art. I became really obsessed with how I fucked things up, and all the different ways I fucked things up. I read my tarot obsessively, hoping I could see a sign for change in the cards. My friends worried about me. I worried about me. I read my cards some more.
I pulled the Hermit. I slowed down for a bit and thought about what that meant. And then I decided I had to change. I had to get my shit together. I had to grow the fuck up and stop making people do it for me. I had to recognize that I was not being an adult like I thought, I wasn’t even pretending very well. I had to stop talking over myself and finally just shut up and listen to what I really needed.
I started by taking my medication. 10 milligrams. Every day.
It’s a little over a year later now, and I still take them every day, along with some vitamins and my birth control. And Jesus tap dancing Christ, am I a better person for it. I’m stable. I’m predictable. All the things I thought I’d lose… my creativity, my quirks, my “spunk”. None of it is gone. I’m still me. I breathe easier, though. I sleep less, but considering I was sleeping close to 13 hours a day most days… that’s not a super big… I could stand to sleep a little less, let’s just say that.
I still have my ups and downs, of course. Everyone does, even on meds. It’s not an exact science. For some people, it’s a total crap shoot. For some people, meds don’t work, but therapy does. Sometimes a mix of both helps. Sometimes none of it does. It’s wild and unbelievably personal. Brain chemistry is like that, I guess.
But I see things as they truly are now, and not through some haze of anxiety and paranoia. I’m calmer, more trusting, and most importantly, I give like 70% less of a fuck. And all those fucks I don’t give I get to keep for myself, to put into whatever I want, instead of spending them on shit that never mattered in the first place.
So, I’m a bit better. Certainly not devastated anymore! Pretty happy, in fact! I still love him a bunch, more than he probably knows or can conceive because love is the vastest emotion there is, like a giant ocean that covers the whole planet but wait most of our oceans do that and blah blah blah feelings, you know? The point is I still feel them, the feelings, in abundance. My medication didn’t take that away from me. It didn’t take anything away from me. It gave me strength. It gave me the ability to finally rely on myself for a change.
In some arenas I’m still a bit of mess. I don’t take surprises well, or changes in plans. I don’t like secrets, mainly because I can’t keep them without causing severe heartburn. I still have a big mouth, so tack (you know, having it) is sometimes a problem. I’m navigating relationships, romantic and otherwise, at a snail’s pace while I figure out what I want and who I am.
I’m getting there, though, I think, with the help of my medication. I work at it every day, trying trying trying. Chiseling away the parts I no longer want as part of me. I’m proud of who I am for the first time in my adult life. I can see a future that’s a good fit for me, instead of some shit that Facebook told me everyone is doing and I should be doing too because duh that’s what adults do. That’s how you adult. (Hi married friends with babies I’m sure your lives are great but that pant suit just don’t fit me. Hangs funny on my hips. Makes me look fat. Not into it.)
That’s all you can do, really, with mental illness. Keep trying. Keep going. Something will work, something will fit. Someone will fit. Eventually.