By: Conor Bezane
Artificial happiness. That’s what I thought I’d be getting into if I went on antidepressants. I have to admit I was scared to even go there. Would I become a zombie? Would my emotions be flattened? What about apathy? Turns out these fears were, for me, irrational.
But the circumstances were terrifying. My initial diagnosis of depression occurred in December 2007, after I was coming off a stressful situation in which I worked on a live television show, MTV’s Presidential Dialogue with John McCain.
Leading up to the live program, I had some downtime in a hotel room in snowy Manchester, NH. I tried to take a nap, but I tossed and turned. I couldn’t sit still. I paced the room. My palms oozed with sweat that wouldn’t go away no matter how many times I wiped my hands on my jeans or washed and dried them. I learned later that this was a panic attack.
I had already hit a ceiling with my job as a segment producer with MTV News — there were no openings for a promotion — so I was feeling depressed and stagnant when the panic attack happened. But the panic attack was so horrible, so mind-bending, that I decided I needed to see a psychiatrist about it. I’d hoped talk therapy alone would do the trick.
My dad had taken antidepressants successfully for years for his depression. So it made sense for me to be on the same pills he takes due to genetics.
I grappled with the idea of needing pills to alter my state of mind. I didn’t want to take them because I thought it’d be contrived, fake happiness. And there was also the stigma of taking psych meds that was weighing on me.
But my state of mind was so dreary, and I was so desperate, so joyless, so miserable.
And so I popped that first pill, albeit with a spoonful of doubt. And I never looked back. I kept taking them. Every day. And every day I got better and better — until soon I had surpassed better and gone right over to mania. In other words, one antidepressant alone — without a mood stabilizer on board — caused my mania, and subsequent bipolar diagnosis. But my mania is a story for another day
Was my happiness artificial? Maybe. But eventually I realized that, for me, taking an antidepressant was crucial. I’m just lucky I was born at a time when psychiatric drugs are available. Historically, manic-depressives have had to resort to alcohol to stabilize their moods, and I am a recovering alcoholic.
Medication is not the only option for treating bipolar disorder. However, for many it is the right choice. Once you and your doctor find the correct medication regimen for you, you can feel normal.
If you’re on the fence about psychiatric drugs like I was, be not afraid. It’s not like you’re getting a scarlet letter tattooed on your forehead. No one except you and your doctor has to know.
But even if someone did find out, the stigma against taking psychiatric drugs is beginning to fade. According to a recent report, 13 percent of Americans are on antidepressants. That’s more than one in ten. Staggering.
If you’re still reticent about taking pills, doctors have told me that improved diet and exercise also help with depression.
But what’s the worst that could happen? Plus, antidepressants are not addictive. And who knows? Maybe you only need an antidepressant to get you through a rough patch.
Fear is powerful. So is ignorance. Educate yourself on a credible website like WebMD, or right here on IBPF. You don’t have to succumb to fear or ignorance. All anybody wants is for you to feel better. And if it takes medication, there is — no longer — any shame.