There is no shame in caring for yourself
The decision to start taking antidepressants is not as easy to make as one might think. It personally took me over two years and two different psychiatrists to come to terms with the fact that I needed medication to get me through my bouts of depression and anxiety.
I suffer from moderate recurring major depressive disorder and anxiety, both generalized and social. I began seeing a psychologist at age 15 and continued seeing her for the next four years. My first run-in with the possibility of medication was in my junior year of high school, when a particularly acute bout of depression had me unable to see myself living for more than a couple more years. The first psychiatrist I saw recommended that I start taking an antidepressant at a low dosage, but the idea was dropped by both my parents and myself, each party reassuring the other that this was “just a phase” and that it would pass, in time. As my depressive disorder is recurring, it certainly seemed that way, and while I experienced other depressive episodes, none seemed as extreme as the one I experienced that year in high school until my freshman year of college.
By the time I’d begun my second semester at Fordham, I was seriously considering dropping out of college altogether because I could barely get myself out of bed in the morning, let alone see a point in continuing my studies and getting a degree. I was referred to a second psychiatrist, who prescribed me the SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, a class of antidepressants) fluoxetine, known commercially as Prozac. I’ve been on it ever since, and while I’m currently in the process of coming off of it, it was incredibly useful––even vital––in my ongoing process of overcoming my depression and my anxiety.
The concept of antidepressants scares people, and understandably so. Psychiatric medication in general has a sort of last-resort connotation to it. People fear that they won’t be able to trust who they are anymore if they go on medication, that any happiness they might feel in the future will be entirely artificial and manufactured, a product of synthetically-preserved serotonin. People get anxious when they hear about a drug that will intervene with your brain’s chemical balance or cause undesired side effects and addiction. It doesn’t help that many people, doctors included, feel that antidepressants and other kinds of psychiatric medication are being overprescribed in the United States. I, like those closest to me, had all of these fears, which is undoubtedly the reason I decided not to start taking medication in high school when I could have. So, when I started taking Prozac about two years ago, I was apprehensive––and later, shocked at how much it helped.
While taking the medication, I was surprised at how much easier it was for me to recognize patterns of behavior within myself. I was able to rationalize irrational thoughts that had previously felt undeniably real to me, and in turn, made it easier for me to be honest about how I was feeling. While Prozac alone isn’t responsible for this change in perception, as I was also seeing a psychologist once a week, I know that it improved my emotional awareness and made my depression and anxiety feel far more surmountable.
It’s important to note that everyone’s experience with antidepressants is different. The way one antidepressant affects one person will certainly not be the way it affects someone else. Different classes of antidepressants exist and each combats mental disorders differently, so it’s crucial that you do your research if you’re making the decision to take one.
At the end of it all, I’m grateful that I made the decision to go on Prozac. I highly doubt that I would be the person I am today had I not gone on medication for a while. While it didn’t by any means cure me of my disorders, it was an enormous help in learning to live with them––and in learning that there isn’t any shame in going on them if they are needed.