Sunday, November 6, 2011

Taking crazy back

I have been listening to a podcast called Taking Crazy back. It is about how our culture treats people with mental illness. It is very powerful.

I suffer from clinical depression. I was diagnosed in my early 40s, but clearly it was someting I had lived with since my late teens. I had tried therapy, exercise, prayer, diet regimes, and just 'sucking it up.' There were days and weeks on end when I couldn't get out of bed, and my stomach was in knots all the time. Maybe it was ulcers? Maybe it was co-workers? Maybe it was diet? I tried being a vegetarian. I gave up coffee. I cried. A lot.

Then I started taking Paxil. This was around the same time the book came out called "Prozac Nation." People on SSRI's were criticized for taking these designer drugs because it was 'in', or'cool', or because doctors forced them on patients due to influence from pharmaceutical companies.

Today on the podcast were lots of examples comparing mental illness to diabetes, or cancer, or heart disease. Nobody would tell someone to not seek treatment for those illnesses. But the stigma around depression is all around.

For years only my family knew I was on anti-depressants. In the last few years I confided in a few close friends. Now, here I am blogging about. I want people to know. Depression is an illness and it needs treatment. Sometimes alternative treatments work. Sometimes homeopathy and naturopathy works. Sometimes therapy works. And, sometimes it doesn't. For me, medication works.

And, that is not to say that the medication doesn't have side effects. Although the new medication I am on, Effexor, has less side effects. It is not to say that I wish I didn't have to be on it for the rest of my life. It is not to say that I don't try every few years to wean myself off them. It is not to say that they don't change my personality - that they flatten my out. But I do know that if not for this medication my quality of life would not be what it is. My relationships would not be what they are. I may not have ever been driven to suicide, but the thought would occasionally arise that I could understand why people may choose that option, because living with un-treated depression is, in many ways, like being dead.

Years ago, I discovered my maternal aunt suffered from depression and was on lithium. Years after I discovered my brother was on SSRIs. My mother was hospitalized in her 30s for a mental breakdown. Hmmm. Family history? You might say so.

So, why am I writing this? I remember when I first was diagnosed and first put on medication it was a struggle. I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. I didn't want anyone to know. But, then, the clouds were lifting and things were getting better. Still, I wished I had a cast on so people knew I was in the process of healing. So maybe they would cut me a little slack, like they would for someone with a cast. People sign casts. Nobody signs my pill bottle of SSRI's.

I have been at meetings or lectures where people making sweeping, judgemental pronouncements about people on anti-depressants. I didn't say anything. They wouldn't know how many people like me were in the audience, and how deeply we were hurt and mis-understood. People rarely make derogatory comments about diabetics, or people on thyroid medication, or cancer patients. People do make derogatory comments about people on SSRIs.

It is time for that to stop. It is enough. Sometimes medication is needed. Sometimes I just need everyone to understand I am doing the best I can, and my medication helps. Sometimes, what it really is, is that I need to understand I am ok, and I need this medication to continue to be ok.

Sometimes what it really is, is that I need to be less judgemental towards myself. I need to be kinder to myself. I need to forgive myself.

It's a beginning.


  1. You don't need to forgive yourself since you have done nothing wrong. The people who make sweeping statements about others when they have no idea what they are talking about, those people need some sensitivity training. I hope those people read your words and become a little more understanding. I feel that way about people who say, "A little bit of will power and some physical activity and everyone could be thin". Those are the folks that make me want to spit.
    I would like to spread the message that folks should keep their opinions to themselves until they have all the facts.

  2. Hi Mary-Anne. It is ridiculous that mental illness is still so misunderstood by so many people, including the media. This is a great piece. Good for you.


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