Sunday, January 19, 2014

Thoughts on medication for depression

Once upon a time, in an age long ago (19, to be exact), I didn't want medication. I was living alone for the first time, depressed, suicidal, and in therapy, but I feared that by taking medications, which were meant to alter my brain chemistry, that I would be artificially changing who I was. I would be changing my personality (I thought), and I had no idea what that would mean.

In truth, when looking back I'm not certain that I even wanted to get better, at least on some level. On a rational level, I knew I wasn't healthy, and that I needed help. But on a more visceral level I think that I couldn't imagine not being depressed, and couldn't see such a state as a better version of me, but rather only as someone else entirely. In my mind at the time, I think that I believed that if the medication worked, I would no longer be me, but rather a different person. It took some serious scares in the suicide department for me to really consider taking the meds, and some major persuasive efforts on the part of my therapist, to make me willing to actually take them. She explained that the pills wouldn't change who I am, but would only fix the chemical imbalance in my brain so that the therapy could start to actually work. For some reason that I don't remember, it still wasn't until I was back living with my folks that I got medication for the first time.

Fast forward to my current bout of depression. Getting meds this time was not an issue for me. I've occasionally been reluctant since that first time to get medicated, but that's because I haven't always wanted to admit that I was depressed again. This time though, once I recognized it, I wasn't reluctant at all to admit it. Nor was I reluctant to get medicated, once the need for it was clear. I've come to appreciate medication.

I hadn't really thought about why until a few months back, when I was starting to improve again, an acquaintance asked me some probing questions about how I was doing, and my attitude towards the meds (she also asked some probing questions about polyamory, but I guess that's not really relevant). It was then I first articulated what had apparently been in the back of my mind.

I am not my depression, anymore than I am my bad back or bad eyesight. It's an illness, a broken brain, if you will. It is, however, an illness that can make it difficult --sometimes impossible-- to be the real me. Like a runner with a broken leg, I can't do what I do, be who I am, when the depression is in full force. Meds are the cast for a broken mind, allowing me to heal. They don't remove the real me, they let the real me shine through, acting as support where needed. Ideally, sure, I'll get to a point where I don't need them again (for a while, at least), but in the meantime, I'm here in part because of the medication that let's me be me.

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