Trying to give an opinion about whether or not people, especially teenagers, should be given medication to cope with certain forms of mental illness always seems to end up in stalemate. I know what I think about it, but it’s probably not what you think. And so, what I’m going to describe is what I went through and what I believe. I’m not advocating a course of action for anyone else.
When I was first given anti-depressants as a teenager, I thought I was finally going to be a happy person. I was told I had a chemical imbalance and I would have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life, sort of like a shot of insulin for a person who suffers from diabetes. Long story short, it didn’t happen in quite that way.
I was functional – I completed high school, and then university, and got a good job. Gradually I isolated myself. Even though I was seeing a therapist regularly, I went into a severe depression and attempted suicide by taking my whole prescription of Paxil in my late 20’s. It took me months to get over my overdose and become a functional person again. I was once again given Paxil, with a restriction on how many pills I could have at a time and took it for another two years.
Then, one summer, I met the man who would eventually become my husband. We met at the most tumultuous and destructive time in my life. I was most often angry or otherwise like a zombie, I used drugs and drank more often than I was sober and had ruined more friendships than I wanted to admit. In those days, I just didn’t care.
One day, I didn’t take my prescription – I thought I knew what to expect, because when I was late taking my pill, I would often get a headache, feel nauseous and my hands would shake. I soon realized I had not prepared myself for what I was about to go through.
At first, I experienced headaches and I was jittery. I couldn’t sit still because my legs would spasm randomly. I felt anxious one minute and extreme anger the next. I spent one day raging in my little bachelor apartment punching things, slamming cupboards, screaming and crying. Within a few days I started to feel what others have called “brain zaps” and electrical shocks throughout my body. I hallucinated and drenched my bed sheets from excessive sweating. I heard people talking and calling, always from the peripheries and never actually there.
I literally thought I was going insane until I came across forums on the internet where people described the same symptoms I was going through. The anonymous posters and my desire to gain control over my life gave me strength to continue ridding my system of antidepressants.
New struggles arose after the withdrawal symptoms subsided (“discontinuation” as industry likes to call it). I was committed to getting well, but when a person lives with depression, it’s not a matter of finding a cure. It’s more about learning to live with it. Finding the right people, the right job and the patience hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve managed.
It’s been five years since I’ve been off of all medications and I’m still working on figuring out who I am. I was put on medication that radically changes the brain’s chemistry, changes the way people process emotions and stress, that causes a lower libido and sexual dysfunction before I had a chance to leave adolescence. Children grow into be the people they will become during their teenage years. Those are the years when you learn to deal with the shit life throws at you and how to love and how to be physically intimate – how to be you.
I feel like I was robbed of that time. I have no baseline to compare; I’ve only known myself as the person who takes medication.
Now, I have to learn to forgive the person I was – the person who said and did whatever she wanted without really understanding the consequences, the person who never really loved too deeply or gave too freely, the person who never felt the intense sense of joy or the crushing weight of sadness.
At times I feel paranoid and anxious because I have only recently began dealing with my past. I have trouble controlling my emotions because I’ve never really felt them. I am hyper aware of my behaviour and how people act around me. I have lingering issues with loss of memory and focus.
Often, I wonder what I would have been like if I hadn’t been on medication. Would I have become more confident and learned how to cope with the bad, or would I have succumbed to depression and suicide? I don’t know the answers and I understand the futility of “what if” scenarios. I have learned that recovery from long-term antidepressant use takes time, for some it may be months and for others like me, years.
But I am willing to continue to go through all of this to live my life as me, as a whole person. As the years go by and my anger subsides, I am learning how to make positive life choices, how to make myself and the people around me happy and most of all, I’m learning to be grateful for my life.