Back to perfume next time, I promise. But I wanted to talk about something else today.
I used to cycle on and off antidepressants. Things got dark, I took medication, things got better, I told myself I was fixed, I stopped taking them. Lather, rinse, repeat. Five years ago I had a therapist gently point out the obvious — maybe I should treat this depression thing like a medical condition, like diabetes or high blood pressure. Maybe I should accept it, monitor it, medicate against it. Working with a psychiatrist — I get regular “tune-ups” — I seem to have found a combination of medications that mostly works (my depression also has a seasonal aspect which isn’t unusual but means I need more of X and less of Y in the summer.) I was discussing all this again with my kids recently, because given their genetic makeup I’m not hiding it. My one complaint is the sense I can’t feel the highest peaks of life — the bursts of joy — as easily or completely while on meds. And I will absolutely accept that as a trade-off for being able to get out of bed.
To people who have not experienced deep, chronic depression, it must seem baffling. Look at everything you have! Look at all the people who love you! Pull yourself together! Hey, it’s infuriating to me — knowing all I have, all the love and grace and luck, so much to be grateful for. I have never viewed suicide as an act of cowardice. My private name for my depression is the bear trap. If your foot is caught in the bear trap long enough, all you want is a way to finally stop the relentless, excruciating pain. No amount of love or reasoning changes that. I hope to never see the bear trap again, but I know it’s around here somewhere, under the bed or in the basement. I’ve packed it away, banished it, but it’s not gone, and I’m not such a fool to think it’s not there, waiting, lethal, if I get careless with my meds.
In April — before the latest suicides in the news — I read an article in The New York Times about how antidepressants were never studied for long-term use, and how we don’t know the consequences or outcome. Well, I’m a case study of one, and I know what the outcome is for me. I have friends who read that piece and are trying to wean themselves. I worry for them. Other than a few sharply-worded letters to the editor about the possible consequences of NOT taking antidepressants, there was no rebuttal to the Times article. Maybe the Times will write one now.
I will not be shamed by my depression. I did not bring it on myself. I do not control it except through medication. It is not a thing I take lightly. My depression doesn’t “go away,” no more than diabetics on insulin cease to be diabetics — they’re still diabetics, on medicine that will save their lives. We need to talk about it. We need to let people know. I joke about my depression sometimes, because I feel guilty. As if I appear not properly appreciative of my life? I am working on this. Depression is a lonely, secret business; I’m not keeping my secret any more.