Starting The Conversation

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.



  • Amy M. says:

    Dear March,
    Thank you. You speak for me. You speak the truth, and I’m impressed and inspired by your bravery to publicly state it. All my best to you,

  • Austenfan says:

    You are very brave and thank you so much for this post! Even amongst doctors mental health problems are often regarded as weaknesses of character which makes it hard to be honest about them. I’ve suffered from depression myself although I manage without medication mostly.
    I wondered if you have ever had the occasion to watch Stephen Fry’s excellent documentary on bipolar disorder “The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive”. He addresses the stigma there as well, and apart from that it’s well worth watching.

  • Karen says:

    How absolutely wonderful and brave of you to share this! I know what depression is and have dealt with it for years with the help of medication, a counselor, mindfulness and exercise. I do have dark times as well which can be scary – thanks for sharing!

  • cinnamon says:

    I think part of the difficulty people have with clinical depression is that they equate it with simple deep sadness (eg, after a breakup) rather than understanding it has an organic basis, like many other medical conditions. I have hypothyroidism and (unexplained, ie, the medics have never found a cause) hypertension. i take drugs for both every day and cannot imagine what would happen to me if i stopped. Clearly, as lots of people have said, you can’t know what it will mean to take drugs long term because treating a condition is a process, not an end-point. We are lucky to live at a time when many conditions can be addressed effectively. I am thankful every day for chemistry and pharmacology.

  • Maggiecat says:

    Bless you for having the grace to share your story with us. Recognizing that depression is an illness, not a character defect, saves lives . (still dealing here with the after effects of a close friend’s suicide attempt in January -and of course she is too, physically, economically, and financially. I was the one she reached out to, and by nothing less than a miracle we got medics to her just in time.). That bear trap is a quietly lethal one for too many.

  • tiffanie says:

    Thank you for telling your story here. It helps. I have a family member who is working their way out of the bear trap. It is excruciating for them and for the people who love them. We are going to the doctor tomorrow to get a prescription for another antidepressant medication. We take things one day at a time.

  • MaureenC says:

    Fantastic piece March, in the UK there’s has been a campaign called Time to Change which has run for several years and really helped destigmatise these issues. Many very successful people went public in their past and current struggles with their mental health and this exact issue emerged with the analogies to diabetes and hypertension. The long term effects that many of the medications we take for a whole range of conditions are either not known or we do know that the cumulative effect can be a problem. However that’s a choice we make as adults hopefully in conjunction with a health professional who treats us like an adult. Depression kills – just like heart disease, if other non pharma approaches work for people great but do not guilt trip people into ditching life saving medicine.

  • ScentSpirit says:

    Maybe the long term use of anti-depressants will kill me, they say. I say I am 63 and would have been dead 25 years ago without them.

  • hczerwiec says:

    Big love to you — I’ve been on antidepressants since 1994, and every time I’ve tried to go off, I’ve only lasted 6 months at the outside. You — we — are not alone.

  • Musette says:

    wow. such bravery and kindness in sharing this. I’ve been trying to figure out what to comment …and it all boils down to that. And that goes for everyone on here who commented, as well. Bravery and kindness in sharing. xoxoxoxox

  • Tiara says:

    So grateful for your honesty and willingness to share. I lost a brother to suicide due to his deep, deep depression. Nothing was helping and I don’t believe suicide is the coward’s way. In his case, it was the only way he knew to make “it” stop. The ripples from his actions, however, run deep and wide. Wife, children, family, friends, and co-workers were all deeply affected. Your children are lucky that you’re open about what you’re living. If/when this happens to them, perhaps they’ll recognize it quickly and seek treatment early vs living in shame and fear. As (local group here in SW OH) says, stop the stigma, start the conversation.

  • Koyel says:

    Thanks for this, March. This is clearly a topic that’s been much on my mind lately, since I dreamt that two of my friends from high school committed suicide in front of me, despite my urgent entreaties that there was another way. Thanks for sharing your own struggles and successes.

  • Hey March,
    Yes, depression is shit.
    Mine is low level and usually easily redirected but sometimes manages to spiral in or out of control.
    What it has done over the years is make me extra grateful for the good days, of which there are more and more in the near decade since I stopped self medicating with drugs, alcohol and hedonism.
    Hugging you from here.
    Portia x

  • Tara C says:

    That’s a good simile, the bear trap. I have suffered through episodes of anxiety and depression my whole life, they come and go, and I have refused to take anti-depressants (which were often pushed on me) because I was afraid of what they might irreversibly change in my brain. But if I had chronic ongoing depression I would definitely try them. I’m glad you have found a treatment that works for you. I remember that movie Mr. Jones, with Richard Gere as a bipolar person, who said after starting meds that he missed his highs. My psychological makeup is such that I don’t have a lot of highs, I’m more of a glass half full person, but I’m trying to focus on gratitude and quiet moments of contentment.

  • tfk31 says:

    Severe chronic depression runs throughout my maternal family, and most members deal by self medicating with alcohol or drugs. I self medicated with food for decades, and have accepted that my antidepressants are going to be with me for the rest of my life.
    Mental illness is truly no different than any other chronic condition, and as long as I am careful, and work daily on my mental health, life is good. If not, then things get very scary. I have been on the precipice of suicide several times, and you don’t think about those who will miss you or what you have to live for you just want the pain to end.
    Today is a good day, and I will work to make tomorrow good too.
    Thank you March.

  • Coin-op says:

    Thank you for this post March! There is so much shame and guilt around depression. Posts like this help.

  • Kathleen says:

    Thank you for being open, honest, and sharing, which all provide comfort to others and hopefully you too. I empathize and understand. Xoxo

  • Bee says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It meant a lot to me – more than I can say.

  • Queen Cupcake says:

    Bravo, March, for speaking out. My husband is chronically depressed, and it has been a baffling, frustrating and worrisome condition to try to understand and deal with. The things that help him–creative outlets like gardening, music and exercise–won’t always help another depressed individual. When he gets enough physical activity and takes his meds & supplements, he does better but it is always waiting for him in the background. He is a very sensitive and anxiety-prone person. People need to understand that depression isn’t something you cannot decide to just quit!

    I wish you and your family all the best, in health and happiness. I can’t say that I am depressed but I know what you mean about not feeling the high points in life. In community, in reaching out and doing for others there may be some hope.

    Peace! XO