When I saw it was National Mental Health Day a couple days ago, I felt guilty once again for putting off writing about my own experiences. The longer I put this off, the harder it is. Despite what you might be thinking, it’s not hard because it’s painful for me to write about — though it is a bit. It’s actually hard because it’s difficult for me to remember what it’s like to be depressed.
I might be able to remember if I stopped taking my medication, but I don’t really care to find out. I haven’t let more than a day go by without it in the past five years. Why would I?
Depression came on so slowly that I didn’t recognize it. But I know it happened in high school. I’m bad at truly remembering the depths of it now, but other people are great at describing it.
I remember that most days were a struggle, even the many days where I didn’t have a reason to be sad. I thought that was what life was like for everyone, and everyone was just really good at dealing with it.
I couldn’t get out of bed. Even though I was passionate about math and computers, most of time it was extinguished by the mist of depression. Teachers let me by. I was partying. The best classic high school stereotype for me would be “delinquent nerd”. My best friend made it all worth it. I think she was kind of depressed too.
My mom knew something was wrong, obviously. And someone else saying something was wrong made me start to realize it. She took me to see a psychiatrist, and I got a prescription to my first medication, fluoxetine.
The thought of taking something that subtly messed with my brain was terrifying.
Nevermind the partying — somehow this seemed different. And I’m not going to lie, that first day was weird. Things were fuzzier and distant. But I could see the possibility there. Things were easier.
I switched to bupropion by the time college came around. Do you remember how I said teachers let me by in high school? They didn’t do that in college. I didn’t make it to class half the time, and I scraped by the first year. I felt too bad about myself to try to make many friends. Everyone was high-achieving and seemed to be doing so well, and I felt out of place. I missed my fellow misfits.
The medication helped. It was the opposite of my previous medication, so it made me energetic. But it made me too energetic and speedy, so I went on and off it. I didn’t feel like myself. When I started life post-college, I stopped taking any medications.
Things were alright half the time. I’d passed through some kind of phase made worse by being a teenager. But there were still too many periods of darkness. I held on, once again in denial about my situation. Then one day a person really high up in my company opened up in a very big way about his depression. This started me examining things again.
I decided to talk to my mom about it. I was afraid of telling her, because I wanted her to think her daughter was doing fine now. But I needed help again. I worked up the courage to tell her, and she took it really seriously. She used her network to get good recommendations for doctors in my city. The doctor she found suggested the prescription I’m taking today, lamotrigine.
To put it simply, lamotrigine fixed it. It’s one of those things that I can’t believe is real, and I can’t believe I was lucky enough to have found. I think the closest word for that is miracle. I’m glad to wake up. I’m interested in things and people. I get sad, but now it’s when there’s a reason to be. I feel what I think normal feels.
I don’t want this to be an ad for this particular medication. In fact, I’ve talked to at least a couple people who’ve tried lamotrigine to no avail. And I’ve talked to other people who’ve been helped by the medications that weren’t right for me. It’s all about what works for you.
The point I really want to make is this: If you’re depressed, you should seriously consider trying medication.
And you should keep trying until you find the right one. Medication is scary. Both in that it’s messing with your brain and also in that it’s admitting something is wrong with you. But it’s so worth trying.
It’s tempting to hold on to just trying “natural” things, as I’ve done before — optimizations like exercising or getting more sunlight, or even just going to therapy. The only analogies I can think of are medical, which is appropriate. To me, it’s like having a bladder infection, and trying to “flush it out” by drinking lots of water, when you really just need some damn antibiotics.
It’s not a coincidence that I haven’t missed more than a day of my current medication. I make getting my prescription my top priority, because I know what a profound effect it has on every area of my life.
I wish I’d found it sooner. I mourn the loss of interesting lectures I missed in school, activities I could have done, and friends I could have made.
I’m putting my story out there because I’m really grateful to all the people in my life that have been open about their own struggles. My former VP blogs about his depression and his trials with finding a solution. My friend name drops seeing a therapist all the time, and I know it’s because he wants it to be a normal and accepted thing.
It’s hard to admit to having to take a medication to function well. To be really honest, my main fear about being open about this stuff has always been that no one will want to date me — that I’ll be seen as broken or genetically flawed. In being open, I’m worried that I’ll be passed over for jobs, or it could be used against me in some way. But I hope this is as helpful to others as other stories have been for me.