I think that, for anyone, medicine is kind of a scary word. It implies that something is wrong, that there’s a part of you that can be fixed—that can become better—if you take a little pill.
When I was fifteen, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. The diagnoses itself didn’t come as much of a surprise; I was most definitely anxious and was no doubt depressed. And I had been for my whole life—I just had a name for it now.
This newfound label in my life was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I now knew that my feelings were rational; that they were actually incredibly common.
The diagnosis was also a curse because now I had to confront the feelings. I couldn’t be confused by the emotions anymore. I couldn’t live in this cloud of unknown. Because now my moods had a name, a list of symptoms, and a solution.
Therapy and medication—the cocktail of depression. The therapy, the talking for hours about me, myself, and I; I could get on board with that. It was easy and it was completely external. I controlled what I wanted to share and I controlled how I was affected by the response.
Medicine was different. Medicine was in control of our relationship from the second it touched my tongue. I wasn’t in charge of how it made me feel.
And this terrified me. I didn’t know what that little pill would do to me. I mean, I knew it was supposed to make me feel better, and I wanted that. I wanted that so badly. But what I didn’t want—and what I was so afraid would happen—was for the medicine to change who I was.
I was also not a huge fan of having to take medicine to fix an intangible part of me. Why should I have to take a pill to fix my brain? Am I really that f*cked up?
Now, I know now that all of these feelings are ridiculous. Millions of people take mental health medication every day and all is well. But I also don’t think that fact discredits these takeaways.
So how did I cope with these fears? Easy—I lied about taking my medicine. For five years.
For five years, I told my parents and my friends and my doctor and my therapist that I was taking my medicine. And guess what happens when you don’t take your medicine? It doesn’t do its freakin’ job.
So while everyone was confused as to why I was still feeling sad and isolated and uneasy, I knew exactly why I wasn’t feeling better. For five years, I knew the solution—I had the solution in my medicine cabinet—but I just couldn’t swallow it.
Why? Why didn’t I just do it? It’s hard to explain. A really huge part of me thought that I could fix these problems on my own. I thought that if only I tried hard enough, if I only looked on the bright side of life, that I would feel better. I thought that I could beat the damn thing on my own. I thought that the sadness was like a hill, and if I could just climb it once, it would be sunny skies for the rest of my days.
But that’s not how depression works. It’s not one uphill battle. It’s thousands of uphill battles, one after another. And it’s not something that can be completely controlled by smiles and positive thinking. It’s something that is inherent and predetermined. No matter what I do, I will be sad sometimes, even when I have no reason to be. And guess what? This tiny pill can make me feel better.
This took me five years to realize.
Earlier this year, I was sitting in my therapist’s office. And he asked me the question that I get asked weekly—“Are you taking your medicine?” Maybe it was the weather or the time of day. Maybe it was the shitty sadness I had been feeling for months to no avail [that was probably it.] Whatever it was, I decided to tell him the truth. “No.”
And he said this in return.
“If someone breaks their arm, they’re not going to just sit around and go through life with a broken arm. That would be stupid and crazy painful. The same is with your brain. If your brain is hurting you or making you feel off, you should do something about it. You deserve to feel better. Medicine can be your better.”
This wasn’t even the first time I had heard an analogy like this. But it was the first time that it clicked.
I needed an outside source to come in and help me out. And that was okay. It would be scary. And it would be weird. But I owed it to myself to give it a shot.
Because I deserve to feel better. My medicine makes me feel better. It doesn’t change me as a person. It doesn’t affect my sense of humor or my intelligence or my aptitude for remembering what movie that actress was in that one time. My depression is not a part of me—it is a part of an illness—one that I just happen to have.
My medicine doesn’t change me. It makes me, more me.