When I tell people about the changes I’ve made in my life and the things I did to turn my misery into happiness, I rarely tell them that I take anti-depressants. This is because, while the drugs gave me the ability to get up off the floor, they did not teach me what to do when I was up there.
Back in the day, my understanding of “depression” was feeling a sadness that was unlike your normal self. If you asked me back then I would have said I never felt a sadness unlike my normal self, but I realize now that I thought it was my normal self. Sometimes I stayed in bed for a days on end, I wouldn’t answer my phone and generally disappeared from life from time to time. It didn’t seem odd to me; that was just life.
My older sister started taking anti-depressants as soon as they came on the market; I considered that a major cop-out. I wholeheartedly believed that if you have a problem, you try to figure out what the problem is, you don’t take a pill and expect it to make everything better. Because it just doesn’t. My sister was living proof – she bitched and complained as much on the pills as she did before she took them. What a joke.
That wasn’t my way; I fixed my problems. I moved across the country, I got a new job, I fell in love, I moved to a new town, a new house, lost 30 pounds, gained 40, lost 20, then I got another job, then another job and another, then I left my boyfriend and bought my own home in a different town, and then I got another job that was better suited to my abilities, I started dating several men, revitalized my self esteem, then I fell in love with the man who was absolutely perfect for me, that would surely make me happy.
I remember lying in bed one morning, next to the man who was right for me in every way, and was shocked to realize that I felt the same sense of rage/frustration/irritation/hatred/discomfort/disillusionment that I’d felt with the man who was wrong for me in every way. I had an overwhelming urge to jump out of bed and pull my hair and scream and jump up and down and punch the wall until my knuckles bled, but I barely had enough energy to roll over. In that moment two words came into my head that changed my whole life – it’s me.
The problem was me, it was always me. I was blaming outside influences but all the changes I made changed nothing. The hopelessness and self-loathing my mother told me were simply growing pains when I was 15 were still with me at the age of 32. The moves, the jobs, the men all came down to one common denominator – me. And I decided it was time to make a change, another change but a different change.
I applied to post secondary school and started a couple of courses. I renewed my lapsed gym membership. I started taking swimming lessons and jumped into the deep end of the pool for the first time since I had a panic attack when I was eight. Things were looking up. But somewhere along the way, I stopped going to the gym again, I didn’t finish the courses, I found better things to do and didn’t make it to swimming lessons. It didn’t matter, though, I was fixed. Everything was going to be okay.
Not long after I started feeling really ill. My friend had mono so I realized I’d caught it too and told my boss I wouldn’t be able to make it in to work for a few days, told my boyfriend not to come over. I felt horrible; my symptoms were different than my friend’s but it was definitely mono because I had no energy and couldn’t get out of bed for days on end. I went to my doctor but he said I didn’t have mono so I figured it must have been the flu or something.
A month or so later I went back to the clinic because there was something wrong with my heart, not long after that I was certain I had some other disease or illness. Finally he sat me down and gave it to me straight – he wanted me to try anti-depressants. That wasn’t going to happen. If there was something wrong in my head, I wasn’t going to start taking a pill and pretend that nothing was wrong. He gave me two choices, anti-depressants or therapy. I chose therapy.
It helped. Talking to someone that wouldn’t be affected or hurt or disgusted by the things I had to say made a difference. I didn’t have to worry what he thought of me, it didn’t matter if I said something wrong or out of line because I was paying him to listen. We discussed my weight issues, my self esteem, my upbringing, my relationships; and his insights brought some things to light that I couldn’t see on my own. After three or four sessions, I was cured.
And about a month later I was literally on the floor again, seriously considering giving up this fight that I surely couldn’t win. I had been in an accident that left me with a concussion and banged up right side. When I accepted that I was saving my pain killers so I could take the whole bottle at once, it was time to decide once and for all if I was in or out. I went back to my doctor and he wrote a prescription for anti-depressants. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the hardest part was still ahead of me.