Editor's Note: Readers should be advised that this post contains discussion of depression, suicidality, self-harm, and violent urges.
It may be a mental illness but it's an illness nonetheless.
I've struggled with depression since I was 15 years old and I've tried to effectively treat said depression for 16 years and counting. I've tried talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and light therapy. I've tried changing my diet, changing my job, sleeping more, and drinking less.
I've tried prayer, meditation, yoga and running, and I've tried more medications than you can imagine: Wellbutrin, Zoloft, Paxil, and even Depakote. And while some things have worked and others haven't, one thing I'm certain of is that antidepressants make me a better person.
Also: I'm a better mom because of medication.
Depression affects 350 million people worldwide, and approximately 19 million of those are Americans. This means nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population struggles with this disease. Since the rates of depression are twice as high in women as in men, this means there are many, many mothers out there who face this struggle everyday.
I wasn't always a proponent of pills. I used to scoff at the idea of antidepressants. They were nothing more than an easy way out, designed for those who wanted to mask their problems instead of working through them. Antidepressants were for the weak, and even when I would get desperate enough to take them, I'd always stop cold turkey after a few weeks or a few months.
I would cycle up and down: I would be OK one day and suicidal the next but I didn't want to be "on medication." I wanted to fix myself without strange substances, without synthetic serotonin or dopamine. Most importantly, I wanted to deny I had a problem because, let's face it, I wasn't that bad if didn't have a small prescription bottle sitting on my kitchen counter.
But I couldn't hide myself. I couldn't hide from the pain, the anger, the isolation, the sadness and the fear. I couldn't hide from the exhaustion and the desperation. I couldn't outrun the irrational thoughts — the extreme thoughts — and I couldn't deny my depression existed when I cut myself and when I tried to kill myself.
But it wasn't until I had visions of smothering my five-month-old daughter that I knew I needed help, even if that help came in a capsule.
I should be very clear: Antidepressants aren't the answer to every problem, and everyone's treatment plan looks different but when I have the proper dosage and the proper "blend" when I take my medication, my life is infinitely better.
I'm able to have discussions with my husband without yelling, without crying; I'm able to snuggle with my daughter and feel the weight of her body on mine — to smell the sweetness on her skin (a mix of Johnson & Johnson's, pancake syrup and peach lollipops), or the lingering odor of Goldfish and peanut butter on her breath. And I can go running without considering stepping off the curb and into traffic.
I'm calmer, more level-headed, and more responsive (not reactive). I'm able to make it through the day without every comment, incident or event causing me to spiral out of control. Oh, and I'm not crying, at least not every minute of everyday, because antidepressants allow me think clearer, feel better, and be better. Antidepressants make me a better mom.
There are still days I struggle with the stigma, which is ironic since I'm such a staunch advocate of mental health — but the world I grew up in taught me to be ashamed and embarrassed. The world I grew up in told me I should just "suck it up" because it was "all in my head." But it wasn't — and it isn't. It may be a mental illness but it's an illness nonetheless.
So while I will never ever get rid of my disease — while there's no pill which will cure me or surgery which will rid me of my disease — there are things I can do to manage it, things I can do to help myself. And one of those things is medication.