Which is scarier? Actually being crazy, taking pills that label you as crazy, or writing about it to the entire world. It’s a hard decision. They are all awful.
Let me explain with a little bit of my history. I’ve had depression since middle school. But I avoided receiving treatment for depression because, in my mind, a diagnosis meant that I definitely had depression and at least if I wasn’t diagnosed, I would have plausible deniability if anyone asked. Is that logical? No, it’s stupid, but would you want everyone to think you are crazy? Yeah, I thought so.
I was moseying along relatively well until postpartum depression knocked my legs out from under me. This was a humbling experience that brought me to the point where I was willing to try medication. I assumed that that meant antidepressants, and while I was not thrilled at the prospect, I decided that I would take them if they would help.
Thus the medication waltz began. I danced with different partners for months at a time only to have them step on my toes again and again and again. We would draw from further afield each time a medication stopped working. This took months of trial and error until we finally found one that worked consistently.
But this medication didn’t fix everything. I started noticing that although it helped my mood tremendously, there were some other symptoms that my antidepressant left untouched. That is when my doctor started using the word adjunct. Adjunct medication is an additional medication used to treat the symptoms that the first medication left untreated.
And then, much to my chagrin, she said the dreaded word that I had hoped never to hear in the context of my personal care – antipsychotic. Who, in hearing this word, would not panic and run in the other direction? I mean really. Antipsychotic. Anti. Psychotic. No matter how many times you say it, it never sounds better.
There it is, I thought, definitive proof that I’m crazy. Nuts. Cuckoo. Bonkers. I have a screw loose. I’m wackadoodle. I’m one card short of a deck. One spoke short of a wheel. One apple short of a bushel. One monkey short of a barrel . . . Okay, I’ll stop.
Anyway, it was hard to come to terms with needing an antipsychotic to manage my mental health. My doctor was very clear when she told me that I’m not psychotic, that in low doses this medication is used regularly as a “mood stabilizer” to treat depression. This offered scant comfort.
I told a friend about this new development and my friend, who is much wiser than I am, told me not to get hung up on the labels. This inspired me more than she probably thought it would. Who cares about labels? On medication. On diseases. On disorders. Who cares? Your eye drops for glaucoma or your cholesterol meds, your insulin for diabetes or your albuterol for asthma, your chemotherapy for cancer or your nitroglycerin for heart failure? Do the medications you take define who you are? Does your illness define who you are?
Even if I was psychotic, which I’m not, why should there ever be shame associated with treating my psychosis? Why should there be any more shame than treating any other disease or disorder of the blood, muscle, mind or heart?
My depression does not define who I am, and neither do the medications I take. Depression is certainly a part of me, even though I wish every day that it wasn’t. It is a considerable burden, but it is still only a tiny portion of who I am.
Mental illnesses are enough of a burden without the stigma, without the labels, without the misinformation. They are a sufficiently heavy load to carry by themselves, I promise.