Fact: I’ve been on antidepressants off and on for 5 years now and concluded about a year ago — at my doctor’s recommendation — that I’ll be on them indefinitely.
Why? Because, left to its own devices, my body consistently decides to create a knot in my stomach, a lot of annoying thoughts in my head, a lack of interest in activities I characteristically enjoy, trouble concentrating during the day, and trouble sleeping at night. In my experience, antidepressants — combined with crucial, less medicinal approaches like self-care, social support, and sometimes therapy — have virtually removed my aforementioned symptoms.
As helpful as antidepressants had been, I never expected to stay on them indefinitely.
When my doctor suggested this, my first reaction was to nervously inquire: “Does this mean I’ll never recover…?”
The doc thought for a second, leaned forward, and said, “Depends on how you define recovery.”
If I define recovery as having the condition out of my life and the prescriptions out of my medicine cabinet, then no I might never recover. If I define recovery, however, as “regaining strength, composure, balance, or the like,” then yes I actually have recovered!
We’re used to thinking of “recovery” as a removal of illness. And this works for common conditions such as the flu, which can be addressed with perhaps a 10-day round of antibiotics. But, oftentimes, depression and other mental health conditions are more like diabetes than the flu; they’re chronic conditions that need continued attention. “Recovery,” in this case, must be understood as a resolve toward wellness.
For years, I tried to remove my illness rather than resolving toward wellness, fearing that continued medication usage would somehow compromise my creativity or my religious faith. Unfortunately, stigma crops up in any and every community, discouraging us from seeking help because we assume doing so could affect our character or reputation in some negative way. The stigmas that affected me most:
Stigma among creatives: “Medication will make me ‘dull.'” “Antidepressants will take away my writing material.”
Stigma among Christians: “Taking medication would be altering the way God made me.” “Taking medication would mean I don’t trust God to heal me.”
If you’ve ever thought one of those sentiments, trust me: You’re not alone. There’s a real conversation to be had about each of those points. Talk to a doctor, therapist, religious leader (especially regarding stigma among Christians), or any other trusted adult. In addition, follow along as I process these stigmas a bit in my next 2 blogs! (Sneak preview: I’m going to argue that none of the stigmas I named above are valid reasons to not take antidepressants.)
Whatever you do, start thinking of recovery as a resolve toward wellness and know that you can recover. It might not look like what you expected. But you can.