“You may want to consider going on antidepressants,” my counselor says at the end of session. My eyes widen in shock and fear. And shame. Lots of shame. This bomb continues to reverberate in me as I leave. I have no problems with people taking antidepressants. I have many family members who do and I’ve seen what a gift medication has been to them. So, why is this so hard for me then? I continue to tear this idea apart—looking at every angle for some insight into my fear—and then it hits me: I am not ok being on medication, because it means I’m weak.
My earliest memories of my Mom are wrapped in her struggle with depression. I didn’t have language for her suffering when I was a child, but I knew that sometimes Mom couldn’t get out of bed. And I knew that sometimes her suffering made her cry and pop off the Jesus decal on her car. I learned to be a good little girl, barely needing parenting. When I was older, she went on antidepressants and her depressions stabilized. Later, other family members went on medication with similar results. By then, I only knew how to live as the good girl, who didn’t need anyone’s help.
In this environment, I have set myself apart as the non-mentally-ill person. I am the “strong” one. I realize that I have classified my family members as weak. And with this assessment, I have judged them. I have seen them as less.
Now I see this hierarchy I’ve created, setting me above the ones I love, the ones who suffer. My tower is crumbling though. Panic attacks, anxiety, and depression are my friends, courtesy of PTSD. I am suffering now. I guess I have been for years.
I was the passenger in a police car chase. The car with my loved one sped ahead, while I sat in the back of the squad car paralyzed, powerless. The chase stopped when the road dead-ended into a cul-de-sac. I couldn’t believe he was still alive. I thought I was going to watch him die. He survived. Three months later I tried to go to bed and couldn’t sleep. Night after night, terror kept me awake. My body tensed in anxiety and my stomach churned throughout the day. I needed help. In therapy, I began to process through my trauma, but quickly I noticed that there was more in me than this recent incident. Under the surface were layers of pain and dysfunction. I was burned out, but I also realized that life as a good girl wasn’t sustainable. Even without trauma, I would have ended up in this same place of burnout. The way I lived my life was driving me down a path of exhaustion.
But medication? This is acknowledging my messiness in clinical, tangible ways. This labels me and this shames me.
These questions are set before me: Will you continue to refuse help out of your pride? Will you continue to see yourself as the “strong” one? Will you continue to isolate yourself, because you’re afraid to ask for help?
It hurts, seeing this stony woman I’ve become. I see her glare down, judging those who can’t get their shit together. My two selves war with each other. There is the “me” who wants to be seen as strong and there is the “me” who wants to be loved as I am.
It’s lonely when you set yourself apart from and above others.
I can’t contain this painful realization anymore. I pour out my fear and stress and shame with my two best friends, messy crying all the way. They receive me, look me in the eyes. They are not horrified by what horrifies me. This isn’t as lonely as I expected.
Stepping down off the rubble pile that is my pride, I join the messy, the weak, the mentally ill—my people—and I say yes to antidepressants.