“I don’t want to be on a pill for the rest of my life!”

Recently someone on my NFP forum asked us how we could ever consider taking antidepressants–after all, as people who are opposed to artificial birth control, why would we want to pollute our systems with anything else?  Why not just used natural methods to combat depression?

I used to understand this attitude.  I had no problem with taking medicine for physical problems, but taking a pill that would “mess with your mind” scared me.  And of course, I’d heard stories of people who felt like “zombies” when they were on antidepressants, or who experienced horrible side effects like suicidal tendencies.  I changed my mind when I reached a point of depression, immediately after the birth of my second child, when I was trying everything else and it wasn’t working.  I tried eating well.  I tried (and failed) getting more sleep.  I tried vitamins.  I tried exercising.  I tried prayer.  I tried meditation.  (Well, “tried” is a bit of an exaggeration.  I started!  A couple of times!)  But here’s the thing: when you’re depressed, you’re not really in the best state to undertake a brand new self-improvement plan.  You may know that getting up and exercising will make you feel better, but you can barely get up and get a drink of water when you’re thirsty.  Going to Zumba three times a week just isn’t going to happen.

Even if you do have the will to make the lifestyle changes happen, you may not have the time or the energy.  That was the final deciding point for me–I couldn’t imagine dealing with depression while I was up all night nursing a newborn and up all day caring for a 2-year-old.  At some point, you have to do whatever is going to make you better, so you can take care of your family as well as yourself.  In the months before making my decision to get on medication, I wrote to my family, telling them that I was worried about the long-term side effects of anti-depressants on my body.  My clear-headed brother-in-law wrote back: “the long-term side effects of depression on your family are a lot worse than the long-term side effects of anti-depressants.”  I’m so grateful he said that.  I know I have been a much better wife and mother since taking anti-depressants.

That last sentence sounded pretty weird.  Isn’t there something wrong with relying on a pill to make you a better person?  Shouldn’t your spiritual condition be controlled by you, not by your doctor?  The original commenter on the NFP forum put it this way: “agreeing to take a daily pill to make me more ME again just didn’t make sense to me.”  I know how that feels, too.  But you know what?  If you were a diabetic, you wouldn’t feel bad about taking insulin every day.  If you have something wrong with your brain that’s keeping you from being the person you could be, it’s okay to take medicine for that.  And the reason it’s okay is exactly the reason the commenter had a problem with it: because it’s making you YOU again.  It’s not a cheat, or an easy fix, or something that makes you a different person.  It just takes away the handicap you had that was holding you back.   My brain absorbs seritonin too fast; my pills stop it from doing that, so it acts like a healthy brain again.

I’m not going to lie: a small part of me still feels bad that I can’t handle life without taking my pill every night.  I’m mad at myself for not being able to “handle life” (whatever that means!  Who can really handle life?), and at the same time I’m mad at everyone else for not needing anti-depressants to be normal.  And I’m mad at God for making it so hard for me to just be normal.  But mostly, I’m grateful that I’m not a slave to my obsessive thoughts anymore; I’m grateful that when I slip into a funk, I can assure myself that it’s just a bad day, instead of sinking down into a week of despair; and I’m grateful that God created scientists who help make me whole again.

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In the next few days I’d like to explore the ideal of doing everything naturally, and what becomes of that when you add original sin to the equation.  I certainly don’t mean to disparage anyone who suggests natural remedies for depression!  More power to you.  I’d just like to offer my story as an example of a situation where anti-depressants were the right choice.

I’m so very grateful to my brother Joey for blazing the trail for me.  His post Mechanical Legs expresses so well how different “normal” feels, and how silly it is to let guilt and anxiety and scruples get in the way of fixing what’s wrong with you.  His blog is unfortunately not active anymore, but there’s so much good stuff in the archives.

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6 thoughts on ““I don’t want to be on a pill for the rest of my life!”

  1. Rosie, did you have to stop nursing or did they find one that helped you and was okay? I didn’t take them before when I was nursing because they said I would have to stop and that was the thing that was going well. However, it can take time to find one that works for you and makes you feel like YOU. Unfortunately, when I finally found one that made me the happiest I had ever been in my life and like myself, it raised my cholesterol and I had other symptoms I didn’t realize came from the meds until I started looking up the side effects and they were on the list. I am feeling pretty crappy right now (not depressed just crappy) because I am actually smack dab in the middle of withdrawal from them. So maybe feeling a little unhappy about going off the medication that made me feel so ME.

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    • Mary, I am taking Zoloft (sertraline) and it is safe for nursing and pregnancy. I actually quit cold turkey when I got pregnant the last time, because I was worried about its effects on the baby (which was obviously a stupid idea, such a disaster!), and then had a very good talk with my midwife, who assured me that it was safe to get back on. Here is a link to a very thorough and helpful study which demonstrates the the only proved risk to the baby is withdrawal, which only includes symptoms like extra fussiness and only lasts a few days. http://womensmentalhealth.org/specialty-clinics/psychiatric-disorders-during-pregnancy/ I was very relieved–I had an idea in my head that it would cause horrible birth defects or something! I’ve been lucky and had barely any side effects from mine. I’m so sorry you had a rough experience. Prayers for you, going through withdrawal.

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      • Rosie, I am so glad that you have that option available to you now. My oldest is 22 and back then, they said that. Maybe I should have kept asking because things change. My depression wasn’t totally debilitating so the things the doctors told me to do helped: getting exercise, stuff like that. But it is much better to not be depressed than to have to struggle against it all the time. And maybe when I get through this withdrawal, we can find something that works for me and doesn’t cause the side effects I was getting. I just don’t have the motivation to do it today. Another thing about now, is the internet. Not only can I do research myself instead of having to be at the mercy of doctors, but I can “talk” to people on facebook and blogs, so I don’t feel isolated like I used to.

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  2. Well done column! Having had a depressive disorder most of my 50+ years and only recently being able to stabilize it I have only one comment, depression is NOT a spiritual fault. It definitely affects your spiritual life and can be brought about by a disordered and sinful life but the person who is praying and striving despite their depression needs to know that the depression is not caused by the lack of love for God or ungratefulness or a weak spiritual life – these things are symptoms, not causes.

    I just love your brother-in-law’s summation, “the long-term side effects of depression on your family are a lot worse than the long-term side effects of anti-depressants.”

    Oh, one other thing- new nursing mothers often need a little progesterone in order to recover from the postpartum depletion that comes with delivery. It sounds like this might be the cause of your depression (and it works a lot faster than anti-depressants!).

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    • Thank you, Barb! That’s such an important thing to remember. For some reason it seems like a lot of Catholics don’t believe in meds like antidepressants, or even in therapy–they seem to believe that if you are holy enough you wouldn’t have those problems. It is so liberating to realize that it is a physical problem, not something that you caused. I’m so glad you’ve found something that works. I’d like to write a bit more about this down the line–is it ok if I quote your comment? (Anonymously.)

      I have heard good things about progesterone. I mentioned it to my midwife, but we decided that anti-depressants were the way to go, since I have a long history of struggling with depression, so it wasn’t just linked to pregnancy and postpartum issues.

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      • Hi Rosie, I am happy that this comment helps (and I would be flattered to be quoted!). It just took me so long to find out that my depression didn’t mean my faith was weak and that I deserved to feel bad. I hate it that so many people still believe that it is their “fault” if they are depressed and can’t “snap out of it”.
        Happy writing!

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