When I was seventeen, I contemplated a bottle of Tylenol, wondering if the entire bottle of chalky white pills would erase me.
When I was twenty-four, I sat in my car, prepared to stuff rags into the tailpipe, hoping to slip into the eternities.
When I was thirty-two, post-partum depression overwhelmed me.
The continuation of my story is rather cliche. Suicide was never really an option, so I learned how to manage. I got out of bed each day. I exercised, and that helped. I ate well. I took vitamins. I took 5-HTP, an amino acid that assists in the production of serotonin. I prayed. A lot. I was gentle with myself. I gave myself a manageable list of things to do each day. I became very good at slapping a smile on my face, and when people asked how I was, I always answered, “Fine, thanks,” though my smile was cracked, and I couldn’t meet their eyes.
There were good days, and there were bad days. Just as the bad days were really, really bad, the good days were really, really good. There was just enough sunshine and butterflies to balance the dark clouds and doom.
Even so, a day would inevitably come when I was overwhelmed by an existential despair, and life was simply too much for me. I was ashamed because of it. Though I knew better, I thought that if I just did X differently, I would be fine. I should be fine.
Sometimes I was fine.
More often, I wasn’t.
So I tried harder. I researched depression. I wrote about both depression and the search for happiness here, here, here, and here. I talked about it with friends. They urged me to take medication, but I was scared of drugs that messed with my brain, no matter how much my mind was messing with my brain.
In October, I watched this at a church conference:
When I hit a low point — again — a week later, I knew something had to be done. I could have been a poster child for clinical depression, and everything and everyone around me was suffering because of it.
What followed then could be taken verbatim from an ad for Prozac or Zoloft: “I saw my doctor, and he prescribed some medication.”
My doctor reiterated to me in a very kind way what I already knew: depression is a physical thing, a chemical imbalance. It wasn’t my fault, nor was it something I could change by will or wish, by eating more carrots or doing more cardio. It wasn’t as simple as choosing to be happy and putting a smile on my face. There was something within me that wasn’t working the way it should.
So I filled a prescription and contemplated those pills for a full 24 hours. The emotional storm was over by that time, and I wondered if I really needed them. I decided I did.
The first month, I felt euphoric. The second month I simply felt healthy—physically and mentally. I tallied up the many unexpected ways the medicine had helped me. The most surprising was that my body temperature normalized. I used to be cold all the time, as if I had ice water running in my veins. No longer. My metabolism sped up. I had more energy. I could focus on my work. I was calmer with my children. I wasn’t stressed or anxious about anything. I had confidence in myself for the first time, ever. Oh, and I was happy, too.
Clearly, this was not just about mood. This was not about choice. This was physical as much as it was mental.
This felt miraculous.
I recognize that antidepressants don’t work for everyone. In fact, they have not been a perfect solution even for me; I have experienced just about every side effect there is, but my body seems to be metabolizing the medicine tolerably well now, and I am a changed person.
I have hesitated in writing about depression yet AGAIN, but I feel compelled to speak since so many writers struggle with it. So I add my voice to the hundreds in the ether, advocating for courage and for treatment, and for an end to the stigma attached to depression. Depression is not a character flaw, or a personality weakness; it is a physical affliction, just like myopia or diabetes.
Let us erase the stigma of depression before depression erases us. Let us support each other with courage and kindness, and without judgment. Too many voices have been stilled by their silent struggle; too many stories have been left untold.