Deciding to Take Medications: A Patient's Perspective

Written by a client, the article presents her struggle to decide to try anti-depressant medications.

I've struggled with depression, on and off, for at least twenty years. Several months ago, I began taking one of the SSRI medications to help treat this disorder and I am pleasantly surprised by the results. The decision to take medications, however, was long and difficult to make. In writing about my experience, I hope to provide insight to difficulties people with depression may face when trying to make appropriate decisions for treatment. I can speak only to my situation; but I have come to understand enough about depression to know that my experience is not as unique as I may have once believed.

I am disinclined to take medications. A peek into my medicine cabinet would reveal nothing more potent than Tylenol and an over-the-counter cold medicine. Treating an emotional disorder with medication was not a likely choice for me, especially since I had had success with cognitive therapy in the past.

Ironically, I came to the decision to take antidepressants at a time when I was feeling reasonably on top of things. Only when the veil of depression had temporarily fallen was I able to make a rational assessment of my choices. After several years of bouncing up and down, I was coming to accept the returning down slopes as my fate. But for whatever reason, during one of my stable periods, I realized that it may be not only possible, but also preferable, to avoid another serious drop in mood.

Previously, depression distorted the way I measured the pros and cons of antidepressants. I focused only on the negatives, both real and perceived. The list of perceived negatives was long. I worried that I would have to take medication for the rest of my life. I worried that it would work, and somehow prove that I was a fraud. I imagined that taking medication would be an insult to my therapist and every other cognitive therapist right down to Aaron Beck - and on and on. Two concerns surfaced as the most compelling.

First, I believed that taking antidepressants would be a clear sign of my own personal failure. Tabloid headlines proclaiming Diana the "Prozac Princess," news magazines dubbing ours the Prozac Nation, and a seemingly endless stream of jokes all seemed to portray antidepressants as yet another fad of a frivolous and self-indulgent society. Yes, I understood that they were useful to some, but I never reached the same conclusion when it came to applying this understanding to my own situation. I may be depressed, but I would not be frivolous.

I've heard the analogy drawn between antidepressants and insulin. It goes something like this: It's not a sign of weakness for diabetics to take insulin; therefore, antidepressants are not a sign of weakness for a person with depression. That analogy never worked for me. If anything, it served to trivialize these drugs. Let me offer another: When my children were born, there was never any question as to whether I would take advantage of pain medication. I don't like pain and I wanted the benefits of everything in the anesthesiologist's arsenal. Similarly, I suspect that few people would have a tooth extracted, or even filled, without benefit of anesthetic. In both cases, medication is not necessary; yet no one would call its use frivolous or self-indulgent.

The second compelling concern I had was that antidepressants would somehow alter my personality. It was impossible to imagine how a medication could address my distortions without causing me to challenge the beliefs that make me who I am. Fortunately, I was able to suspend disbelief long enough to give even-handed consideration to the possibility of medication.

Having taken an antidepressant for several months now, these concerns seen trivial compared to the benefits I've gained. I can report that taking an antidepressant has not changed my valued beliefs, just the way I may tend to color them. I continue to have the same likes and dislikes, only now I am likely to see opportunity where before I may have seen hopelessness. If nothing else, antidepressants have allowed me to become more accepting of my values.

With the help of medication, I am finding it easier to gain the benefits of therapy. Some of my most persistent distorted views make return appearances, but now they are considerably easier to dismiss. Some of my anxieties remain, but no longer to a debilitating degree. I have gained a sense of balance and clarity in my outlook.

The most important benefit from antidepressants, however, is a newfound enjoyment in my family. I treasure my children above all else. I always hoped that, even at my lowest, I would somehow manage to keep my depression from affecting those closest to me. I never realized that in the process of trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for my family I had lost my ability to enjoy what I love most. At a very basic level, the veil of depression dulled my connection to everyone around me.

I know that I have lost large chunks of time to depression (in the past, this alone could trigger a downswing in mood), but I stand secure in the knowledge that I need not accept the feeling of disconnection in the future. This realization, above all else, has prompted me to share my experience.

Antidepressants have helped restore a sense of grace and ease as I meet life's inevitable difficulties. My depression may throw out another roadblock from time to time. If I trip, however, I trust that I won't fall flat on my face.

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