There is much recourse, I’m told, for mental illness. Whether it’s exercise, meditation, therapy, or medication in the form of antidepressants, what works for one, doesn’t always work for the other. I have tried many, but not all.
What I have not resorted to are antidepressants. And there is a simple reason why: fear.
After starting this blog and taking my battle out to the open, a concerned loved one recently approached me looking to confirm that I wasn’t contemplating suicide.
The quick answer – you can all exhale – was no. But the long answer was much more convoluted.
It was a nice gesture and probably a difficult topic for this person to talk about. But to me the question was preposterous. Not because it isn’t a valid concern surrounding people in my situation who suffer from similar mental illnesses, and not because thoughts in that realm haven’t ever crossed my mind, but mainly because of what results after.
Fear getting in the way, for better or for worse
Anytime I have even thought about suicide – and I’ll be honest, I haven’t ever seriously considered it, but the words and the action has popped around – I end up with the same resounding sentiment: I’d never do that, I don’t have the guts. I am scared.
Outside of what is probably perceived as interminable pain, I don’t know what it takes for someone to make the decision to end their own life. What I do know is that I do not have that in me, despite the pain I feel on my worst days.
Whether suicide takes guts or not – some would argue that it’s a result of the complete opposite, and that too is a valid argument – is almost inconsequential. What stops me from even entertaining that thought, and what acts as the lifesaver which keeps me above water, is fear.
I am overcome by fear.
The fear is in doing something that in one extremely emotional moment would result in indescribable pain. Fear of doing something that would hurt so many people around me. Fear that it would be a cop out. Fear that it would be the wrong decision.
In this instance, fear is a good thing. I’m still alive and kicking and I plan to be for a long long time. In others, though, it could be acting as a hinderance to getting better.
In a state when decisions are so difficult to make, fear is a dominant emotion. It’s an enabling emotion. It’s one that gives people a reason not to act and in that vein, it’s the feeling that is keeping me from taking antidepressants.
A stronger version of myself
I wasn’t always scared. When people told me not to tattoo a religious symbol on my arm for fear of persecution here in Canada and abroad, I wasn’t scared. I got tattooed.
When people told me not to essentially “dropout” of college to take a job in the broadcast industry (which, ironically, is the exact reason I was at said technical institute), I wasn’t scared. I left and took the job.
When people told me not to leave my job because it was a prestigious position and leaving it would be career suicide, I wasn’t scared. I left.
In all of these cases, after doing what I did I don’t have many – if any – regrets. I did what I knew I needed to do at the time.
But sometime, somewhere along the line, my bold, adventurous, fearless nature disappeared. Not surprisingly, it was around the same time I began to struggle with depression.
A changed perspective, a changed man
Along came an overwhelming case of the yips. It was associated with everything, but nothing more so than antidepressants.
I have tried my hardest to convince myself that I can get through this on my own. And I have tried to get through it on my own.
From countless self-help books (including the famous Dr. Burns’ Feeling Good Handbook), to major lifestyle changes which included job changes, relocation, relationship changes, diet overhauls (see the collection of posts and videos on the Whole 30 program). You name it, I’ve tried it or am at the very least okay with trying it. But one thing I’ve never been able to do is take the medication.
Ironically, not for a lack of trying.
I went to my doctor (one of my first visits) with the intent of getting prescribed, but then he was able to dissuade me by instilling a sense of confidence in me that I, because of my above-average grasp of the situation, should try and handle it on my own first. So I tried.
But the extent to which I tried varied. As many of you have come to know, committing to something that is predicated on constant effort and discipline in a day and age when time flies is difficult. So self-help didn’t quite work too well.
I went back to the doctor and said things were not getting better. While at times I had a better handle on my depression and a better understanding of what I was dealing with, at others the lows were as bad – if not worse – than any of the lows I had experienced previously.
This time, my doctor suggested that maybe I should do a test run with antidepressants; a month’s dosage, followed by a re-evaluation and if things were better, a program to wean myself off.
He prescribed the medication. I didn’t fill it. I was scared.
Why I haven’t taken antidepressants
Fear this time came in the form of side effects (my doctor told me to familiarize myself with them before taking anything). I was already in pain, I didn’t want to be in more pain. Numbness, blurred vision, decreased sexual desire and function, insomnia, etc. None of that sounded worth it, especially as a newly married man getting ready for his honeymoon. None of it sounded good for someone who hates losing control. I had already lost control of my emotions, if all the side effects came to fruition, then what would I have left that I did control?
So I didn’t fill the prescription.
So I changed other things, I tried other things. Things got better, then they got worse, things stayed the same. Rinse and repeat.
Inevitably, I hit another low and went back to my doctor. I admitted that I hadn’t filled the prescription and that my methods to help myself were not working. It was time I tried the medication. He refilled the prescription and this time I went to the pharmacy and got it filled. Only, I never went back. They’re probably still sitting on a shelf in a package with my name on it.
Fear, once again, got the best of me. Not only was I scared of losing control, but it had gotten to a point where there was more fear. What if the antidepressants didn’t work? Then what was left? If my last resort didn’t work, what would I resort to? What kind of life would I have?
A lot of questions, the answers to which scared and scare the living crap out of me.
That brings us to today. I have once again gotten better, and then worse again. It’s the eternal dance of depression.
At my worst, I am not in control of my emotions, I am not in control of my anger, I am not in control of a lot of things in my life. At least, that’s the way it feels.
So I sit here once again thinking about antidepressants. Is it time I actually take the plunge? What do I have to lose? In these moments it feels like things could only go up from here. And that’s certainly a positive.
So why be scared? Why not take action like that guy I once knew who wasn’t scared of getting tattooed, or leaving school early, or quitting any of his jobs?
Maybe because nothing is a sure thing, according to that little voice in my head which has taken the place of that confident, adventurous, fearless guy I once was.
But even though a sure thing is what I want, it’s likely going to take a balance of actions, none of which will be instant and everlasting. Maybe now more than ever antidepressants are a part of that recourse.