I don’t remember most Christmases; they tend to blur together in a sea of turkey, denial and wrapping paper. But the Christmas of 1998 was different. That Christmas was the one just before I began medication. That was the one I spent lying on the couch with bandaged arms.
Looking back 1998 should have been a good year for me. I had completed an 8-month work term for my university degree, I had some money for the first time in a long time and I went backpacking across Europe. But unfortunately, 1998 was the year that bipolar decided to attack full-force. I spent the end of 1998 slicing and dicing and sobbing and begging for mercy. From what, exactly, I have never been able to say, but from whatever was causing the pain whatever made it impossible to move from my mother’s couch as the activities of Christmas went on around me.
But in spite of this I had no intention of seeing a doctor and I most especially had no intention of seeing a psychiatrist. Those people were nothing but pill-pushers, nothing but drug dealers with letters after their name. And everyone knew that depression wasn’t a real disease and that anyone with real strength of character could overcome mental anguish on their own – not with the crutch of pharmaceuticals.
Depression and Drugs
I really did believe those things. I had been raised to not believe in doctors. I had been raised to believe that Prozac (fluoxetine) was nothing but an example of disease-mongering and overprescribing of a drug that made people happy because they were too weak to do the work to find happiness themselves.
I was a touch uneducated on the subject.
Weakness and Psychiatric Medication
And most of all I believed that any reliance on a drug was bad. It didn’t matter to me whether it was alcohol, heroin or an antidepressant; requiring a drug to live your daily life meant you were weak and couldn’t deal with reality so you just dropped out.
I was also a touch hard on myself.
But the time came, in 1999, when I was so desperate not to be sick, so desperate not to be dead that I put aside my beliefs and shakily took my first psychiatric medication. It decidedly fell into the realm of not fun as it immediately proceeded to make me very ill, but nevertheless it was my first step in moving forward to get better.
Psychiatric Medication and Strength
And as it turns out, looking back, one of the strongest things I ever did was see a doctor and start medication. That behavior wasn’t indicative of weakness on my part, it was indicative of the strength it takes to admit that you have a problem and to address it. It was indicative of a willingness to admit that all those things I was pretty sure I believed, might have been wrong. It was indicative of a desire to do whatever it took to be a well human being.
And so when I get up in the morning and I see the pills that I must take in order to stay well, I don’t see a crutch, I see a tool. I see a tool that I need in order to build the life I deserve to have. I see the strength of character it takes to admit imperfection, admit the need for help and yet to flourish anyway. I see something that keeps me strong rather than the disease which would prefer that I remain weak.
Taking medication doesn’t make you weaker it makes you stronger – it shows you’re a fighter.
If you’re wondering, I was initially incorrectly diagnosed with depression. That happens a lot.