And Lexapro, Citalopram, Xanax, Zoloft, Paxil, and all the other anti-depressants and anti-axiety medications! Three cheers from those of us who wouldn’t be able to function without them!
In the past week, I’ve ended up discussing the pros and cons of these medications (and for the rest of this post, I’m calling them anti’s) several times, mostly with other mothers and mothers to be. It sort of surprises me how much shame and fear and stigma exist around anti’s, especially for pregnant and nursing moms. Who are the people who often desperately need them.
Look, I’m not a doctor. I’m not going to give any medical advice here, other than the fact that, in general, Doctors are there to help you. Yes, it is important to educate yourself, but I will absolutely take the word of someone with a medical degree and a license to practice over a layperson who happens to have access to Google. If you are uncomfortable with your doctor, try going to a different doctor! If your doctor’s advice seems fishy, try going to a different doctor. Do your Googling and poll your Facebook and Tweet your Twitter and all that, but include actual doctors in your data collection. There are shitty doctors out there. There are incompetent, cruel and dangerous doctors out there. But there are shitty, incompetent, cruel and dangerous humans out there. They make up the minority of humanity, and also the minority of physicians. Most doctors became doctors because they want to help people.
Don’t think I’m just a cheerleader for Big Pharma, either. I think that many, many medicines are wildly over-prescribed. I even think that anti’s can be overused; they aren’t something you should just take because you’re having a bad day/week/month. They shouldn’t be used instead of dealing with problems. But when they are indicated, they are lifesaving. Sometimes literally.
Think of it like insulin. If your pancreas is functioning normally, there is no reason you should take it. If you’ve just eaten a hugely sugary meal and your blood sugar spikes, you shouldn’t take it. If you are diabetic but can manage your blood sugar with diet, you shouldn’t take it. But if you and your doctor determine that you are not just diabetic, but also need insulin to allow your pancreas to function properly, then you should totally fucking take it. Except in this case, your pancreas is your brain.
I suffered for many years with untreated depression. It was horrible; I was unable to pull myself up. The worst part was that I didn’t have any “reason” to be depressed; I was married, owned a nice house, had friends…my life was boring, but nothing bad was happening to me. So I refused to see a therapist, or to even consider any medications. I wasn’t suicidal, I wasn’t going through a horrible phase in my life, there was no need for help. I let that depression grow and envelop me, until I was sleeping twelve to fourteen hours a day and could barely drag myself out of bed. Until I was crying silently on my way to and from work, or whenever I was alone. Until I resorted to drastic, unhealthy measures to feel again. It could have just as easily been drugs or booze or gambling.
After I finally moved back home, I got set up with a good therapist. He in turn put me on some anti’s. After a few weeks…I started to feel kind of like myself again. I had gone through a pretty major ordeal and a nasty breakup, but life started to have a little color again. I was still able to feel the pain and sadness and anger. It didn’t make me “all better.” But I was so much more able to confront my problems when I wasn’t immobilized. Without them, everything felt like too much effort to deal with. The depression kept me very low, like a rag doll flopped against a wall in a pit.
More than that, I was also having a lot of anxiety. I’d been having (again, undiagnosed) panic attacks for years. I thought they were “smoker’s cramps” because sitting still and smoking a cigarette or two was the only thing that made it pass. Treating my anxiety was also instrumental to my recovery, and to my living a normal and happy life. If depression drained life of color and me of energy, then anxiety tied my arms and legs and screamed at me.
After some therapy and a lot of emotional work, I didn’t need any anti’s anymore. I was fine and happy on my own. After we lost Isaac, I needed help again. Back on anti’s. It didn’t make me numb; it broke through the numbness and allowed me to deal with the loss. It didn’t make it not hurt. I wish something could have, but the only thing that healed the pain was time. I stayed on antidepressants as long as my doctor recommended while I was pregnant with E. Anti’s are generally Pregnancy Class C medications, which means:
Animal reproduction studies have shown an adverse effect on the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in humans, but potential benefits may warrant use of the drug in pregnant women despite potential risks.
It’s not guaranteed harmless. But my doctor and I both felt the risk was worth it. Without the anti’s, E was being exposed to all sorts of stress hormones and chemicals associated with my depression. There are no “adequate and well-controlled studies in humans” regarding fetal exposure to those chemicals, either. But it made a tremendous difference in my ability to take proper care of myself (and thus, my fetus). I do not regret it for a moment, and as soon as the baby was born I was back on them for a few weeks, but they no longer worked right. I didn’t feel depressed but I didn’t feel right either, and not just because my entire life had been turned upside-down by my demanding new housemate.
So it was off to a headshrinker to adjust my meds. I’m on a different anti now, and it’s working great. I am able to fully connect with my life and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience (since we’re not having any more). I still have shitty days. Hell, I have shitty weeks on a regular basis.
But…it’s just life. Up and down and fun and not fun and I just roll with it. I don’t fall in the pit, I don’t have to hide under the covers, I don’t have to detach from my family. The meds bring me back to normal. For me. Not to mention it makes me a better wife, mother, daughter and friend, because when you’re in the pit of despair, you can’t take care of other people, either. So I will sing the praises of anti’s without hesitation. If you’re suffering – or more importantly, if everyone you know and love says they think you might need some help, go for it. And if you’re on an anti and it isn’t helping, don’t hesitate to bring that up with your doctor and try a different dosage or different medication entirely. It doesn’t make you sick or weak or crazy to need medication. It just lets you keep moving through life.