In 2013, I was prescribed an antidepressant for the first time. I was a freshman in high school and my last year was full of undiagnosed panic attacks and depression. I had also experienced two major concussions the year before that really threw me for a loop. I was dealing with post-concussion syndrome that involves a full list of symptoms that would take too long to list; basically, I did not feel like myself. I felt crazy. At this time, the severity of concussions was not as well-known as it is now. So when I would have continued complaints, doctors would not understand. I felt as though I was going insane. Months later we finally found a neurologist. He was a savior for my health. I was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. POTS in layman’s terms is a condition that affects the circulation of my blood when I rise to a standing position. POTS comes with a tremendous amount of symptoms, the most prevalent being lightheadedness and fainting.
Now you may be thinking, “When do the antidepressants come into play?” Well, my neurologist had caught on to the fact that I was also showing signs of anxiety and depression when I would come into my checkups. He was the first to prescribe me Celexa — a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). The Mayo Clinic breaks down how SSRIs work by saying they “treat depression by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is one of the chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) that carry signals between brain nerve cells (neurons).”
I still remember my mom’s reaction to his suggestion of putting me on these. Her face dropped when he said “antidepressant.” Her biggest concern was that I would be on medication for the rest of my life. Well, hi Mom, I think we’ve both accepted this outcome now. I don’t blame her though. We were new to all of this. My family had never dealt with mental illness before. Hell, my dad still believes you should just “suck it up.” That’s just not correct. Turns out, my brain does not work the way it’s supposed to. It isn’t anyone’s fault either. It is just the same as if someone had a condition that they had to take medication for the rest of their life. You wouldn’t tell someone who needs insulin to “suck it up.”
Since my first prescription of Celexa, I have been clinically diagnosed with a whole slew of disorders: panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and, of course, major depressive disorder. I have also been switched to a different SSRI as I felt that the Celexa was not helping me as much as it once did. I now have been on Zoloft, slowly increasing in dosage, for almost five years now. My dosage of 150mg seems to be working quite well for me. I am not suffering from weekly panic attacks as I once did. I have been clean from self-harm, and I can actually say I am enjoying life at the moment.
After almost seven years of being on medication, I have become proud of my journey. Was I embarrassed when I was younger? Yes, I was. I think I was more embarrassed because my mom was. I just think she didn’t want people to think she was a bad parent because her kid was on antidepressants. I remember after that first appointment she said to me, “Let’s not tell anyone about this.” But here we are seven years later, and we are both very open and honest about my mental health. She will even tell people how much medication has helped my situation. We call this personal growth.
Taking the step to get medicated is scary. You have to go through side effects for about a month before you even know if it helps. Then, if that type doesn’t work for you, you have to try a different brand and the side effects start all over again. But trust me, the end result is worth it. Working with a good psychiatrist and psychologist to find what works best for you is key. There could be instances where medication isn’t right for you, too. But never forget that mental health and mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Taking medication for your mental health is no different than taking medication for your physical health.
Jessica Goodwin is an opinion writer. Contact her a firstname.lastname@example.org.
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