"If you can't make your own Serotonin, store bought is fine"
Let's talk about medication. This is one of the most stigmatized parts of having a mental illness. It confuses me a whole lot. Let's say I broke my arm, you'd expect me to go the hospital, get a cast, take my prescribed pain medication, go to my follow up doctor's appointments, and possibly physical therapy, right? Or if I had diabetes? Wouldn't it be socially acceptable for me to have an insulin pump and to take other required medications? So why in the world do we shame someone with a mental illness for taking medication? It makes no sense. We don't tell someone with a broken arm or with diabetes to just 'think positive' or 'spend some time in nature' or 'pray more often'. Which by the way are all things I've heard about how to treat my mental illness.
My own experience with medication is interesting. I was in my last semester of college, I was working 30 + hours a week at a very emotionally draining job, I was working in a research lab for one of my professors, in short, I had a lot going on. I had also been experiencing a steady decline in my mental health for years. I remember having a panic attack at my parents house and realizing I absolutely needed help. The next morning I called my doctor and asked when the soonest was that I could come into her office. Within the next few days I was sitting in her office crying so hard I could barely get words out. I told her about anxiety absolutely taking over my life and being so depressed I could hardly get myself out of bed. She was so kind and put in a rush order for a prescription for an antidepressant for me. She did tell me that I had to be very consistent with taking it or it wouldn't work as well as it could. She also told me that I had to make some lifestyle changes along with the meds such as exercise and diet and trying to cut out any stressors that I could. I remember crying so much and feeling so much shame when I took my daily dose for those first few weeks. I felt like such a failure for not being able to function without taking a pill. I didn't want to tell anyone I was taking medication. The pharmacist and my doctor also told me that it takes about 4-6 weeks for medications like antidepressants to kick in and start working like they should. I remember so vividly waking up one morning and getting right out of bed and running some errands without laying in my bed for two hours or overthinking and overplanning everything I had to do. I looked at my husband (then boyfriend) and said, "is this what normal people feel like everyday?" I couldn't even believe that someone could go fill their car with gas without thinking it through for a full hour before hand, or submit an assignment and not worry for six hours about whether I had failed. I was so so relieved that the medication had finally worked after weeks of barely being able to take care of myself. I truly hadn't realized how low I was until the meds kicked in.
So the way that antidepressants work is really freaking cool. A lot of anxiety and depression disorders come from abnormal brain chemistry. Most antidepressants are what's called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, or a chemical in the brain, that wakes us up or makes us happy and alert. A depressed or anxious brain tends to have a hard time holding on to serotonin, so an SSRI keeps serotonin floating around in your brain. What's really awesome about that is that it's keeping your own neurotransmitters working.
There are definitely downsides to taking an antidepressant or any other drug for a mental illness. There are always going to be weird and crazy side effects and if you choose to open up there will probably be people who have something negative to say about it. It can also take a lot of trial and error to find the right medication for you.
I have been very open about my experience with mental illness on social media and I have received so many messages from people thanking me for letting them know they aren't alone. I had a friend from high school message me and tell me how ashamed she was about having to get on medication after having her kids due to postpartum depression. She was disappointed in herself for feeling like this meant she wasn't a good mom. It breaks my heart to know that people feel guilty for things that they can't control.
I really hope if you're out there and you feel like you need help, you call your doctor. Or any doctor. Please do everything you can to take care of yourself. And please stop shaming someone for taking a step to take care of themself with medication. Life can be hard, brains can be difficult, so please be kind to each other, be kind to yourself and don't think that your worth is diminished by needing to take medication to function.