I have a secret. A deep, dark secret. A shameful, deep dark secret. The thing is; I think a lot people share this secret with me. More than you would imagine. And just like me, they are afraid to admit it to the world for various reasons.
I am a middle aged woman and I take an anti-depressant. There…I said it. Every day I wake up and take a small little pink pill called Pristiq. I’ve done so for the last three years. There are so many reasons why I don’t want people to know this about me. The first being that they will think I’m crazy. And no matter how much I protest that fact, the stigma of taking an anti-depressant is still there. “Oh, she must be off her rocker to need that kind of medication.” Or worse, people will look at me with pity and/or derision. “Her life can’t be that bad, why would she need anti-depressants? She must be a failure. She should be about to just tough it out!”
There are times when I hate myself for taking this drug. I think to myself that I must be broken. I wonder what is wrong with me that I can’t deal with my life without the use of a medical crutch. I wonder if I really AM crazy? Why else would I need an anti-depressant? I ask myself “What is wrong with me?” I berate myself for being weak.
But I wonder, am I so hard on myself because that’s truly how I feel OR because the social stigma of taking anti-depressants has conditioned me to think that way?
When I first went to my doctor I never thought I would walk out with a prescription for Pristiq. I went in for a regular checkup and had a few complaints. Things that I thought were just normal for me. But the more my doctor talked to me, the more he dug up and the more I admitted to him. I was having trouble sleeping. I suffered from anxiety over trivial things. But neither of those seemed abnormal to me. It was just a way of life. Then came the big admission. Something I had never told anyone before. I frequently suffered from bouts of severe anger, even rage, at the smallest things. This was something I had lived with all my life. I had never known a time without anger featuring prominently in my mind. It colored everything I did and every emotion I experienced. A life always tainted by the red haze of anger. Can you imagine?
I had a hard time making and keeping friends. Imagine that. I had a hard time finding and keeping a loved one in my life. Go figure. I can’t tell you what it must have been like for them because I was always locked in my bubble of animosity. I’m fairly certain the words “I’m sorry” didn’t even exist in my vocabulary.
My doctor listened to me and asked very direct questions. In a million years I would have never thought I’d be having this discussion with a family practitioner! I would have never thought my general checkup would go this direction, would you? After a good dialog exchange my doctor tapped his pencil against his cheek and looked at me. “I want to try something” he said. “I want to put you on Pristiq and see how you do.” I was immediately appalled. I wasn’t depressed! Why the HELL would I need an anti-depressant?!?! My instant denial was both vehement and vociferous! “I think this medication would provide you with a different perspective on life” he said. My next emotion was embarrassment. Then came fear. What exactly was my doctor seeing in me that he felt I needed an anti-depressant? What was wrong with me? I nearly burst into tears at that point. My eyes welled up and I barely restrained the crying jag that was threatening to break out. After all, only really messed up people needed anti-depressants, right? And here my doctor was telling me he wanted me to take them. That must mean I’m really messed up, right?
I left my doctor’s office with the prescription clutched tightly in my fist. When the nurse offered to have it faxed to my pharmacy I quickly rejected that idea because I didn’t want HER to know what he had given me!! I didn’t want her to think I was crazy, which is silly, because she had my chart and already knew but my paranoia had already set in. Everyone was going to think I was crazy!!!
I felt like the pharmacist gave me a judging look when I turned in the prescription. I’m sure she didn’t even care what I was taking but I couldn’t help feeling she was judging me.
When I starting taking Pristiq, I didn’t even tell my husband what was going on. I was so embarrassed and worried about what he would think. I couldn’t admit to him that the doctor thought I was crazy. But soon, the initial side effects were so bizarre I had to tell him. It was the yawning that really got me into trouble. I would have these bizarre episodes of HUGE yawns at all times of the day. It was an uncontrollable and extremely weird sensation! He called me out on the carpet “Okay, what’s going on with you? Something is different.” I nearly burst into tears as I told him my shameful secret. The funny thing is; he didn’t think it was shameful at all! And he certainly didn’t think I was crazy. He actually sided with the doctor and “Look, just give it a try. What’s the worst that could happen? If it really does help then that’s great, if it doesn’t then you tell the doctor.” At that point I DID burst into tears. Here was this amazing man being 100% supportive of me and my neurotic behavior.
3 years later and the truth can’t be denied. My quality of life has drastically improved since I started taking the Pristiq.
As it turns out, while I wasn’t a case of “classic depression” I WAS a case of “atypical depression” (I never knew there were so many classifications to be honest!) My doctor thinks that I have a permanent chemical imbalance due to all the drugs/medications that my mother took while she was pregnant with me. It wasn’t her fault, it just happened that way. But it explained A LOT for me.
The fact that so many of my friends and colleagues have commented on my behavior changes is proof positive how well the drug has worked. “You seem so much happier these days” is the most common observation. And it’s true. I’m more social. I sleep better. I’m more active. I’ve restarted hobbies and activities that I used to enjoy.
I realize that the brain can get sick, just like any other part of the body. I realize that taking Pristiq is simply a way of treating the chemical imbalance I suffer from. But the truth is, no matter how incredibly better my life is because of the medication I still feel a deep sense of shame.
No one but my doctor, my pharmacist and my husband knows that I take an anti-depressant.
I hid my pills whenever someone comes to our house. If I have to travel, I put them in a non-descript bottle. There is a deep seated need for me to seem “normal” to everyone. And if I’m taking an anti-depressant I must obviously be abnormal. Right?
I struggle with this shame every day. The question I keep asking myself is: WHY?