I don’t like the fact that I take antidepressant medication. I wish I didn’t need to; which would mean I no longer struggle with depression; which would be awesome. But since I do still struggle, and I have found the right medication that keeps my emotions relatively balanced (with normal highs and lows), I am trying to accept it as part of my self-care. But what I really wish is that I didn’t feel the need to keep it a secret, but I often do (I’ve never been comfortable with secrets). Because our culture often bashes people for taking medication for mental health conditions I sometimes feel embarrassed about it, like I’ve failed, or I’m not taking good enough care of myself and that’s why I need it. We often hear in the media that this generation is taking significantly more medication than any before it, that doctors overprescribe this type of medication and how there are so many other ways we ‘should’ use manage depression (exercise, meditation, mindfulness or nutrition…). So when my dental hygienist asked me if I was on any medication as part of the usual check-in, I said no. I said no for the last 3 years when I should have said yes. But at today’s appointment, I told the truth.
So why did I lie? Because I worried I would be judged. For me, that is one of the worst feelings ever. I revert to being 12 years old and in the 6th grade. I felt like my teacher never liked me and I was once scolded for cheating on a test when I hadn’t. I was angry and embarrassed and yet felt powerless to change his opinion of me. That feeling is so uncomfortable for me that I will occasionally lie to avoid it.
For those of us who have found medications to be a helpful tool in managing our mental health conditions we should not be made to feel badly because we have access to effective medications and we choose to take it. We should not feel like we failed, or that we have chosen to ‘take the easy road’ and we are just wanting ‘happy pills’. Yes, of course, there are people who misuse medication, just as with everything else, but they are not the majority.
So where do we start? By telling the truth even when we would rather not, by supporting one another to make our own decisions and by celebrating our successes.
Just as most of us would never suggest to someone who has been diagnosed with cancer that they should try yoga, meditation or improve their diet before starting chemotherapy or radiation. Of course, those things could certainly help them cope, but we know they are not a replacement for treatments like chemotherapy. We should therefore never suggest we know how best to help someone else who is suffering from a mental illness.
So if you have been diagnosed by a professional, and with their support, you find the right medication to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life, please celebrate that, don’t hide it. Don’t allow anyone to add to the emotional burden. Whatever they think, it’s their problem, not yours.
(FYI. my dental hygienist didn’t blink twice about my revelation and I felt just fine telling her the truth).