How Antidepressants Changed My Life

            I have struggled with mental illness since my freshman year in high school. For the first three years, I tried desperately to fight my own battle against depression, anxiety, and OCD. There were so many times when I wanted to give up, when I made poor choices, and when I honestly believed that I wouldn’t be able to last much longer. My senior year, I finally went to therapy, received three diagnoses (Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and was referred to a psychiatrist. My therapist told me that I was a strong, incredible girl, but my illnesses were far too complex and developed to be hindered with simple therapy. It was recommended that I go on antidepressants. I was terrified.

            For some reason, I had the misconception that medication was only for severely messed up people. Hearing that I needed meds hit me hard—was I really that screwed up? I had heard a lot about medication turning people into zombies, making them feel numb, like they were just going through the motions. What I didn’t know was that medication actually works hand-in-hand with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It wasn’t enough to just take anti-depressants—they only acted as a way to stabilize my emotions. By pairing them with CBT, I could truly focus on using the coping techniques that I was taught. With time and effort, I had the chance to be happy again.

            When I received my first bottle of antidepressants, I cried. I knew that I needed the medicine. I was spending upwards of two full hours each day dealing solely with my compulsions. Most days, it was hard getting out of bed. If there was any way to improve the quality of my life, I was all about it. But I quickly learned that everyone did not share my acceptance for this kind of treatment. At first, I faced resistance from my own family. My parents were wary, as they believed the stereotype that antidepressants were used to numb you from your problems. They urged me to find other ways to treat my depression such as exercise, eating healthy, using creative outlets, etc. I tried not to focus on their skepticism, and instead kept taking my prescribed doses and continuing CBT. After only six weeks, the improvements I had made shocked everyone, including myself.

            I was no longer up until the early hours of the morning checking to make sure the doors were locked. I was able to check three times and then went to bed. I got out of bed in the morning, made it through school, and even had the energy to hang out with my friends. And this was just six weeks later. My medication became my support: when I would get triggered, it gave me the strength to stop and utilize any and all skills that were taught to me in therapy. Eventually, I was able to limit my compulsions, getting rid of some altogether, and get through the day with a positive outlook.

            Of course, there were bad days. After a bad breakup, I had to increase my dosage. There were times when I forgot to take my medication and I would have heightened anxiety for the next few days. But I would gladly take any of these issues if it meant I would never have to become my old self again.

            When I came to college, the fear of admitting that I had to take antidepressants kept me reserved in most of my new friendships. Back home, my family and friends were huge supporters…but they had witnessed my positive transformation first hand. Slowly, I would mention to my friends that I was on antidepressants. And I got the same reaction every single time. They would look at me, smile, and say something like, “Okay!” or my personal favorites, "Me too!" and, “Really? Do you like it? I’ve been considering medication lately.”

            Everyone I met was so accepting of my situation, and they never made a big deal about it. In fact, admitting to taking medication opened up a whole new aspect of our friendship; it became one where we could openly talk about mental illness. I found that almost every single person I talked to had considered going to therapy at one point in their lives, or talked about their own struggle with mental illness. Instead of being “unstable” or “screwed up”, I was viewed as brave, as someone who somehow had their life figured out. It was incredible.

            Today, I’m still on medication. I recently lowered my dosage and feel amazing. I look back on my life two years ago and can’t believe the transformation I have made since then. I went from someone who fought her battles internally to someone who wholeheartedly supports the discussion of any form of mental illness. When I get overwhelmed, I can easily use therapy techniques, and I rarely ever worry about my depression or OCD coming back. While my illnesses will always be a part of me, I know that I’ve conquered them. I owe most of that to medication.

            To anyone concerned about their mental state or considering asking a doctor about starting antidepressants, I say this: help yourself right now. Don’t let your fears keep you from receiving the help that you need. There is absolutely no shame in going to a therapist or talking to a loved one about what you might be going through. You’d be shocked how many of your friends have considered doing the same thing, or who might be going to therapy or taking antidepressants themselves. You are the most important being in the world—it’s crucial that you take care of yourself. People can say what they want about antidepressants--that they’re for the weak or for the broken—but at the end of the day, getting the help you need makes you strong. So do it. I can honestly say that antidepressants saved my life. Without them, I would still be the same girl trapped by her illnesses. But I stood up for myself and sought out help. Thanks to therapy and antidepressants, I can finally (after six whole years) say that I am happy. In fact, I'm the happiest I've ever been. You deserve that too.