Black dog

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The other day I spoke with an old friend who thinks he might be depressed and is ready to seek treatment. He came to me because I know my way around such matters; I have taken anti-depressants on and off for the past 20 years, and they have absolutely had a positive impact on my quality of life. I have also had to defend my use of them over the years, usually to people with no first-hand experience. There is no need to argue on their behalf; I agree that they are overprescribed, like just about every other prescription medication out there, and I know beyond a shadow of doubt that they work for me. “They” is a broad term – it takes a good doctor, a series of educated guesses, and some trial and error to find the right fit for an individual. As with other medications, one can build up a tolerance and this is when levels need to be adjusted or alternatives sought. 

One of the biggest misconceptions I’ve heard is that they turn you into an automaton, void of emotion. As anyone who knows me can avow, this could not be further from the truth. If properly prescribed they do not change your personality; for me, and many of my fellow travelers in depression, they clear the clouds or the cobwebs or insert-favorite-metaphor-here and make it possible to function. Yes, some of them have side effects, but not everyone suffers them and they can be tempered with other lifestyle changes. Just taking the medication is not enough; any good doctor is likely to prescribe them in conjunction with talk therapy. I happen to have found an amazing doctor, and he is a huge advocate of exercise as another way to supplement the positive effects of the pills. And though I was loathe to admit it for far too long, it makes an enormous difference. 

Winston Churchill described depression as “a visit from the black dog.” When one is well-versed in it, one can sense it looming, and this is the time to take action. Depression is very different from sadness. It is not a mood or an attitude, it is a chemical imbalance. It doesn’t matter what is going on around you, or how much you have going for you, or any of the things that well-intentioned people who’ve never grappled with it try to help you see. Bright sunny days are anathema; waking up in the morning feels like being punched anew in the stomach day after day. Depression physically hurts, and joy is an unattainable luxury. 

I have a lot more to say on this subject, much of which I wrote about here, some in the same language I’ve used above. I don’t have time to finish saying what I’d set out to, so I will continue this later. In the meantime, what I hope to impart is that anti-depressants are worth looking into if you or someone you know might be suffering from depression. Because they will only work if one does, in fact, have a chemical imbalance; there is absolutely no shame in treating what ails you and living a functional life. 

n.b. Because I happen to live with and love a black dog very much, I don’t share WC’s metaphor. Louie is the great elixir. 

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