Dear Teenage Self: You Have Depression

Ozy Frantz wants to go back in time and say “Just take the meds.”

This is the third in a series of essays on depression by some of the Good Men Project’s most valued voices. The first two parts are here and here.

Dear Teenage Self,

First things first: soon you will stumble across the most fabulous pair of boots in the world. Black leather, knee high, high-heeled, just your size, and on sale for twenty dollars. Buy them. Seriously, you will be kicking yourself for that every time you put on shoes for the rest of your life. And with some of the shoes you’ll own, kicking yourself will really hurt.

Also, right now, you think you’re lazy, unmotivated, and probably a little stupid. You never have the energy for anything other than aimlessly looking at cat pictures. Even though you enjoy reading or talking to friends sometimes and are maybe even happy, everything you do seems to be suffused with this endless dull gray mist. Sometimes you feel like getting on a bus and going somewhere– anywhere– as long as it hurts less than this. The only thing that stops you is that anywhere you go you’ll still be there. Sometimes you think that there’s one thing that you can do to make sure you aren’t there anymore. A lot of times.

As it turns out, you’ve been suicidally depressed since you were seven years old. That’s not a mood, it’s a medical condition, and you will be better off if you start treating it like one.

If you’ve thought of medication, you’ve only thought of it in terms like “never” and “oh god no.” Your parents are fond enough of talking about how popping pills is turning America into a nation of ever-smiling zombies. Breathless articles in news magazines ask whether we’re medicating away authentic emotions and drugging people into happiness. That’s not nearly as awful as it’s going to get, by the way: in the year I’m writing this from, Naomi Wolf (you’ll learn about her later) wrote a book in which she explained that men invented SSRIs to keep women from overthrowing the patriarchy with their orgasms.

It’s particularly bad for you, because you’re severely drugphobic. You would think that your parents would notice when you refused to take painkillers after you got  your wisdom teeth removed or to touch a wineglass for fear of it contaminating you, but then if your parents were terribly observant they’d have noticed the suicidally depressed thing and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Remember your acquaintance, the one who attempted suicide by overdosing on her antidepressants? Even now I’m about as able to forget the fatal dose of Prozac as I am my own name. That kind of thing scares you, I know. I understand.

Nevertheless, I would like to say to you right now: take the meds.

Your parents will stop disapproving after a while. Taking the first pill will make you almost cry with fear, and taking the second will feel like a stab in the gut; but the third will be easier, and by the fourth you’ll barely remember being afraid of it at all. And you can talk about your fears of suicide with your psychiatrist; they’ll prescribe you some medication gentle enough that it’s easier to fatally overdose on water.

Antidepressants leave me exactly the same as I was before, except not sad all the time. Authentic emotion? I think my current range of emotion– sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes angry, often filled with the boundless joy of simply being alive– is a hell of a lot more authentic than wanting to kill myself because I can’t stir a jar of peanut butter. I see no reason why the latter state gets elevated over the former just because it was the one I happened to be born with. And as for confronting the actual problems making me sad…

Long-term depression is like running a race. Everyone seems to be pulling ahead of you and you don’t know why; everyone seems to be talking and laughing and having fun, while you’re barely managing to not collapse. And then it turns out you were dragging a giant rock, probably ten or twenty pounds, chained to your leg the whole time. If you go on antidepressants, you’re still running the race, you’re just running it without a bloody great boulder attached to your foot.

    Take the meds. For both of us.

–Ozy

P. S. I was completely serious about those fucking boots.

Photo—e-MagineArt.com/Flickr

NOW TRENDING ON GMP TV

Flight or Fight
Forever Boogies
Are You A Narcissist?

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About ozyfrantz

Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.

Comments

  1. Ozy,

    As someone who feels like I’m dragging a huge boulder myself (granted: it doesn’t feel like my boulder is as big as yours was/is), what would you recommend if I told you that I think my arguments for why I’m a worthless human being are so logical and fact-based that I don’t think meds would help?

    • My experience has been that, after beginning to take medication, things that sucked before were still every bit as awful, except that I now felt cheerful instead of miserable.

      Medication won’t fix everything, but it might help you get into a state of mind that will let you start to change whatever it is that about yourself and your situation that makes you consider yourself worthless.

    • Gaius, I’ve met a lot of people who are depressed. I’ve met a lot of people who are not good at a lot of things. But I’m yet to meet anyone I would consider worthless. Some people are not good at some things. Some people are so not good at so many things that they require constant assistance. But I’ve never met someone who was worthless.

    • “what would you recommend if I told you that I think my arguments for why I’m a worthless human being are so logical and fact-based that I don’t think meds would help?”

      I would accept your argument. After all you know yourself a hell of a lot better than I do. You probably are a worthless human being! But now I have a question for you. Not about the question of whether your are a worthless human being or not. We’ve already finished with that. My question is…Is the idea that you are a worthless human being helping you? Is the thought useful or useless. It may be true but is it useful. What is the profit for you in thinking that thought or dwelling on it. Is it helping you to become a better human being?

      I actually can think of one enormously useful thing about knowing you are a worthless human being. And that is that your have some concept of worth. You value something. Because if you didn’t then how could you establish a scale for your own worth? How would you know your worthless. And maybe that is a very great thing because you know have a goal…a purpose. You can strive to become a worthy human being according to your own measure. In other words simply list the reasons you are a worthless human being and then endeavour to reverse every one of those things one by one.

    • Well, I regularly have spells of depression (I don’t know if it’s a medical condition but I’m getting better at handling it so I’m staying away from help for the moment), and this is what I’ve come to understand: logic is a ridiculously unreliable thing; it always depends on often unexamined premises and is deeply influenced by your concerns/motivations in exploring the given line of reasoning – given a system as complex as life and reasoning that is essentially linear, you are always leaving some path unexplored.
      While the usefulness argument can seem a bit of a cop-out to you, it is not. Where reasoning is destined to fail, you have to transcend your own reason and the only way to do that is by looking for courses of action, taking that action and understanding those actions as and when they seem to be creating problems and you have to tweak them to survive.

      Sorry this is so vague – fleshing it out will require me to write about stuff I’m not comfortable with posting publicly. But this is the sort of understanding that helped me out of one of the worst spells of my life.

    • Gaius: Personally? I would tell you that as human beings, we don’t just “have” brains. We “are” brains. Your beautiful logic that you have been using to assess the situation may be coming from a brain that isn’t operating correctly. Your logic may be correct, but your perception is distorted by depression, and thus the inputs that FEED that logic result in faulty output.

      Meta-cognition gets wonky. When you think about how you think, if your thinker isn’t working quite right, how can you make an adequate assessment of how good of a job it’s doing at analyzing your situation?

      Source: Felt much the same way until I was adequately medicated. Feel exactly the same every time I miss more than 3 days in a row (like if I forget to pack them on a trip).

  2. It makes me so very, very sad to hear about anyone struggling with themselves, or those around them, over the “but I don’t want one of these masses on prozac! I don’t want to just take a pill to be happy like some kind of zombie!” It is tragic. And not to say that there aren’t folks with depression who do better without medication, or those that medications help but the side effects are intolerable, it happens. Sometimes there is depression that nothing helps. But to be suffering, to be miserable, and to have something that helps and works well, but noooo, it is giving in! Being conformist! Being happy like those wretched masses! Bleh.
    My sister is, to me, a case in point in that, for waay too many years she was depressed, and anxious, and would sob over things that she couldn’t even explain why it was even important enough to be upset about at all, much less sob about and that made her sob more (the tipping point was someone else being late to an event, and she thought they’d be upset about being late, even though it didn’t matter and nothing was missed, even after everyone said as much, World Ending Misery and falling asleep crying on behalf of someone else being MAYBE mildly frustrated), and finally a thought occurred that “maybe zoloft would help.” And it did! So much! Great stuff! I think of all those years, all that pain, and wish it could have been started earlier.

  3. This made me tear up. It’s what people have been telling me recently, when I ask questions like ‘how come every one else is able to manage a full time job and just doing part time hours leaves me severely exhausted?’ I couldn’t figure that out and I hated myself for it. But maybe it’s not because I’m just worse than everyone else, maybe it’s connected to the depression thing.

    I have a friend who is suicidally depressed, and also severely drug-phobic. Well, more like pill-phobic really, she had such bad anaemia that it’s landed her in the hospital at least twice but afterwards she wouldn’t take her iron supplements. She also thought anti-depressants would turn her into a zombie and make her dependent on them forever. But recently I’ve been speaking to her and she told me she’s considering going on anti-depressants. I was so glad that she’s at least considering changing her mind. I don’t want her to feel horrible all the time, and I don’t want to think that one day someone might not be there to talk to her when she feels at her worst and she will kill herself. I hope this will help her to feel better, if she does it.

  4. wellokaythen says:

    I was diagnosed with depression several years ago, and learning more about depression has put a lot of things in perspective. (“Oh, no wonder I did that.”) In some ways, it’s sad to hear that you’ve been diagnosed with depression, and in some ways it can be a relief. Ironically, I realized, “I’m not crazy after all; I just have depression!”

    There is still a lot of stigma around psychological disorders, and that may never go away completely. Sure, I could think of my mild antidepressant as evidence that I’m deeply flawed or that I’ve given up or something. But, the way I see it, the brain is an organ. It’s a physical thing. If it’s not working well, and there’s a way to get it running more smoothly, then you should do what it takes to get it running smoothly. There shouldn’t be shame in getting your body back on track. If I had a heart condition, I wouldn’t think it was unmanly to take heart meds, just a basically good idea, so the brain should be no different.

    Besides, I’ll take whatever embarrassment comes with being on meds if it means I can actually get out of bed and function.

  5. Ozy, this is great. Thank you.

  6. I’m glad you’re finally on medication that’s making you feel better. And, knowing that, I’d agree with your letter to your younger self.

    On the other hand, if I were writing a letter to my younger self, my advice would be different. I don’t think I had as large, or at least as persistent, a problem as you, but it was serious enough to attempt suicide. Seeing a psychologist certainly helped, and if I could write one to myself before my suicide attempt and the events that lead up to it, I’d certainly recommend that I talk to someone about my feelings and my self-destructive behavior.

    I’d say that the things happening at that moment ARE pretty terrible, and it’s OK to feel terrible about them. But those terrible things aren’t the end of the world, and things will get better. More terrible things will happen, but they’ll get better, too (and it’s still OK to feel terrible about them as they happen). I’d say that there are better ways to cope with those terrible events and terrible feelings, and people who can help you learn how. I’d say that the psychologist you’re going to see is good at his job, and can help you, but you’re still allowed to disagree with him.

    You’re allowed to disagree with him about antidepressants; I’ve turned out fine, at least so far. You’re not always going to feel the same way you do know about using drugs to alter your mind. You’ll learn to strategically use caffeine for wakefulness, although you’ll continue to use it far less than most people you know. You’ll learn to enjoy the effects of alcohol on your mind, in moderation. If you do decide that you’ll feel better if you take antidepressants, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you don’t have to be pressured or frightened into doing so.

    Speaking of which, somewhat later a therapist is going to tell you that it’s good that you don’t drink alcohol, because of your depression. That’s another thing you can disagree with. It’s perfectly possible for you to enjoy alcohol in moderation, when you decide that you want to. And when you tell your psychologist that you like pain, sometimes, and he says that it’s self-destructive and you need to stop, you can disagree with that, too; you’re not “a cutter”, you’re kinky, and you can do what you enjoy safely and with other people who feel the same way.

  7. When I hear people who should know better speak out against meds, I get seriously angry. People on meds are not zombies, nor are they hiding from their problems, thy do not need to just talk it out, and they certainly do not need to just chill out and smoke some weed.

    God, I hate people sometimes.

  8. Meerschaum says:

    Never felt like I got benefits out of meds during the time I took them. I know a lot of people have. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if meds had helped me, when I finally broke down and tried them. I was terrified.

    I’d had depression from about the age of 7 on, but it could have started earlier. I’d had suicidal urges off and on starting at the age of 9, and they remained common until I was about 22 or 23. I was 26 and in graduate school for biochemistry when I first turned to psychiatric meds. Alcohol had helped me through some rough patches (even half a beer would dim the volume on the mood swings tremendously), but I didn’t see myself using it the rest of my life.

    I was worried about losing a piece of myself, of what made me unique. I was terrified of losing my identity, since my struggle with depression had been a central part of my life for so long that I had trouble imagining it not being central to my life. I was scared of losing my lab position since I wasn’t functioning well enough to keep it; I’d already lost one lab position and settled into a fallback. I needed to do something.

    When I finally made the appointment, I had skip a meeting at work despite already being in trouble with my boss at work. I was told to skip breakfast the day I would first arrive at the doctor’s office so that they could do intake bloodwork, despite later being told that the results would have no bearing on my actual treatment at the doctor’s office.
    I received bad directions from the doctor’s office (new to me), so that it took an extra ten minutes to get there.

    By the time I got there I was a complete bundle of nerves – frustrated and hungry and exhausted (from insomnia) and terrified.

    I had a clipboard shoved in my face. I filled it out as quickly as could and dropped it noisily on the counter, then paced. The doctor spoke to me five minutes, but barely asked about my history. He told me he could tell me which neurotransmitters were imbalanced in what way from mannerisms in this one conversation on a very atypical day.

    I wondered how the doctor could have reached a conclusion so quickly without looking at my history. I felt like I was being sold a lemon car that could damage my brain. I asked how he made the diagnosis and he told me about receptor-agonist binding (simple stuff at that point). Since I trusted my psychologist, who sent me to this doctor, I took the meds, backed out, and left.

    My psychologist told me that my pacing and body language had terrified the nurse. I felt shocked. I later received a letter telling me to never come back to the doctor’s office again. Did she know I was there for psychiatric meds? Would she have just thought I was an impatient asshole instead of being frightened if I weren’t there for psych meds? Or if she’d met me on a good day on her first impression of me, would she realize just how terrified I was?

    I took the Lexapro the first doctor prescribed and kept at it for a while, but found a doctor I trusted.

    Lexapro made me contantly dehydrated – and I didn’t have a single solid bowel movement the whole time I was on it (6 months). The first two months, my psychologist told me “you’re just adjusting”. He was shocked that it was still there at six months. I could never go on what he thought would be a therapeutic dose – I tried it for two days and spent the entire day on the toilet and got delirious from lack of fluids.

    Wellbutrin didn’t seem to do much, but if I was a few hours late with a dose I’d experience irrational anger, entirely atypical of me (the prior story notwithstanding) – and I’d have dizzy spells.

    Towards the end of that time, my psychologist suggested that I didn’t have regular depression, but depressive personality disorder. I don’t really know what to make of that.

    I lost my lab position, and with it, my health insurance. I elected not to look for another lab. I went off my meds and didn’t notice any difference. About six months after I quit grad school (3 months after I stopped taking the drugs), I started sleeping properly again.

    I spent a lot of time playing with dogs and started to feel somewhat better again.

    I’m still depressed. I manage my depression, but I haven’t fixed it. I’ve gotten better about not obsessing on it. It’s probably holding me back. I feel complicit.

    Sometimes I wonder if I will go back to psych meds and find something that works. I have no idea what it would be like.

Trackbacks

  1. […] A blogger writes a letter to zir teenage self called, “Dear Teenage Self: You Have Depression.” It resonated with me a […]

Speak Your Mind

*