Depression sucks. It’s not fun. There’s social stigma around it, even in this day and age, and lots of medications (prescription and over the counter) that you can take that claim to ease if not erase the often dull, persistent, lethargy-inducing life-killer that is depression.
I took medication (Setraline, the generic name for Zoloft) for depression for several months a couple years ago, about a year and a half after my daughter died. I had resisted taking it for a long time, which I’ll go into in another post—but one of the main reasons was that I felt like there must be a more ‘natural’ way to deal with something that was a completely normal reaction to suddenly and unexpectedly losing one’s beautiful, healthy baby. On a spiritual level, taking a Western drug that was made in some lab just didn’t seem like it could solve what was an intractable problem of grief and loss. Though anti-depressant pharmaceuticals are now very commonly prescribed, and many people had told me when I would tell them about my depression that they were currently or had been on anti-depressants and would suggest that I take them, I still felt like there had to be more than just popping a pill. I also felt like it was too much of a ‘quick fix’ and that these people were probably just tired of hearing me talk about my grief, which made me resent their good intentions of trying to get me to take anti-depressants. I was in a dark place in my life, probably the darkest place I’d ever been.
My depression at this time was deep and had lasted for more than a year, and was so frightening to my husband, friends and therapist, that I did open myself to at least considering medication. I also wanted to get better. So I did the research to find a psychiatrist who was open to trying alternative, non-pharmaceutical therapies if he felt like they would work just as well. Therapies like meditation, exercise, nature, etc. For me, if I was even going to think about taking drugs for depression, I wanted to make sure that I was going to get them from someone who didn’t seem them as the primary or only way for me to get better, who saw them as part of a toolbox rather than a panacea for my suffering. Of course, this being the Bay Area, I found someone who fit the bill (in Berkeley, of course. ;))
The result of these sessions with this highly gifted and kind psychiatrist (PM me if you’re in the Bay Area and would like a referral to him) is that I did end up agreeing to take Setraline after resisting the exact same suggestion from my primary care physician as well as my therapist. This psychiatrist explained the pros and cons to me, was patient with my questions, explained that I could taper off of the drug eventually (I was very concerned about getting addicted, which also happens to some people) and was quite gentle and not pushy about the whole thing, which made me feel at ease. I walked out of his office with a prescription for setraline and a more positive feeling about taking medication to help me through this hard time.
Less than a week later, I was on the lowest dose of the drug and felt great. This was right around the winter holidays, an especially tough time for me and my husband since losing our daughter. I was able to host a Christmas party at our house for the first time since Naima’s death, and I had a good time, enjoyed my friends’ company and was not (ta-DAH!) depressed. I was so happy I had taken Setraline, and wondered why I’d waited so long to take it. I stayed on the drug for about five months, until I realized I felt well enough to try life without it (a story for another time).
But Setraline didn’t ‘cure’ my depression. I was still sad, I still grieved for my daughter, I still cried. The grief was dulled a bit, and I did not sink into the low depths of not-getting-out-of-bed-and-crying-all-day that I had before I had started taking it. Setraline gave me an energetic and emotional boost which helped me get up and out of the house everyday, and start doing things that I loved again, the things that truly and would (over the long term) help ‘cure’ my depression: dancing, getting out into nature, hiking, spending time with friends, cooking healthy food. I was fortunate, too, that although I did suffer some tough withdrawal symptoms when I tapered off the Setraline, I found a great naturopath who was able to help mitigate those symptoms and use more natural therapies to both stay off the drug and stave off depression. I’ll talk in my next post about my natural anti-depressant medicine chest, but suffice it to say that I do not regret taking Setraline for my depression when I did. It most likely saved my life.
In the end, the decision to take anti-depressants or not is a very personal one. Timing, the relationship you have with your doctor, your mentality going into it, what kind of support you have to be able to get off the medication eventually, etc. all factor in. Do your homework if you are thinking about taking anti-depressants, and don’t let your doctor rush or push you into taking them if you don’t feel like they’re right for you. At the same time, be open to what could be a life-saving gift of medicine.