I used to watch those pharmaceutical commercials for depression and anxiety and my eyes would well up with tears because I related so much. I’d almost involuntarily raise my hand. I remember one time it was in a buddy’s dorm room. I had to leave before my college friends noticed. I thought I was losing my mind. I was so depressed and scared. Seven years later, I would finally swallow one of those pills I’d seen in the commercials.
The word “psychiatrist” was always pretty elusive to me. Most of my knowledge about it came from movies. You laid on a couch and said personal stuff. The psychiatrist then said, “And how does that make you feel?”
The first time I met Dr. Wakil, she sat on a folding chair pulled up to my knees. She looked me straight in the eyes and asked me the hardest questions anyone has ever asked me. I was 27 and terrified.
I didn’t want to take medication because I thought it would change who I was. I thought it would stunt my creativity and numb me into a zombie. Plus, if anyone found out, I thought they’d judge me and think I was using a crutch or get-out-of-jail-free card.
But Dr. Wakil started teaching me about the brain and how it works. Particularly the amygdala, thalamus, and hippocampus. How nerve cells communicate. She explained things that started making a lot of sense. What normal versus more concerning depression and anxiety are. Situational versus chronic.
By the end of our session I was still afraid of medication, but I was less afraid. Had the diagnosis been diabetes, would I have said no to taking insulin?
I think about Dr. Wakil at least once a week, even thought it’s been more than 10 years since our last session. She led me through the darkest tunnel I’ve ever been through.
I’m telling you this because there are a lot of myths out there about medication and I want to dispel some that might be keeping you from bringing up the subject with your doctor, or even seeing a doctor.
Below I’ve listed some myths I used to believe. They are followed by the reality I’ve experienced. My hope is that some of you won’t wait so long like I did to talk to a physician. To see if there’s another way.
I know you’re not wanting a get-out-of-jail free card. I know you’re not weak or unwilling to do the work. You’re just needing some help finding a way to get back to yourself. And that’s ok.
P.S. Keep in mind, this topic is incredibly complex. I hesitated to even comment, let alone touch on types of medication, dosage, side effects, exercise, diet, talk therapy — factors that play a part in mental health, and aren’t solved in a one-time visit. It’s about committing to the process of getting healthier. And it’s different for everyone. Maybe for you medication will play a role. Maybe it won’t. But fear or false beliefs shouldn’t be what’s holding you back from at least getting more information.
1. Myth I believed: I’d lose my creativity.
Reality I’ve experienced: If anything, I’ve been much more creative since being on medication. Mostly because I have more energy and clarity to finish things.
2. Myth I believed: People will judge me and think I’m weak.
Reality I’ve experienced: Some people do, yes, but some people understand or see it as strength. Also, many have confided in me about their own struggle.
3. Myth I believed: I won’t be the same person.
Reality I’ve experienced: This is true, if by “same person” you mean someone who could hardly get out of bed and accomplish the smallest task.
4. Myth I believed: It would make me an annoying happy person.
Reality I’ve experienced: Taking medication isn’t really about becoming happy. It’s about seeing the world without all the fog and heaviness. It’s about not always spiraling into a feedback loop of anxious thoughts that paralyze you.
5. Myth I believed: It would be super expensive and my insurance would skyrocket.
Reality I’ve experienced: Sometimes it’s been more expensive than other times — depending on our health insurance and the ever-changing US laws. But my wife Heidi and I have always found a way to make it work, which is far easier than the alternative of going back to the way life was.