Breaking the stigma associated with mental illness includes confronting the misconception surrounding treatment.
When I first started taking medication for my depression I was ecstatic. I was finally going to be happy all the time. My doctor told me that it would take at least four weeks for me to notice a difference. I couldn’t wait until that month was over. I was going to finally be able to do everything I’ve ever wanted. My life was going to be so great. I checked weekly to see how much time had passed since I took my first pill. Four weeks later, I went back and got my first refill. Tomorrow was the day that I would be happy again. Nothing happened that day but I was still hopeful. Then a week had passed and I still felt the same depressed version of myself. Another week passed and I had become exceedingly depressed now. I felt like I was so hopelessly depressed that not even medication could help me. The return of my suicidal thoughts worried my doctor and prompted him to prescribe a different medication. My aspiration in normalcy was restored. This process continued for almost a year.
I decided to try a new female doctor. She listened to my concerns and symptoms and understood my situation. This was it for me. I knew she would help me find the perfect medication to cure all of my problems. I was even more hopeful during this medicinal endeavor. Finally, week five of my recently increased dose of Wellbutrin had rolled around. I had become aware of my new-found positivity and my ability to handle problems and stress like never before. When I told this to my doctor she was ecstatic that the medication was working for me. I was bewildered by her reaction. I wasn’t overjoyed or carefree. I asked how could she possibly think this was working for me? She explained that the goal was to help me with everyday life. She suggested continuing with the Wellbutrin for another month to see if anything else could change. I agreed to it and spent the next month pondering my life and my emotions. I decided that I was happy enough with the results even though, I wasn’t the happy cartoon character I initially envisioned. When I started treatment, I truly believed I would be rid of my emotions and have happiness shining out of my ass constantly. This is the misconception I was sold. It was not only sold to me but, it has been sold to people not affected by mental issues. It was sold with the commercials of happy people dancing in the sunshine, the print ads of a beautiful woman laughing with her friends, and the radio ads asking if you ever felt any negative emotion ever. I didn’t make this connection until recently, when I went through a very traumatic heart break. Just like most women, I was sobbing on the phone to my mother about the situation. After I stopped blubbering she sounded concerned and said, “I don’t think your medication is right for you.” I thought about that statement for the rest of the day. I started to believe she was right. I didn’t tell her that was experiencing my suicidal thoughts again. She was my mother who always knew best. Still seeking comfort, I spoke to my best friend about the breakup and was overcome with emotion again. Unprompted she asked, “are you still taking your medication?” It was strange that now two people had brought this up. I confirmed I was still taking it and asked why she asked. She had expressed some of the same concerns my mother had but, had said that she thought my mental state was becoming worse. Now, I was convinced that I needed to get off my medication. I called my doctor she was confused but supportive and told me to wean myself off of it by breaking the pills in half. The next morning, I skipped the pill completely. I spent another day thinking about everything that had happened in my life recently. It was in this thorough self-realization that I remembered my illusion of euphoria that I once held on to. Any human who had experienced what I had would have been sad. This expression of emotion would have been something that normally is accepted and supported. So why wasn’t I being supported and accepted? Instead of comforting me my loved ones were concerned. They had been sold the same idea that I had. They had believed that my emotions should be extremely subdued even nonexistent. I wasn’t able to be sad because, I was taking medication that was supposed to terminate the emotion. I was not able to have an emotional reaction to heartbreak. The illusion of constant happiness that I was supposed to possess was absent, there had to be something wrong with the medication. I decided to continue using my medication because it works for me.
Medications used in mental illness diagnoses, for the most part, are not something that will rid us of our emotional reactions. Human emotions are natural and beautiful. For me, being a zombie void of emotions would make life pointless. I would not be able to experience happiness if it were not for the sadness I am able to experience. We would not be human if we lacked emotion.