dr. strangedrug or: how i learned to (kind of) stop worrying and love being medicated

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that part of the reason I took a hiatus from blogging was because of all the traveling I’ve been doing with Cunt Sparrer.  That’s partially true, but there’s more to it than that.

Part of the reason I closed WR2BAM and started Cartoon Heart was because I wanted a space to write not only about fashion, but about other issues that are close to my heart as well as about my own experiences.  Cartoon Heart is meant to be a reflection of everything that goes on in my mind, and in the interest of that kind of honesty, I want to get more personal with you guys and explain a little more about my absence and why I’m back.

Around the beginning of this year — or was it the end of the last?  It’s hard to say, they run together — I found myself struggling under a heavy mental weight.  I’d dealt with depression in high school, but in my twenties I’d come to consider that period of my life a phase, your typical teen angst.  As an adult I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty happy-go-lucky person, but the overwhelming sadness I was feeling, combined with my inability to combat it, left me powerless and embarrassed.  I guess my depression-free years had smudged my memories; I’d started to think of the affliction as selfish, “not real,” something that you could just get over if you really wanted to, and I was horrified to find myself again under this constant black cloud.  It made no sense.  I believed I was stronger than depression — but then I wasn’t.

Why am I so sadI have a great life, I would tell myself:a fun band with loving fans, a decent job, wonderful friends and myriad creative outlets with which to indulge myself.  The problem was that my depression had crippled me suddenly in regards to all of those things: Cunt Sparrer shows filled me with dread, I lacked focus and went on unexplainable crying jags at the office, spending time with my friends made me anxious to the point of agoraphobia, and — probably worst of all — I’d lost the motivation to create anything.

Updating WR2BAM went from something I’d always gotten pleasure from to a chore.  I was too depressed to post anything worthwhile, but the dropoff in regular content gave me anxiety, which in turn essentially shut down my ability to even think about the blog.  Fashion week came and went and I barely even blinked at the collections.  Browsing online stores for outfit ideas felt pointless.  My outfits all felt boring and one-note.  In short, I wasn’t excited about blogging anymore.  I wasn’t excited about anything anymore.

I felt paralyzed.  When, after a couple of months of struggling to keep my head above water, I had the realization that I was not going to “get better” on my own, I made an appointment to see a psychiatrist.  I hadn’t been in therapy since I was 15.

My new doctor prescribed me Zoloft so cavalierly that it made me a little uneasy.  I’d never been on antidepressants before, and the idea of a pill as a “quick fix,” while appealing, also struck me as sinister and vaguely Huxleyan.  I took my prescription home and terrified myself by reading all the fine print, then finally braced myself and took my first pill.

It didn’t work immediately, of course, and my first couple of weeks on it were worse than ever.  They were followed by a short period of strange numbness, a general feeling of ennui that made me feel as though I was automated, just going through the motions of being myself.

A few weeks in, the SSRI broke through.  The pills started working, and it was different than what I’d been afraid of: I still felt like myself, and the emotions I was feeling were real.  The numbness was gone, and the sadness dissipated too, but not entirely.  I still felt sad a lot, still had bad days punctuated by bouts of unexplainable sobbing and long stretches of staring aimlessly into space, but my depression at least felt manageable.

Still, though, my anxiety rode high, and although Zoloft better equipped me to deal with my depression, after a couple of months on the pill my motivation had dropped back down.  I was having more bad days than good again.  I worked myself into a nervous frenzy over things I should have been looking forward to, and lost focus on my creative endeavors.  Just looking at WR2BAM gave me so much anxiety that I usually quickly closed the browser window upon bringing up the site.  For whatever reason, my willful emotions were beginning to override my medication.

I went back to my doctor, desperate.  “I don’t want to do anything,” I cried.  “I feel worse than before. What can I do?”

So I was put on a supplement called Abilify.  I wanted to be wary of adding another drug to my prescription regimen, but honestly, at that point I was so ready for any help I could get at climbing out of the hole I was in that I practically flung myself at my shrink’s feet, screaming, “GIVE IT TO ME!!!”

Unlike the Zoloft, the Abilify kicked in practically immediately.  A mild stimulant that’s categorized as an antipsychotic (a fact I find funny and only slightly troubling), it’s almost entirely eliminated those crushing feelings of demotivation.  Also unlike the Zoloft, I’m often conscious of the effect it has on me, both for better and for worse.  For better: suddenly, I’m not just ready to create again, I’m brimming with ideas; for worse: such things often come at an overwhelming pace, as if I’m trying to make up for lost time.  There’s a feeling of urgency to my work at the moment — I feel as if I should churn out as much creative output as possible while I’m feeling this productive, just in case I suffer another dropoff in spirits, so there’s a sense of constantly racing to beat some vague clock, which doesn’t do much for my anxiety.  The difference is that now I can manage that anxiety more rationally.  For whatever manic tendencies it amplifies in my personality, the Abilify has both pepped me up and evened me out — I don’t feel so sad anymore.  I can write again.  I’m excited about things.

I don’t want to be on drugs forever, nor do I feel like they’ve magically fixed me.  I still struggle with my depression and anxiety — this period of my life has marked my personality, and I have come to accept that the person I am now is not the same person I was before this.  I’ve also come to realize that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The pills have helped to clear some of my mental fog, and now I’m conscious of what it takes to achieve happiness.  They aren’t the cure — they’re the kick in the ass I need to continue extracting myself from this sadness.

The greatest gift these pills have given me has been my renewed clarity of mind, and with it, a new and vested interest in my own happiness.  I no longer take it for granted.  I’ve learned from this experience that joy in life is not a guarantee, that sometimes you have to work for it; I know also that there is no shame in sadness just as there is no shame in seeking help.  I like the phrase “the pursuit of happiness,” because it is a pursuit; the feeling can be extraordinarily fleeting until you come to an understanding of what holds it close to you.  I’m still figuring it all out for myself — all I can say is that I’m so glad I’m at a point where I can figure it out.

If you want to talk about personal stuff with me, like dealing with depression or anxiety — especially in the wake of a major breakup, which is what brought a lot of this on for me — I’m always happy to talk with you about my personal experiences and offer my (maybe useless, but heartfelt) advice in more depth.  Just email me at mycartoonheart@gmail.com.


9 responses to “dr. strangedrug or: how i learned to (kind of) stop worrying and love being medicated

  1. This is a great post! I’m glad you wrote this. I hear a lot of misinformation about depression and anxiety, and a lot of “just chin up!” advice that’s pretty enraging. As another person who struggles with depression, I really hate that kind of flippancy. I think it’s important to hear stories like yours for that reason.

    As a side note, I think that sort of “why don’t you just remember that your life is good?” mindset comes from the fact that we have both a colloquial and a medical definition of depression, and they mean pretty different things. People say stuff like “I broke up with my boyfriend so I feel depressed right now” all the time, and it means something different from being depressed in the psychiatric sense. Or maybe it’s just that we misuse the word by using it colloquially in the first place. Whatever the case, I think it causes a lot of harmful confusion.

    At any rate, this is a smart post that needed to be written. Go Sara!

    • Thanks (as always) for your kind and well-written words, Allegra, my darling. I’d really love for you to contribute something to Cartoon Heart if you’d like.

      • Anytime! And I’d love to contribute something to Cartoon Heart, I’m flattered that you asked! I’ll try to brainstorm some ideas in the coming weeks (or you can let me know if you want me to write anything specific!).

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I feel myself starting to struggle with something similar (also breakup-related) and this comforted me and made me feel like there is hope.

  3. I’m glad you’re back – I missed your voice and your style – and I want to thank you for writing about this.

  4. Pingback: and miles to go before i sleep | cartoon heart

  5. Thank you for this. I’m glad to hear that you’re writing and creating.

    I don’t know if this has been your experience, but being vaguely involved with zine-making and show-promoting and other punk-ish things has made my experiences with depression harder in some ways – everyone around is getting. things. done. while I’m still holed up in my apartment on the couch. Add to it the radical-left-anti-psych-med bias and it has been even harder.

    The crazy (heh) thing for me was that eventually, the depression *did* wear off, even to the point of not needing to take meds. So it happens, and I hope that it happens for you too.

  6. I briefly glanced and read through this post months ago when you first wrote it. Some of it resonated with me, particularly “I have a great life” sentiment, but that was really it. I look back at this now, at a completely different time in my life, and I can honestly say, what you were feeling before starting the meds (and I know that you’ve since stopped using them) is exactly how I’m feeling today. So Sara, thank you a hundred times over for this post. I only recently finally got up the nerve to seek help (seeing a doctor tomorrow for aches and awful pains that I think may be related to my “down” moods) and spoke with my mom about what’s been going on, especially in the last six months. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her everything, but I finally got some of it out there. Thank you for sharing your story 🙂

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