CW (content warning) Depression, antidepressant medication, stigma, sexual content
Disclaimer: Medication is an option but it is not for everyone. If you are interested in discussing this option to treat depression, please speak to a licensed medical professional. Results from medication use varies with each person.
So, this is what my life has come to
I walked down Wyse Road lugging my two 30lbs almost two year olds in their red wagon. I took a break from walking, putting my foot behind the wagon pedal as a brake. It was time to take my meds. I popped the pill into my mouth and took a swig of water. It went down easy. I never had a problem swallowing pills. My problem was, this wasn’t a pill like the ones I used to take before a party. See, this pill is an antidepressant. I continued on my walk, each twin smiling behind me, taking in the scenery. “So, this is what my life has come to?” I asked myself, taking a quick inventory of my life thus far. “I’m 27 years old and I’m on medication for depression”, I thought. All I could do was laugh to keep from crying. I’d cried enough. I was ready to feel better.
Medication had never been an option, let alone a last resort. For the last five years, I’ve prided myself on being natural. My hair was loc’d and natural for four out of five of those years and now I rock my natural afro or a protective style. I mainly use natural oils and products on my body. I have natural nails and eyelashes. I eat a mostly plant based diet. My toothpaste is flouride free. I drink water like it’s going out of style. I rarely take a painkiller, even when my period cramps feel like they’re killing me. I tough out any hangover I have and I’ve had my fair share. I’m also what one might call a “conspiracy theorist”. If I can help it, I don’t support Big Pharma by buying products that only alleviate or mask an issue. I’m all of that and then some. If I can find a natural remedy for anything then I will try every one before I go fill a prescription. I am not a “medication type of person”, by any means. At this point, however, I really had no other options.
In being prescribed an antidepressant, I had to check my personal views surrounding medication. What are my thoughts about medication? What types of people are on medication? Is medication necessary? In checking myself, I realized that I perpetuated a lot of the stigma that exists within my community and the African diaspora. I thought medication was for those who hit rock bottom or a point of no return. People who are on medication may not be crazy but they must have a few screws loose if they have to take medication. I thought medication was only necessary for those with severe anything. I never thought I would be “one of those people”.
I would say I’ve battled with depression since I was 13 or 14 years old, if not earlier. Although I’d seen multiple therapists in the last decade and some, I’d never officially been diagnosed with having depression. Sometimes, I almost felt fraudulent by claiming that I have depression without having an official diagnosis but I didn’t feel like I needed it. I’ve long since recognized my cycles of having high highs and extremely low lows, particularly in the winter months. Twice in the last six months, I’ve had two people tell me they think I have a chemical imbalance in my brain.
Most of the time, I would eventually be able to pull myself out of a downward spiral. My battle with depression always started with sporadic periods of over and under sleeping. I would either need multiple naps throughout the day, unable to stay awake, have a hard time falling asleep or just not sleep at all. Sometimes, I might stay awake the whole night, only able to close my eyes as the sun was rising. Following the sporadic sleep was always indescribable and overwhelming sadness and self-pity. It wasn’t as though there was nothing wrong but it certainly was difficult to pinpoint exactly what was making me feel down. I really was going through a lot. My issue wasn’t that one thing was bothering me and I couldn’t shake it. My issue was that once one thing went wrong, my brain began to compile a list of everything that was going or could go wrong. Once that list started writing itself, there was no turning back. Before long, I’d be telling myself there was no point in trying because it was always going to be something. I knew life wasn’t easy but there was no way it had to be this hard. And when the tears came, they came! I would bawl my eyes out. I didn’t cry often. I wouldn’t allow myself to because I knew if I let one tear fall, I was going to lose it. “I literally don’t have time to cry”, I would tell myself. I had way too much to do with taking care of the twins and making sure they were good. Sometimes, the depression would take over so heavily that I would have no other choice but to cry. It tore me up to bawl in front of the twins. They never knew what was happening. They just saw mommy sad and crying. I knew things were getting bad when not even their little faces could bring a smile to mine.
I think that’s what did it for me. I knew I’d reached a new low when my children would hug me and even when I did hug them back, I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel hatred but I also didn’t feel love, warmth, or anything in between. Their embraces were mere touches from two bodies. In addition to that disconnection when they initiated physical touch, which is one of my primary Five Love Languages, I never wanted to touch them. I didn’t want to pick them up, hold them, bathe them, or allow them to sit on my lap. I wanted no part in it and I hated myself for it. I felt so ungrateful for the gifts of life that I’d been given. The audacity of me! My best friend would give her life to hold her child one more time and I have the audacity to yell at mine to get away from me when all they want is to be held. I wanted to embrace them. I wanted their laughs to be enough to brighten my day. I wanted to go the extra mile for them, just because, but I was too sad and too tired to do so.
Typically, I can pull myself out of depression within a few weeks. Writing is cathartic for me. It’s my number one cure to release any type of emotion I may be feeling. If I’m going through something and I’m not writing, you better believe that it’s something exceptionally trying. I write my best work when I am feeling down. Oddly enough, there are times when I forget or don’t make time to write then when I do, it’s kind of like, “Ohhhh! Okay, here we go. I’m gonna be okay now”. I’ve tried meditation and yoga. I’ve tried disrupting my depressive thoughts with some of my favorite things like showering or having a spiritual bath, smudging my house, cleaning, cooking a healthy meal or binge eating some sugary snacks. I even tried masturbating. I hadn’t recognized masturbation as a coping mechanism until I read something on Facebook that said, “Are you masturbating because you’re horny or because you’re depressed and need the dopamine?” A healthy person may read that as a millennial joke but when you really experience depression, you’d know that it’s a real thing. All I had to do was take stock of when I masturbated and nine times out of ten, it wasn’t because I was horny, it was because I needed to sleep. When did I need assistance sleeping? When I was depressed ─which was almost every day, especially lately. It was the only way to quiet my thoughts and actually be able to fall asleep. Although masturbating was a sort of high, it only lasted but a few minutes before it was over. Sex was also a release. Whether I reached an orgasm or not didn’t matter. It was the penetration that would calm me down. Until I had the twins, I didn’t have the discipline to prevent myself from using this as a coping mechanism. When I separated from their dad, I still had random, depression induced desires to be penetrated. I would still indulge myself but being a mother became my saving grace in recognizing that sex wasn’t going to solve a damn thing. If I was going to really feel better, I would need to do a lot more than light some sage or bust a nut.
The show must go on
It had been well over a month that I’d been battling with this bout of depression when I went to Nova Scotia in mid May. I was forced to recognize that May is a hard month for me. May is the month of triggers. Despite my work in, You are Not a Burden Mama, I felt like just that─ a burden. I felt like a burden to those around me who were kind enough to listen to my constant rants of dissatisfaction and grievances. I felt like a burden to myself. I was failing myself and in doing so, I was failing my children. I felt helpless. Nothing was working to make me feel better but still, I pushed through. I had to get back home. I needed this three week trip, even though I knew it wasn’t going to be easy with the twins. I had to brace myself because I had six bookings for my anti-human trafficking advocacy work plus I was hosting a creative writing workshop, all within the span of ten days.
I knew I was overextending myself. I make it look easy being so well spoken and poised when I deliver my presentations but truth is, that shit can be exhausting. I told myself over and over that I need to pace myself and practice extreme patience with myself and the twins. I knew I needed to leave room for mishaps, leave extra early to get there on time, pack extra snacks and toys for the twins to play with. Still, I was overwhelmed. Pair that with the fact that I had a full blown panic attack in the middle of someone’s presentation at a conference that I was the keynote speaker for and you have a recipe for disaster. I couldn’t handle everything all at once, by myself. I got my first round of bookings done and debated heavily on whether I should cancel the rest of them. I knew that if I did, I would be letting a lot of people down and losing out on a lot of money but I couldn’t do it.
Four hands are better than two, two heads are better than one
I went back and forth in my head on that debate, thinking myself into a frenzy. Meanwhile, it’s 5am. The twins had already been up for an hour. They’re in a new place, being children, running wild, trying to explore, and I am ready to fucking explode on them for doing what they normally do. Something had to give and so I sent a text to one of my mentors who is a social worker that said, “I’m having a bit of a crisis at the moment. The twins have been up since 4am. I’m not sure what I need exactly but I’m in a bad place mentally and thinking of canceling my engagements and finding a way to fly back home…”. Mind you, one of the engagements was a writing workshop that she hired me for. By 8am, she was at my door, with my favorite tea, ready to lend an extra set of hands and just listen.
We got the babies buckled into the back seat of her car, after having to chase them and spilling my tea and her coffee. As soon as I buckled my seatbelt, the tears started falling. I completely came undone. She drove around for an hour, letting me vent. I unraveled with each grievance that left my mouth, bawling my eyes out. Meanwhile, the twins had fallen asleep almost immediately. Even though I was grateful for the peace, I was mad at them for having woken up at 4am to begin with. Amidst my pain was rage. The only thing containing my rage was the guilt I felt for feeling enraged to begin with. “They don’t deserve this”, I cried, referring to the twins. “I don’t want to be a mom. I don’t want to do this by myself. I can’t”, I sobbed, wrapping my hands around the Tim Hortons cup in my hand for warmth. “Oh, sweety. I’m so sorry”, my mentor offered. In true social work fashion, she helped me reel in how I was feeling. “Okay, can we get practical for a minute here?”, she asked. I nodded my head, yes, still crying. “From what you’ve described, it sounds like you are experiencing depression. Are you able to speak to a doctor here? And how about we arrange some childcare for you so you can work and at least know that part is taken care of?” she continued. Again, I nodded yes. She went on to say that she thought it might be best for me to try medication. I’d known this woman for 12 years. Long enough for her to recognize when I wasn’t myself, beyond my usual span of manageability.
I’m not taking no fucking meds
My first instinct was, “I’m not taking no fucking meds”. My mentor must’ve sensed my hesitation because she offered me solace by saying how she understands that medication sounds scary. There’s a whole heap of stigma surrounding it, particularly in my community, but she knows multiple people who are on it and it has changed their lives for the better. She was very transparent in admitting that two of those people were her mother and one of her good friends. She even offered for me to speak to her friend about her experiences which I said that I would. “I’m scared it’s going to make me suicidal”, I admitted. “Oh, honey”, she sort of chuckled. “It’s true that some people experience suicidal thoughts while on medication but the majority of the time, medication doesn’t make you have a thought that you didn’t already have. The great thing about anti-depressants is that it allows you to not focus on the thought. Instead, it allows them to be just what they are, thoughts that eventually pass”, she said. She also told me how typically a doctor would prescribe a very low dosage to start someone off with, to see how they react, and I could make a plan with the doctor to up or lower the dosage. When I was ready to stop taking them, if I decided to, I could work with the doctor to wean myself off. I stayed quiet, processing what she had just said. “How about we make you an appointment and you can discuss it with the doctor?” she encouraged. I agreed to at least have a conversation about it.
I was desperate
Over the next day or two, I took time to think about the possibility of going on medication. I rolled my eyes at the thought of not being able to drink liquor if I was on medication and planned to ask my doctor if this was the case. I wasn’t a big drinker anymore. In fact, I’d already informed my friends earlier this year that I wouldn’t be attending any trips just to go to parties and drink. I didn’t like the way liquor made me feel the day after. Not just the hangover but it always made me feel down. I was looking for new ways to enjoy myself. Anyhow, I wasn’t really interested in getting drunk every time I went to an event but I do still enjoy a bottle of wine or a cold beer ever so often. I guess, I just didn’t want the choice to be off the table. My other issue was whether or not it would affect my birth control because if it did, medication was gonna be a hard no for me. With those questions in my mind, I decided that otherwise I might as well try medication and see how it goes. If worse came to worst, I could stop taking them. I’d tried everything else in my repertoire to make myself feel better and nothing had worked. I was ready to feel better. At this point, I was desperate.
Waiting to exhale¹
Luckily for me, my former family doctor, who had assisted in the delivery of my twins, was in the office that week during the walk in clinic hours. My mentor accompanied me to lend a hand with the twins. I went into the doctor’s office fairly calm given that I already had a rapport with her. With my mentor’s advice, I relayed my experiences over the last 45 days or so to my doctor. I told her how I’d had to leave the twins’ dad and flee back to Ontario where I had little to no support and how I felt a perpetual sadness that wouldn’t go away. I admitted that I had no desire to be a mother, careful to include that I wasn’t physically harming them and had no desire to do so but I also wished I didn’t have to raise them by myself. “It’s too much. I’ve tried everything I can think of and nothing is helping. I go to therapy back home and that only helps for so long. I’m thinking about trying medication so I wanted to know what my options are”, I confessed. I also admitted my fear of becoming suicidal and my hesitancy around drinking alcohol. I had to check with the pharmacist to see if it would affect my birth control and she informed me that it would not.
In relaying my experiences, I kind of felt like I had to sell my depression to her. It’s true that things were as bad as they sounded but a part of me, due to experience with other service providers, felt like I almost had to play a role in order to get the doctor to take me seriously. This wasn’t the case here, though. My doctor listened intently and empathized with my situation. I didn’t feel judged or stereotyped. I thought she may look at me with accusatory eyes. I thought she would think I was faking it but she didn’t do that at all. Instead, she told me about a low cost pill brand that she thought would give me a bit of relief. “This is not an overnight fix. The pills can take up to two weeks before you start to feel their effect. I do hope, however, that it will give you something to look forward to. There is a light at the end of the tunnel”, the doctor said. I allowed my tears to fall as I thanked her and took the prescription from her hand. She went over the logistics of the prescription and how I only needed to take one pill once a day, preferably in the morning. She explained how the pill usually acted as a stimulant but some people experience the opposite and that I should be mindful of how it affects me in order to determine if days or nights work best for me to take it. I took all that I could remember into account, promising to check back in with her in two weeks or so and let her know how I was doing. “If, for any reason, you experience adverse side effects, something you’re unsure about or even if you have any other questions. Please give me a call”, the doctor said. I couldn’t thank her enough. Finally, I felt like I could exhale. Even if it would be a couple of weeks before I might feel better, I now saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
As it stands right now, I have been taking antidepressant medication for two and a half weeks. My rediscovered hope may have been all in my head or I may have had such a chemical imbalance that the medication affected me faster than it typically does, but within a few days, I started to feel better. I was able to feel some relief. Whatever the reason, I’ll take it. I now feel more happy than I ever remember feeling. Daily, I find myself happy for no particular reason. Finally, after two years of struggling to stay afloat, I am enjoying my children. As I write this, my eyes well up with tears for the first time in weeks. This time, they are tears of joy and relief. I never knew it could feel like this. My children smile, laugh, and hug each other and I am glad to bare witness to their affection, knowing that they learned it from me. Whenever they fight, don’t listen, or spill something by accident, I can mostly empathize with them, content with the understanding that they are babies and shit happens. These are things that previously would have sent me flying off the handle, screaming at them to the point of my voice going hoarse. In doing so, I would scare them and make them cry. It was a constant cycle of being reactionary and feeling guilty for doing so. Now, my first instinct is to pause before I react. With that few seconds comes a world of a difference. I do still raise my voice sometimes but it is more so to get their attention rather than to punish them as I would before. Raising my voice for this reason eliminates most of the guilt that I held before. Still, I would like to get to a point where I don’t have to raise my voice at all, if possible.
Being on medication has given me a capacity for acceptance in a way that I don’t remember ever experiencing, particularly in my adult life. It’s not to say that I don’t get annoyed, upset or sad. I do still feel those things. There are some days where I experience self doubt, wondering if the medication is actually helping or if it’s all in my head. I’m not immune to emotion. The difference now is that I don’t stay stuck in those feelings. I have the will to thrive. I wanted to feel better and because I made the decision to try something new, I changed my narrative. As recent as a few weeks ago, I was having some serious body image issues. Try as I might, I couldn’t get past the fact that I no longer have a flat stomach. I hated my body and would dread trying on clothes or wearing tight shirts. I’m not suggesting that I miraculously love everything about my body all of a sudden but I am certainly saying I am more accepting of it. I almost said, “I don’t care”, but that would be a false observation. I do care, a lot, and maybe one day I will go back to the gym or start doing yoga again but right now… This is the body I have and I’m okay with that.
A different story
One time since I’ve been on medication, I started to think myself into a bad mood. Nighttime had fallen and I was missing someone to the point that I began to tell myself that maybe it would be better to not be in contact with them at all rather than miss them. Of course, the thought of that now is absurd but for whatever reason, that night I started to convince myself there was some truth to it. Oddly enough, I began to experience a really weird, fuzzy feeling in my brain and body. I started to get a little paranoid, thinking that maybe I was having an adverse reaction to the medication. It almost felt like the onset of a bad high. I interrupted myself first by drinking some water. I had been on a phone call at the time, taking a few minutes to explain how I was feeling. Fortunately for me, the person on the other end was getting ready to go to sleep so I was made to handle this one on my own. It’s important for me to note that sometimes discussing the issue makes the issue even worse, depending on who I’m talking to. I debated calling one of my best friends to vent about this weird feeling I was having but decided to just sit in it alone for a while and see how I felt. I opted to watch a movie on Netflix. Within an hour, the feeling had subsided and the bad mood was forgotten. Three weeks ago, I would have been up until the sun rose and then went on to have the worst possible day. All of this was because my feelings of longing turned into something negative and unintended. The next morning I was abashed but mostly okay. I had no idea what had happened to me physically but I decided to leave well enough alone and not indulge the experience any further. Again, three weeks ago, this would have been a totally different story.
More life, more everything²
In addition to simply feeling happy and having a greater capacity for managing my everyday life, this month is the first time in my adult life that I didn’t experience PMS symptoms. Prior to taking pills, up to a week before my period, I would be lethargic and cranky. A couple of days before my period would start, I would be two notches short of enraged. Every little thing would bother me, especially the twins. With this period, I only noticed a slight shift in my mood and that I was a little sulky. I still got my regular first day period cramps but otherwise I’ve been fine! Still feeling happy. Still experiencing joy with my children. Still managing just fine! I’ve also been working diligently on my upcoming novel, “The Teen Sex Trade: Part Two”. I haven’t had the discipline to work on my book everyday for a long time. Now, I’m finding myself eager and determined to get it finished!
You do the best you can with what you have
One of my initial thoughts about medication was that I don’t want to be taking pills every day for the rest of my life. Admittedly, now that I see the possibilities of what it can do, I’m not opposed to it. I’m not sure how long medication will be my coping mechanism. I’m learning to do the best I can with what I have and right now, that’s medication. I’m taking it one day at a time. I feel no shame and see no harm in saying so. Despite my willingness to be open about my new journey on antidepressants, I understand that there is still a lot of stigma surrounding it; especially in the black community.
You are Not a Burden, Mama³
There are an array of factors that contribute to the break down of someone’s mental health. For me, it was the weight of multiple things that I’ve been through in the past, coming back to haunt me, coupled with the overwhelming demands of motherhood. With countless triggers resurfacing and presenting themselves, I reached my rock bottom. I was at the point where I was considering if it would be better for my children to be in the foster care system rather than to be raised by me. The thought of that was terrifying! It was never because I didn’t love them. It was because I was so depressed that I felt like I was doing them a disservice by being their sole caregiver. I was very transparent in, You Are Not a Burden, Mama, when I talked about utilizing a family respite centre for the first time. I felt an immense amount of shame for doing so. I thought I was a bad mom for getting help! Can you imagine? Instead of feeling empowered and proud for making such a difficult decision, I was ashamed. I felt like a failure. But, why should I? Why should I be ashamed? I’m not a bad mom for utilizing a service that is literally there for the reason that I needed to use it. I wasn’t abandoning my children to go party─ though it would have been perfectly fine to spend one of my nights to myself letting my hair down. I was actually putting my children in a position to flourish, be safe, and cared for. Regardless of what I did when they weren’t with me, at that time, where they were was a safer choice than being with me, and that’s where the power lies. The stigma will say that I’m an unfit mother for leaving my children with strangers, no matter if they were professionals or not. The truth is that I am a fucking amazing mother! I saw myself lacking in a crucial area and I accessed a resource to ensure my children had sufficient care. What more could a child ask for from a parent? Probably a lot but you get the drift. Why then, would I be shamed for that?
1. Movie title, Waiting to Exhale¹
2. Song lyric, Free Smoke, Drake²
3. Blog post title, You Are Not a Burden, Mama, Motherhood Observation, Jade Brooks³