“If you do not take the antibiotics, you will die,” the doctor proclaimed from the foot of my hospital bed.
A lineup of physicians—a urologist, an internist, a cardiologist, and a neurologist—and countless nurses were parading in and out of my hospital room over a 10-day period. I had CT scans, a spinal tap, an MRI, and a visit from the rapid response team. I had IVs in my arms and was practically buckled to the bed because I was incredibly nauseous and lost most muscular strength and function.
For years, I avoided antibiotics at all costs. I believed food, movement, and sleep was the best source of medicine. Taking drugs to fix something? I wanted nothing to do with that! But in that moment, as I listened intently to the doctor, I forced myself to set my stubbornness aside.
I had a choice: die or take the meds.
But I was 23 years old and wanted to live, so I conceded.
I thought medication was weak.
I didn’t need drugs to fix me, heal me, make me function. Eat well, sleep well, exercise well, and you’ll be alright.
And while I held these firm beliefs about my own health, both physically and mentally, I supported others who required medication to manage their physical and mental illnesses and limitations. Like family friends who were receiving chemotherapy to fight cancer or my sister Miya who was Bipolar and needed Lithium. I wholeheartedly believed there was no shame in it. Medication was completely necessary and reasonable.
Miya had learned to manage the rollercoaster ups and downs of her diagnosis. But although she was incredibly together, she still needed medication to function at her best. She was born chemically imbalanced. Her body and mind required external chemicals to push her back toward equilibrium. That wasn’t her being weak; that was her just being her. And I was all for it.
For two years after she died, my moods were all over the place. If you so much as looked at me the wrong way, I’d break down in tears. I was so depressed that everything felt like a struggle. My chemical balance was out of whack, and no food, exercise, or sleep routine was going to fix it.
I wouldn’t even consider medication. If my mom suggested getting on meds, I’d get pissed. “I don’t need it. I’m not sick.” I’d tell myself, I’m stronger than that. Medication is weak. I’m not mentally ill. But those were lies I convinced myself were true. Depression had wrapped itself around me, and I was quickly crumbling.
In January 2009, a few days after flying home prematurely from Tijuana because my boyfriend cancelled our trip to bike the Baja Peninsula, I called my mom while in bed to say I needed meds. I had tried everything else: therapy, gut detoxes, love, new jobs, new friends, travel, writing. Nothing was working.
I could feel her relief through the phone.
A week later, I hopped on a plane for California and checked myself into a facility outside Malibu. That’s how desperate I was. I didn’t trust myself. I didn’t trust that I knew what was good for me anymore. I blamed my imbalance on my environment, living in Michigan where I didn’t want to live. I blamed it on eating unhealthy. I blamed it on not exercising enough. I blamed it on my sister dying. I blamed it on being hospitalized for the kidney infection and pneumonia 9 months before. I blamed it on everything external. My moods were a product of my environment, I told myself. If I could just change that, it’d all go away.
Even writing about it makes me feel uneasy. I’ve kept this experience secret from some of my closest friends. It’s almost like I blocked it from my memory; I often forget it even happened.
The rehab center was filled with drug and alcohol addicts, like the young kid coming off heroin, shaking in the stairwell, painfully detoxing. I felt out of place. Here I was, the idiot who just couldn’t emotionally deal with life. I judged myself, I judged the situation, I even judge it now.
But despite all my judgments, I was still there because I saw an opportunity to rid of all external distractions. I wanted to be in a therapeutic situation that was completely controlled. I wanted to see if medication worked and if my unhappiness was due to my environment.
I wanted off the rollercoaster, and I was willing to do whatever it took.
Immediately, I was prescribed Prozac. I attended breakout sessions, listened to people’s stories, and I shared a little yet mostly kept to myself.
After a week, I went stir crazy and bulldozed my way out of the centrer. (I don’t do very well being forced to stay somewhere. I’m quite certain the staff thought I was certifiably insane because I was so hell bent on leaving.) But a week was enough to realize that my emotional moods had nothing to do with my environment back in Michigan. I was the same exact way at this facility as I was back home. My mood imbalance had everything to do with my brain’s chemistry. No one and nothing else was to blame. I was ready to return home, to the real world.
I committed to staying on Prozac. I met with Wainwright, a therapist who had seen almost every member of my family, particularly Miya when she was newly diagnosed Bipolar at age 11. She knew our family history so I didn’t have to spend weeks, wasting time, getting her up to speed.
A few weeks into my Prozac experiment, I vividly recall sitting sideways on my living room couch, my body glued to the cushions, staring out the front window, completely immobile, saying out loud to myself, “I feel nothing.” I couldn’t smile, cry, laugh, move. I texted Wainwright: “I think something is wrong with me.” My dosage was too high. So we played around with it. Dropped it some, raised it some, moved me to a slow-release pill. Soon, I could feel the difference. Sometimes I could even feel the moment the drug released, a surge of serotonin causing an uproar of bliss, even laughter. I could feel it lifting me above the surface, giving me perspective, allowing myself a chance to breath. Medication didn’t fix me. I fixed myself. It simply granted me the opportunity and clarity to reteach myself how to live happily, instead of continuing the downward spiral to which I had grown accustomed the past two years.
I stuck with it. Through grad school in Chicago and even for a bit in Austin. The slow release pills simply gave me a bit of a boost.
I remember the first time I forgot to take it. I felt nervous that something bad would happen, but I didn’t really notice a difference. Then I got another week and again, no difference. Then one day I decided I didn’t need it anymore and I stopped, cold turkey. (Traditionally, this isn’t a smart idea. I’m supposed to advocate having a medical professional regulate or oversee the withdrawing process. Luckily for me, the way I did it worked out just fine.)
Prozac did what it was supposed to do: lift me up when I was incredibly down so I could regain my composure. I felt rebalanced, I was happy again.
I wasn’t weak for taking it. It was exactly what I needed. It saved my life.
Note: I am not officially promoting medication, specifically Prozac. I am simply sharing my story to both inspire you to be more open and to reconsider that which you have avoided or feared.
Photo by Naturally Photography By Monni