When Therapy Isn't Enough: Why I Chose to Go on Antidepressants

by Dee Rene

I’m a Black, Southern, Christian naturalista. Yes, I’m the person that tosses out the pain medications after a broken finger or uses tea tree oil for infections. If I can’t solve the problem with something from Whole Foods, I’m likely not interested.

Until depression came through asking, “Who’s gonna check me, boo?”

Years of feeling a little “off/down” but pushing through anyway, relying on prayer, meditation, yoga, and hiding when the pain was unbearable finally became too much to bear.

Crisis level reached, achievement unlocked: I was diagnosed severe depression, or its official title—Major Depressive Disorder. After receiving my diagnosis, I was completely confident that professional therapy would be enough.

Until my initial meeting with the psychiatrist… She was a black woman slightly older than me. I felt more like my aunt was giving me a stern “talking to,” instead of having a meeting with a psychiatric professional.

She simply asked, “Aren’t you tired of being strong? You must be exhausted.”

I cried.

I was tired. I was actually beyond exhausted trying to hold it all together living the double life of depression. Not everyone is huddled in a corner not showering for days. Some of us are running things at work, out at happy hour, visiting friends… and dying inside. But you’re so used to wearing the mask and meeting the “strong” woman expectations that you just keep plowing ahead, even when everything inside of you is screaming, the crying spells come more frequently, the insomnia never stops, and God feels so very far away.

She wrote me a prescription and told me to give it a chance. “Medications don’t cure you. Imagine you’re in a fog and drowning, the medication can lift the fog, so you can think clearly and pull yourself up,” she said and placed the prescription in my hand. She also reiterated that medication was a temporary solution. As I continued therapy and developed better coping skills, I could wean back.

The prescription note stayed in the bottom of my purse for two weeks. Taking medication seemed like something a rich housewife would do.

I just couldn’t. Wasn’t prayer enough? Wasn’t meditation enough? Wasn’t therapy enough? I just didn’t want that type of stigma. It was bad enough to be in the therapy office like it’s my job, but to be “medicated”? I didn’t want to be a zombie. I didn’t want the label or side effects. I just didn’t want any of it. I believed I could do it on my own.

Until someone close to me came through with the facts: “You aren’t getting better. If your methods were truly working, why are we here—to this point? You’re no less Christian because you take a medication for your mind. Nobody says that to anyone who has cancer. It’s faith and works. Treatment and prayer. Your illness IS real and you deserve to be healed.”

That was the breaking point. I wasn’t getting better and I was desperate. And tired.

All this time I was treating my illness—and it had taken me a long time to accept it as an illness—like a common cold when it was more like pneumonia. Talk about humbling.

I sat in my therapist's office shortly after and told her that I didn’t think I could heal with the methods I’d used in the past to simply stay afloat. I was ready to try medication. I was ready to save myself.

Of course, there was trial and error. My first set of medications had me falling asleep standing up. My second set has given me superhero-like energy, so now I have to be diligent about burning some of that energy (hello, exercise) and taking them early in the day.

But it’s working.

And I wouldn’t trade progress for anything. The guilt, shame, denial, side effects, stigma—all of it. I’ll deal with all of it if it means I’m starting to get better.

The psychiatrist was right, however: this is no cure-all. Unless I do the therapy and the work on my own to heal my mind I’ve only done half of what’s needed to make real change. Tackling depression with therapy and medication is similar to breaking a bone—the crutches and cast can help you heal, but you must also do the physical therapy to get your full strength and mobility back. It’s going to take both for true healing.

Making the decision to go on antidepressants was perhaps the hardest decision of my life. It felt like a defeat to need a medication to help me get my mind back. However, it ultimately saved my life. It’s not for everybody and you’ll have to decide what works best for you, but if nothing is else is working, it may be worth trying after consulting your doctor.

You’re worth it. You deserve healing too.

Dee Rene is a connoisseur of snacks and brunch. Her focus is holding onto faith in all the things that make us laugh, cry and cuss. Follow me her on Twitter: @deerene_.

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