In 1997, I had my first session with a therapist. She regarded me with uncertainty. She looked at me like we were acquaintances out to lunch and I was inappropriately dumping all my shit on her. “Aren’t you going to ask me some questions?” I asked her. “What do you think I should ask?” she asked back.
Convinced by her underwhelmed response that I was only feeling sorry for myself, I didn’t seek therapy for another 2 years.
It was right around 1999 that some my friends started going to EMDR therapy. I called their doctor and got a referral for someone in this field closer to where I was living. I found Susan. I loved going to Susan. She made the future seem bright, my problems seem common, and the obstacles I faced surmountable. She assured me I would only be in therapy for a couple of months and that the work we were doing would give me the tools I needed to move on and have a normal life.
Occasionally, seemingly for no reason, I would have to fight the urge, with all my being, often in public, to cry uncontrollably. I shared this with Susan one day and her eyes became wide and fearful and her usually calm and soothing voice took on a sense of urgency and panic. “You have to call a pyschopharmacologist,” she said. “You have to call a psychopharmacologist and get a prescription for antidepressants.”
The word “Psychopharmacologist” is absolutely terrifying. It literally breaks down to “crazy killer” + “chemical brain drug maker”. I imagined a man in a white lab coat, erasing my personality forever. The face of my beloved therapist became the face of Nurse Ratchett.
Understand this was 15 years ago. Prozac had just hit the market and it seemed like a fun thing for self-pitying rich people to do. It seemed like a weapon of mass obstruction, the true opiate of the masses. I was convinced that the root cause of my sadness, of all sadness, was alienation from living in a capitalist society. That the causes were external and if I organized towards a just and better world, I wouldn’t feel so terrible all the time.
I understood Susan’s diagnosis as a failure over my own resolution to be happy, and on some level, being ungrateful and selfish in a world where I had so much and others had so little. I started a drama club at the school where I worked, I went back to graduate school, I organized with a campaign for an independent candidate running for office. As long as I didn’t have any time to be in my own head I would be safe.
The bouts of depression became just a part of who I was, part of my personality. Rather than go on medication from the evil pharmacy companies, I preferred to suffer. Stoically. Like a good Irish Catholic. Some luxurious affliction like depression was unthinkable. Irish people got real diseases, like stomach cancer and cirrhosis. We died at the hands of Imperial Englishmen, not because we were sad.
After a good run masking my symptoms and self-medicating, I ended back in therapy with a woman in Jersey City in 2012.
I went to see her for probably around 3 months. It went like this. I would get there, cry for an hour, and then make an appointment to do the same thing again the following week. Eventually, she gave me the same nervous, wide-eyed panic stricken expression that Susan had given me. But she said something like, “You need to go to the emergency room right now and tell them you are depressed! They will give you psychotropic drugs.” Everything she was saying made me feel like a character in a Joyce Carol Oates story. I saw myself as the middle aged woman with bad teeth and broken dreams sitting with the dispossessed of the ER in the middle of that sad and grey short story right before the serial killer custodial worker no one notices comes and kills me and eats my skin. No thank you.
I doubled down on my SAM-E, on my yoga classes, going to the gym regularly for boxing, juicing, meditating, reading self-help books… the causes were internal and if I could find the secret to being happy inside, I would be cured. That was the up cycle. I live in Jersey City which gave me the opportunity to drink socially with a different group of people every night, so I could go for weeks without having to address any issues. I was happy, funny, hysterical even. I convinced myself I was better.
Last September, I was lucky, but so lucky, that one of my friends had the courage and love to tell me, calmly and without scary words, that I was depressed. I was lucky, but so lucky, that another friend of mine had a mother who was a psychiatrist who would do my intake over the phone. I was incredibly lucky that she could prescribe Wellbutrin and that Wellbutrin would be successful in helping neurotransmitters in my brain do what they needed to do.
Almost a year after taking anti-depressants, I am still me but happy. I don’t lay in bed all day unable to move because I am in so much physical pain. I don’t lock myself in my apartment anymore because the idea of smiling and pretending to be happy is too much to bear. I am sharing this because I don’t want anyone else to lose so much time waiting to be happy. I am sharing this because everyone deserves that friend who can tell you calmly and without scary words, You are depressed, you need help.