What It’s Like to be Off the “Happy Pills”

Quote from “This Is What Depression Really Feels Like” by Elise Jamison in the Huffington Post:

“I have seen so many of my peers tweet about how depressed they are and they’re lives are so awful blah blah blah. Yes. We all have bad days. I get it. But depression is defined as severe despondency and dejection, felt over a period of time and accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy. There is a humongous difference between temporary sadness and dissatisfaction with your life, and the sinking desperation that is depression. It sucks when you don’t fit in and you are lonely, but that isn’t depression. Depression is the dark emptiness you feel that makes you believe you can contribute nothing to anyone or anything. You feel like your life means nothing to anyone.

My inspiration for this article was frustration. I was diagnosed at age 14 with depression, and I am so frustrated with all of the people around me who cannot differentiate between angst, PMS and mental illness. I have worked so hard in the last couple years to overcome this illness and it is still a daily battle. It took me years to even be able to acknowledge that I mattered and realize that people cared about me. There is nothing more frustrating than someone who says they are clinically depressed because they are feeling sad that day. It devalues the struggle I and so many others have endured. And to all of the incredibly ignorant people out there who think just because someone has a nice family, cushy home and pretty belongings does not mean they can’t be depressed — they lack the chemical serotonin in their brain. It has nothing to do with the fact that they wear Ferragamos or Target flip-flops.”

This might be the single most raw post that I ever write.

In all honesty, I hate that I am writing it.

But this past week has been a living hell for me, and I think that deserves to be addressed.

For those of you who don’t know – I suffer from clinical depression and anxiety.

Some people are shocked by this, and others are complacent – but most are simply ignorant. Most often I am met with sideways glances of disbelief and frustrated looks of disproval; people struggle to understand what it even means and they refuse to acknowledge it as a legitimate sickness. They tell me that happiness is a choice. They tell me that I am just tired because of college. They tell me that I am just blowing it out of proportion. Mostly, they just don’t understand. Simply put – none can comprehend the scope, and so they often disregard it entirely. Which is utterly and heartbreakingly invalidating for me in every aspect.

This is a mental disease. Wait, did you catch that? This – depression and anxiety -are legitimate mental illnesses. But who seriously ever believes that?

It is so important that people understand that this has nothing to do with happiness or choice, and everything to do with brain chemistry.

The truth is, every single day of my life is like swimming through a pool of molasses.

People toss around the phrase “depression” like it’s some sort of easy way to get attention. Like its some kind of lighthearted joke to easily describe how you feel when you’re having a  rough day.  I think that is the worst part about it –  because my sickness does not manifest itself externally, people are quick to invalidate me for it.

Most of it is unintentional. I don’t believe that people set out with malicious intent to beat me down, but because of the lack of understanding I often fall prey to thoughtlessness.

The amount of times in the past week that people have spat “What’s your problem?” at me are innumerable;  and each of these was coupled with expressions of absolute distaste. No matter where I went this week, the criticism was inescapable, and relatively constant.

And it was completely invalidating.

I hate this disease. I hate that I can’t function like a normal human. I hate that I have to suffer through it. I hate being a freak.

I have been on the same medication (fluoxetine) since I was diagnosed my junior year of high school; at the time the doctor prescribed it mostly out of desperation. She wasn’t sure that it would work in my case, but because of how high I scored in her routine depression assessment she was more concerned with regulating  my brain with something rather than letting it stew as we tried to figure out the best option. Fluoxetine is basically the gateway drug to depression medicine, most people start there and mess with it until they find out that something else works better. However, like I said, I scored high – so high in fact that the doctor basically wanted to put me on suicide watch.

Fast forward to now, almost three years later, and the medication has stopped working.  With all the stress and sleepless nights of college I found myself hyperactive or robotic but never in between. The medicine was messing with my brain, and I was sinking deep. I lost all my passion. I lost my will. I lost my motivation. When you suffer from a mental illness like depression something as simple as getting out of bed in the morning can be the most difficult task that you face all day. After suffering from a migraine for four weeks I decided it was probably time to see the doctor, oh – and the fact that I ran out of the fluoxetine and my prescription was expired. No surprise, he gave me the same test. I got the same score. Even on the meds, this doctor was extremely concerned and wanted to put me on suicide watch. He highly recommended counseling, but he gave me a new drug.

Which leads me to why this last week was a literal hell.

Because this illness has to do with the function of the brain and any medication for it deals directly with regulating it, I had to ween myself off of the fluoxetine before starting the new medication. Which meant an entire week of no medication for me.

I often like to pretend that depression isn’t as crippling as it really is. I try to believe that off the medicine I’ll be fine. That I’m not such a freak that I absolutely need a “happy pill” to get me through the day. But, like I said before, since it is a regulatory drug my body was basically in panic mode all week. There wasn’t a second where I wasn’t shaking, and opposite of normal when I am entirely robotic, there wasn’t a second when I wasn’t on the verge of crying. I was just trying to hold it together. To get through the week without too many breakdowns, heck, to even get out of bed in the mornings, was my sole goal.

Imagine how much harder that is when everyone is constantly reminding you how dysfunctional you are.

So, I write this not so that you will pity me, in fact, I think I would be pretty frustrated with that outcome. Rather, I write this because this week has waged war on my soul. Every part of me aches.

My constant thought as I navigated the week was that if I was just “normal” I would be able to handle it. If I wasn’t such a freak that I was shaking like a Chihuahua and navigating the campus like a zombie, then everything would have been fine. If I was “normal” comments about me being “pissy” wouldn’t have mattered so much, sideways glances of disgust wouldn’t have made me burst into tears.

When your brain is so used to being on medication and then you suddenly rip that away it sends everything into a tailspin, and because of that everything is ten times harder to navigate. Everything feels like the end of the world.

There are moments when I legitimately think that I am going insane. I genuinely feel like my brain is betraying me. And to have people point that out when all I am trying to accomplish is basic life functions is crippling.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could control it?

My brain is a force of it’s own. It is a machine completely independent of me. It is a broken contraption of hurt and longing, of ache and pain, of disgust and shame.

And shame is exactly what I feel, all the time. I am so ashamed of my illness. Not because of what I believe about it, but because of the way that society has made me feel because of it.

I refuse to apologize for my sufferings because they make you uncomfortable. I refuse to let your lack of understanding be the source of such crippling shame. I refuse to let the confines and dictates of your carelessness set the course of my life.

And let’s be honest, even if I wasn’t suffering from any of these mental sicknesses, don’t you think it’s already awful to address someone’s lack of enthusiasm with such harsh comments? Isn’t the point to love each other, not shame one another into acting in a socially comfortable and artificially happy way for the sake of your wellbeing?

I’m begging you to think before you speak. I’m begging you to think about the repercussions of your words.

This week was already hard enough as I waged war with myself, and the commentary was no welcome guest.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Hannah Schnabel says:

    To be perfectly honest, I don’t often have the time to read many of your posts. But I am VERY glad I read this one. I love that you are brave enough to put yourself out there and express your raw feelings. This is not something that I struggle with personally, but i know someone very dear to my heart does. They express the same exact feelings you wrote here, and a lot of the times I, unfortunately am one of those people that just fail to understand why they feel that way and get frustrated with them. This person hasn’t even been to the Dr about it, but there are many rough days. So THANK YOU for writing this and reminding me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. AJ Freibott says:

      Hannah, thank you for your sweet words. They are encouraging, especially in response to something as vulnerable as this. Thank you for reading 🙂


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