I didn’t realize I was suffering from depression until many years into it. I finally went to a psychologist and psychiatrist when my life was falling apart. I felt awful and had felt awful for a very long time, but after getting on medications and feeling like a normal, happy person for a couple years, it all felt like an old unreal dream. So I decided to stop my medications. My doctors advised me against it, saying that if I had suffered more than 3 episodes, I should stay on medication indefinitely, but I had never “counted” my episodes. Really, it just felt like I was born with one long and nasty episode. I have been off my meds for a month now and I feel horrible. My anxiety is so bad that my whole body hurts from being so tense and shaky. I’m missing work either because I’m too busy crying or I just don’t want to deal with life. I feel lonely, sad, and hopeless. I feel like I am cursed for life. From what I have read and heard, depression occurs in episodes. But I feel like I am doomed to feel like this forever, having no respite unless I take high doses of medications. Is it possible that I just have a “lifetime long episode”? I only went to see a psychiatrist when I was 22, about a year after I moved out of my parents house. My parents are deniers of mental illness – the have a “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” / “you can’t possibly have depression” attitudes, so I always attributed my poor mental status to a character flaw. But when I reflect on my childhood and adolescence, I don’t ever remember being happy. I think I was always depressed. I cannot possibly live my life feeling this depressed but I don’t want to take medication for the rest of my life either. I haven’t even mentioned that my medications and behavioral therapies have done absolutely nothing to help my OCD. That I have heard can last a lifetime. I don’t think I can live like this. It’s getting to be too much. It can all be tolerated until you realize that, for the rest of your existence, none of this will go away.
Your thinking about these issues is skewed and inaccurate. Depression and anxiety are highly treatable conditions. You might be thinking this way because of how you were raised. It’s common to adopt the thinking of one’s parents, but it is important to believe in the truth, even if it’s inconsistent with the views we hold or those of our parents.
The way your parents think about mental health is antiquated and wrong. This line of thinking is probably responsible for the large number of people who don’t seek help for treatable conditions.
It’s important to point out that you went against medical advice. In addition, you now recognize that you’ve probably been depressed for a long time, longer than you had realized. It’s not clear if you have tried counseling. Counseling might be the missing element of your treatment. You’ve essentially been depressed for most of your life, without consistent treatment and saddled with the false idea that it is all your fault. This could well explain why you feel the way you do.
Studies have shown that counseling is highly effective for depression and anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective treatments for these conditions. Study after study have shown this to be true. If you’ve never tried counseling, then you have yet to try one of the first-line treatments for depression and anxiety.
If medication doesn’t work for you, then try different medications until you find one that works. If you don’t want to take medication you don’t have to, but you might take it temporarily to help you through these difficult times. You might also get a second opinion.
I would recommend calling at least 5 to 10 therapists and interviewing them over the phone. Ask them questions about how they would treat the problems you described. Choose the one with whom you make the strongest connection and meet him or her in person for a more in-depth interview.
It is tragic that people suffer with highly treatable mental health conditions. You don’t have to be one of those people. Good therapeutic treatments exist. It will be well worth your effort. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle