Once green and supple, the oak leaves behind my house are rendered into a crusty brown; their life essence a distant memory as they glide to the ground. I remember being a teenager, looking out the kitchen window onto the shedding trees of autumn and feeling a kind of ennui overcome and consume me. Not that such feelings would inspire my inner poet or lyricist, either. I was captive to the emptiness and powerless, it would seem, to convert them into anything useful. Time just kept moving forward, no end in sight, and I was plagued by my omnipresent angst.
Both my brothers, my only siblings, had died. One when I was seven and the other when I was 15. When most people my age were flirting with young romance or anticipating the freedom of soon having their drivers license, I was quietly questioning the nature of my existence. But unlike a philosophy student whose pondering must reveal a theory, my pondering meandered, endlessly weaving a confusing path through my consciousness, confounding me at every turn.
When asked how I was, I would assure my parents that I was absolutely fine. They were dealing with their own pain and heartbreak so why should I pile more onto theirs? Why should I be anything but strong and resilient for them? And maybe I thought that portraying a confident and unaffected persona, I’d somehow fool myself into thinking it was legitimate.
I waited a while until I acknowledged and embraced the “D” word.
Depression is a constant theme in my family and has been for a very long time. I remember a parade of babysitters looking after me and my little brother while my dad ran back and forth to the hospital to check on my mom whose depression had become such a problem that she was in around the clock clinical care. She wasn’t sick, I thought. Why is she in the hospital? What didn’t know then was that she was indeed very sick. Depression is an illness and should be treated as such.
Is pharmaceutical intervention necessary for the treatment of all depressive people? Probably not, provided that they’re doing something to mitigate their symptoms. Not taking medication while pretending you’re fine is a recipe for disaster. Who are we trying to kid?
However, much has been achieved in the field of psychology and counseling. Then again, this field can complement psychiatric care, when it’s necessary.
What’s important is that we do something to help ourselves – there’s no reason to suffer.
I’ve been off and on medication for years. As any person who has taken an antidepressant can tell you, just taking a pill doesn’t improve everything by itself. It, to use the words of my doctor, simply helps to takes the edge off. It helps to get your feet out of bed when you might want to stay under your blanket for the foreseeable future. It doesn’t alter your thinking or change you into a different person.
That said, twice in my life I’ve gone off my medication for an extended period of time. Once in 2011 and now. This last time, I’ve attempted to withdraw six times. The weaning schedule takes a month of gradually withdrawing the medication until there’s nothing left to take. In all five previous attempts, week three became my “oh shit, what was I thinking?” week as I decided that continuing to take the medication was preferable to feeling the side-effects (dizziness, cloudiness, anxiety, buzzing sounds in my head, muscle aches, to name a few). But I wasn’t resuming the medication because my medicine was subduing my depressive symptoms but because withdrawing was creating symptoms of its own. Which meant I needed to prepare myself to solider through it. On my sixth attempt, I’m off it. Even though the symptoms last far beyond the weaning period. I am now in the washout period.
And as Fall begins, with its crusty brown leaves drifting to the ground below, I wonder if this was a good idea. Recently, during an interview with Larry King, the singer Morrissey admitted he’s been depressed most of his life (big surprise) and yet had taken no medication for it. In so many words, he wants to feel his emotions freely. Everybody has to approach their struggle independently and I would never criticize another person for how they manage to get through. I can imagine the pathos of depression being a tremendous source of inspiration for the writer, poet and singer.
But I’m not venturing into my un-medicated life unarmed. I plan to meditate more. I turned to meditation in 2011 when I ventured off my medication the first time. It was a tremendous help. I’m also going to read more. I’m going to judge myself less and love myself more. I’m going to allow emotions to happen and give them space to be.
And, perhaps most importantly, I’m going to listen to what I need and obey. No longer living in resistance to what is.
In this way, I anticipate joyously the falling leaves of Autumn. Maybe I’ll see the beauty in them as I never have before.