Opinion: Medication for mental health does not signify weakness

By Erin Bothwell | March 6, 2017 5:03pm

by Hannah Baade / The Beacon

A long time inhabitant of the Pacific Northwest, I was officially diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Depression (SAD) when I was fifteen. Having seasonal depression is fairly common here, especially as the sky greys in the fall, winter and spring seasons. Smiles start to disappear when the sun goes away.

Since the arrival of fall often means the beginning of the SAD season, my doctor wasn’t particularly worried about me. She recommended I try taking a light antidepressant. I refused. Thanks to an extremely thorough middle school health class, I was wary of medication.

I ended up trying alternative things to medication. Not only did I begin taking more vitamins, but I also took St. John’s Wort, tried acupuncture, meditation and talk therapy, took walks outside, bought a happy light and was talked into taking large amounts of natural supplements (a harmless, but expensive habit).

I wasn’t ready for doctor prescribed medication, because I was convinced by a certain Pacific Northwest attitude that if I only exercised more, drank more water, ate less sugar and more green vegetables, I would feel fine.

I was convinced that Americans are overmedicated, that if we all completely changed our lifestyles we would be 100 percent healthy and could empty our medicine cabinets. I thought kale was nature’s antidepressant. I thought I could Gwyneth Paltrow my way to complete mental health. Modern medicine was for weaklings! Or people with cancer. But not all-knowing teenagers.

But I still didn’t feel better.

If anything, I was on the brink of an eating disorder because I was trying to diet and exercise the SAD out. Trying to think of new ways to cut sugar and insert more greens and water in my life was becoming an obsession, but I thought that pills were only for people who couldn’t commit to a lifestyle change. I was wrong. Lifestyle was never the problem.

It took me years to realize taking a medication doesn’t mean I’m lax about my lifestyle. It doesn’t mean I’m not trying hard enough to feel better. It doesn’t mean I’m crazy or a drug addict. It doesn’t mean something’s wrong with me. It doesn’t mean I’m broken or weak. It doesn’t say anything about me. It’s a just a pill, after all.

I could choose to stop taking it at anytime, but I’m not the strongest swimmer. While other people freestyle or butterfly, I’m trying to doggy paddle through life, but sometimes I get tired, and I stop moving my arms. Then my legs stop kicking. And before I fully realize what’s happening, when my head’s submerged underwater, I start to sink.

But that’s where the medication comes in. Small and orange, it’s a tiny life vest, about the size of an auxiliary cord outlet. It buoys me, so I don’t hit the bottom before I remember how to swim. When I’m underwater, one miniscule pill lifts me above the surface so I can breathe.