Updated: Jan 19, 2020
I've never wanted to take anti-depressants. This resistance was something I have battled with most of my life.
Given that I have been on anti-depressants for a few months now, I wanted to openly share a little bit about my journey...
Since a young age, I battled with my mental health particularly as a result of growing up in an abusive household. Furthermore, witnessing my mom battle with Chronic Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was incredibly painful. Her conditions, however, opened up ongoing conversations regarding mental health within our family. She eventually sought out professional support and began taking anti-depressants. Though my mom has had her relapses, she has shared that the medication has really helped stabilize her.
While I have always supported her seeking the support she needs and advocated for others to do the same, when it came to me- medication was something I just didn't even want to consider. Wild how that happens right?
Similar to my mom it took me a really long time to finally seek professional support. When I finally did, I was diagnosed with Chronic Depression, Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Being diagnosed was very conflicting. A part of me felt seen, like it gave me the language to express how I felt and it was validating to a certain extent. But on the other hand, it also made me feel like there was something inherently wrong with me.
Mental Health is a Social Justice Issue
Being a part of sacred spiritual circles, social justice organizing and anti-hegemonic educational spaces- radically transformed my understanding of mental health, wellness and care.
While I had seen first hand how mental health issues plagued my family and how prevalent they were in the communities I am a part of, I finally had a deeper understanding as to why these disparities exist to begin with.
Mental health disparities are reflective of historical trauma, structural determinants and community conditions. These conditions are both perpetuated and sustained through social, political, and economic institutions. Thus, a majority of mental health issues within our communities are a direct result of colonization, oppression, capitalism, systemic inequities etc.
This newfound worldview helped me make sense of the circumstances of my life and the larger landscape I grew up in. Most importantly, it cultivated my critical consciousness and enhanced my own self-awareness. What I had been experiencing were symptoms of things waaaaay beyond me. Though this journey has been incredibly transformative, it has also been very challenging and overwhelming.
The Resistance to Medication
Knowing that the psycho-pharmaceutical industry profits off of pathologizing our communities, I became even more closed off to western medicine. As opposed to solely prescribing us medication, there needs to be revolutionary change within the world we live in... to say the least.
I didn't want to take western medication because I thought doing so would mean...
That I had to admit that I wasn't okay That something was wrong with me
That I couldn't heal on my own
That I needed help
I didn't want to take western medication because I wanted to stick with alternative healing modalities.
I didn't want to take western medication because of the shame around working within and pursuing a career in the mental health field, yet struggling with mental health myself.
I was also scared of the side effects...
How much worse will I feel in the beginning?
How long will it take until my body gets used to the medication?
Will it make me numb?
Will I have to be on medication forever?
Will I become dependent on it?
Will I get withdrawals if I try to stop taking them?
How will the medication affect me long term?
The First Attempt
During a depressive episode in the Summer of 2017, I felt as though I had no other option.
I had to drag myself to my appointments to begin meeting with a therapist and psychiatrist again. Aunque no queria, I knew I had to. Plus, I couldn't continue not showing up porque they charged me a fee if I didn't... so ahuevooo.
Given the state I was in, they immediately prescribed me Fluoxetine (an SSRI anti-depressant) and Ativan or Lorazepam (for my anxiety attacks). I failed to pick them up from the pharmacy numerous times as I did not want to take medication. Eventually, I picked them up though they just sat on my night stand for a good while until I finally tried taking Fluoxetine. After a week or two, however, I stopped taking them.
Partly because I just didn't want to be on medication and also because I couldn't fathom the idea of feeling worse. I couldn't afford to. At the time, I was in an intensive research program. Ps: she was still selected to represent the UCLA McNair Program- at a national level and share my work at the annual conference. High functioning depression is a THING.
It never felt like a good time to begin taking medications again because I was busy and of course did not want to feel worse- which is a common side effect when you begin taking them.
I committed to go to therapy, yoga and acupuncture the following year- which was really supportive in my recovery.
This Time Around
Since I graduated, I was no longer covered through the UC insurance. Given that I didn't have a full time job with benefits after I stopped working at UCLA, I applied for medi cal. This process took longer than I anticipated, so I wasn't covered until half way through the year. Though I was still working through inner resistance, I was determined to seek the support I needed. Yet having access to mental health professionals was nearly impossible- all were either not taking clients or the wait times were ridiculous.
Mid August this year, I had a severe mental health relapse triggered by the deep shadow work I had been doing and a physical health scare. I was losing hope and giving up on myself. This marked the beginning of another depressive episode and landed me in the hospital. Only exacerbated by a toxic ending of my last relationship and inflicted suffering.
My mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health had completely diminished. I was not sleeping, eating, working, getting out of bed etc. My depression had taken over me. Anxiety attacks were ever so present- making it hard to even breathe.
I had never felt more scared due to the dark mental health space I was in. I needed anything to help me get out of where I felt I couldn't get myself out of anymore.
Thus, my family flew me out to the bay so I could stay with them as I recovered. After attempting to get professional support and access to medication- my mom recommended that I begin taking 5mg of Ecitalopram (an SSRI anti-depressant). While this was a small dosage, I wanted to start off small because I was nervous about it and wanted my body to ease into it. *I consulted with my sister who is in the medical field; however, I do not recommend self-medicating as it can be life-threatening.
Once I finally met with a psychiatrist over a month later, I was prescribed Fluoxetine as it is said to help with Depression, Anxiety, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I began with 10mg, two weeks after that my dosage increased to 20mg and finally 40mg.
This whole process was...
(1) Exhausting as I had to be going to appointments weekly and then biweekly.
(2) Scary as I felt an increase in suicidal ideation.
(3) Confusing as heck because I didn't know what symptoms to associate with what.
I have been taking this specific dosage for over a month and anti-depressants for close to four months now.
Having my family hold space for me is what literally saved me.
While there have been many waves on my wellness journey, I am fucking proud of myself- even if that's hard to feel sometimes. I have now felt much more "stable"- even amidst the occasional inner turmoil and external chaos that surrounds me. Beyond "stability"- I am breaking muthaflowen cycles and reminded of the WARRIOR I am.
No, the medication won't heal me. But if it can help me sleep at night, eat a bit and most importantly increase levels of seratonin- this allows me to do the hard inner werkkk of personal liberation.