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12:01 p.m. - 2004-11-26
Stronger than Skin
I had the best Thanksgiving I've had in a long time, largely because I did not deal with any stupid family shit. I went and had a lovely dinner with the gay uncles and their assorted friends, came home, took a nap, and hung out with GID (he finally realized, after repeated conversations and e-mails on the topic, that I was not going to subject myself to his family dysfunction).

Now, on to my real topic for today...why people (especially guys) seem to have serious issues and/or prejudices about being on antidepressant medication. I've seen numerous personal ads that say things like "no Prozac princesses" or "I meet chicks and then find out they're on Zoloft." Even GID doesn't really like that I'm on Prozac, and he really didn't like my brief flirtation with Effexor. One of my friends in college, TD, and I got into numerous fights about the antidepressant issue. His basic position was that I just needed to get over my shit, that I was still overweight and unhappy, and that therefore, Prozac wasn't doing me any good at all.

Excuse me, motherfucker, but you don't live in my head, ummkay? There's a difference between being vaguely discontent with your life and being suicidal.

Then, of course, you get the "well, doctors just hand that shit out like candy and it doesn't do any good. You need to learn to deal with your problems." True. Getting a prescription is not that difficult. And I have no doubt that there are people on the medication who really don't need to be. However, for the people it does help, it is a treatment for an ILLNESS. It's like taking medication for high blood pressure. It doesn't necessarily make the problem go away, but combined with other therapies, it can be very effective in controlling the problem so you can function.

I think the problem most guys have is that they sort of, in the back of their minds, think women have a propensity to be weak and neurotic and emotionally unstable. Also, at least in my experience, men don't like it when women display emotion, because they don't know how to deal with it. I'm not saying all men are like this, but a number of the ones my friends and I have dated sure are. They are perfectly willing to let you listen to them whine about how the world has totally mistreated them and how their lack of achievement and/or happiness is because of everything but them. However, if you show the faintest sign of needing to be propped up a little, of needing a shoulder to cry on, all of a sudden you get this "you're being too clingy" routine. When I've foolishly decided to quit taking Prozac for brief periods, guys don't like that me. For that matter, I don't like that me.

It's not just men, either. There are women who could really benefit from the use of antidepressants, but who won't take them because of this across-the-board prejudice. Maybe "prejudice" is not the right word....perhaps "misinformation" would fit better. Even people who can accept that depression is a "real" illness don't ever want to think they suffer from it. My mother is a classic example. My brother and I have both taken antidepressants for years. My mom has seen firsthand the difference it has made to us. But whenever I suggest that she might possibly want to look into it, she claims that's not the problem. Whatever.

I wrote about this problem five years ago, but it's not any better now. There is still a stigma attached. I find it very strange how societal stereotypes have shifted. Since it's no longer acceptable to be a racist or a sexist, we're switching to hating people based upon conditions. Instead of bias against skin color or ethnicity or gender, it's about obesity and depression and ADHD and drug addiction. These biases are double-edged swords. On one hand, those who suffer from one of these conditions feel like they are being unduly persecuted and that those who hold the biases are being mean and unfair, but the biases seem to extend to treatment, too. It's okay to make fun of Prozac and Ritalin and diet drugs and gastric bypass and drug treatment centers. It's okay to insinuate to a suffering person that "well, I'm not sure that's really helping you" and "why are you wasting your time in therapy"...but what it all boils down to is "why can't you just get over it and quit being fucked up??? It's all in your mind, anyway, and if you were a stronger, worthy person, you wouldn't have these problems."

That's the barrier. That's the issue. People don't want to seek help and treatment because they are afraid of what their friends and family will say. People keep their therapy a secret, their prescriptions a secret, and their addictions even more of a secret. That's bullshit. When scientific advances have been made that can help people with their illnesses, people should feel relieved at having these things available, not embarrassed. However, when you're confronted with damnation on either side of you...that is, you are facing the bias against both your condition and its management....all that happens is paralysis and misery and pain and a feeling of utter aloneness.

Of course, like all prejudices, the root cause is fear. Fear of being fat, fear of being seen as neurotic, fear of being seen as weak. And unfortunately, this seems to make a much sharper dividing line. It's one thing to fear something because it's not like you or not like what you are used to. It's something else entirely when the fear is because it could BE you. That makes for even more vehemence of "it's all in your head" and "there's no such thing" and "you're just lazy or weak." It's because everyone battles some kind of inner demon, and they fear the day when they have to call in the reinforcements...because then everyone will know that they couldn't do it on their own.

Personally, I'm very open about being depressed and being treated for it. My Prozac prescription has never been a secret from anyone. I refused to be ashamed about exploring all of the resources available to me. I guess that, for me, I would rather know that I am doing everything I can to overcome my problems than trying to be all macho about it. This has not been easy for me, either. I was offered Zoloft when I was 18, but I refused to take it because of the fear, because of the "I can get over it on my own" pride factor. That was dumb. That was one of those "wish I had an undo button" moments. My life would have been different if I had realized some things at 18 that I didn't really discover until I was 23. I don't know that there would have been less emotional pain, but it would have been different things....things that I'm just discovering now.

But I don't want to get bogged down in "woulda, coulda, shoulda." I have to think that everything in my life has had a purpose. While I do wish I had done something about the fat thing and the depression thing much earlier in life, I think that I am a stronger person, and a more compassionate and empathetic person, for my experiences. Because I have been judged on my appearance and found wanting, I am less likely to judge others based on what's outside. Because I have been depressed and unhappy and alone, I am more likely to reach out when I see someone suffering.

I read a quotation by Clarissa Pinkola Estes (author of Women Who Run with the Wolves) that really made sense, and that I try to keep in mind when I'm feeling completely fucked in the head:

"...Although there are scars, and there may be plenty of them, it is good to remember that in tensile strength and ability to absorb pressure, scar tissue is far stronger than skin alone."



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