Reinvent Yourself

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So I Went Back on Meds

What happens when a depressed person starts taking medication after years off?

By Nicola O’Hanlon

As I wrote about a little over a month ago, I decided to go back on medication for depression. I had been on and off depression medication for many years but since getting sober three-and-a-half years ago, I’d decided that all my issues were due to alcoholism and I thus found it necessary to prove to the world and everyone in it that they were wrong about me needing medication. Clearly the doctors didn’t have a clue what they were talking about! My recovery program was all I needed!

So I started tapering off the meds. And so began the return to Crazytown. Admittedly, at first it was kind of hard to recognize my craziness had returned because I had stopped drinking and using. Externally, life was becoming more manageable, my family found me more approachable and I was physically and mentally looking way better. 

But after a year-and-a-half of being off medication, one day I had an epiphany. It happened to follow a major meltdown where I realized that my brain was either saying “Ah, shit, fuck, panic” or “Yawn I don’t want to, leave me alone”—that there was no middle ground.

Does this sound like quality, balanced sobriety to you? Nah, me neither. Now believe me, I work a good program, pray, meditate and go to meetings. I’ve got a sponsor, I am a sponsor and I do lots of service work. So I had become a little baffled by why I was still crazy in my brain. I had total faith in my fellowship and what it offered and I was promised a life of happiness, joy and freedom. And so I wondered why I wasn’t feeling all zen-like.

Trust me that I went through the stage of coming up with every conceivable negative outcome and reason for not taking meds again—everything from “They will stifle my creativity” to “I’ll get fat”—and of course the major one, “It will kill my sex drive.” I will admit, there do seem to be a few extra pounds around my tummy but the truth is that this is because I’m eating too much cake and my exercise routine is not as consistent as it usually is. It is not because I’m on antidepressants.

As it turns out, the answer to my lack of zen-ness was that alcoholism is not my only problem. And as much as I hate that fact, I have accepted it and am back on 15 milligrams of Lexapro every day. To say the results are miraculous is an understatement. Ask anyone who had the fortune or misfortune (depending on who you’re talking to) of having had to spend time with me over the past few years. My brain is essentially grinning from ear to ear, due to the fact that it now sleeps more than three hours every night and it gets to wake up sanely and calmly instead of being jump started on caffeine and adrenalin. 

And guess what else? I can make decisions—rational, big-girl decisions without having to bounce a bunch of possibilities around inside my head like a cage fighter. Even small decisions like what to wear on a particular day had started to become major catastrophes to me, whereas now I feel like whatever I put on is just fine.

Another miraculous event is I am not reacting to every single thing in my life. Six weeks ago, my rational self would be taken over by my insane self at the slightest thing that seemed not quite right and I honestly couldn’t control myself. I would fly off the handle, knowing that what I was saying and doing was not appropriate but my emotional condition was so out of balance that as hard as I tried, it would still break loose and attack others like a wounded animal. Now “Let Go and Let God” and “Easy Does It” are slogans that I can follow. Before, I could say but couldn’t practice them. 

I also have come to understand the concept of minding my own business. I can see others behave in a way that would usually send me into orbit—in a way where it would feel paramount that I have my say and of course be right at all costs. Now I can stand back, allow the annoyance to pass over and not get myself involved in situations that have nothing to do with me. And that right there is a big fat miracle for me because naturally I have a big mouth and an even bigger personality. I guess you could say my ego drove me at the rate of a speeding train. Now I’m kind of floating along in a gondola.

Essentially, when I accepted that I had a chemical imbalance in my brain and decided to seek professional help, it made me able to practice my program more efficiently and thoroughly. I am grateful for every itty bitty thing in my life (except the really bad stuff—I will never be grateful for that). I am not full of fear in the mornings and on tender hooks with anxiety. I can also recognize feelings now, rather than solely experiencing extreme highs and lows.

I see my depression as something that needs to be respected and treated just like my addiction and my diabetes. I am grateful for doctors who know more than I and I am grateful for the passage in the Big Book that talks about seeking outside help when needed. There is most definitely a place in my recovery for tools that aid me in staying clean and sober and that is how I view my antidepressants. 

Also, since getting back on medication, I made the decision to go to therapy to deal with some issues that I needed to face. And I’m planning to take up yoga when the kids go back to school. At the rate I’m going, who knows if my next piece will be about the fact that I’ve learned to levitate? 

This post originally appeared on AfterPartyChatNicola O’Hanlon is a regular contributor to AfterPartyChat as well as part of the blogging community for the recovery website intherooms.com. She was born and still lives in Wexford, Ireland. Medication photo courtesy of ArtsForHealthMMU.

Reinvent Yourself