Photo via Flickr user Kleuske
This past Monday I did a stand-up show, and one of the other comics said something along the lines of, “I have depression, but I recently stopped taking my medications.” The crowd applauded in support of her strength and resilience.
I am very happy for my friend and fellow comic if she is feeling good. I appreciate that people have a great respect for self-reliance. But as someone who goes into a month-long manic tailspin every few years, as well as more frequent batshit-crazy days-long episodes of depression every few months, I know I need my pills. I take medications every morning and night—they’re my breakfast and they’re my dessert. I love them. And frankly, I was a little weirded out that the idea of not taking medications is worthy of applause.
Can you imagine if a comic walked on stage and said, “I have diabetes, but I haven’t taken my insulin in three weeks”? The room wouldn’t have been so supportive. People would probably say, “Wait, why?” or, “Oh, you shouldn’t do that!” or, “Please don’t have a seizure, I only have one spoon with me right now and would rather not use it to secure your tongue. Also, please don’t ask why I brought a spoon to a comedy club.”
That audience’s reaction brought me back to the feelings of trepidation and shame I had when I was initially thinking about going on medications, a decision that in hindsight, I’m extremely proud of. Getting help for my issues was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, because when I get dangerously sad or manic, those feelings seek to perpetuate themselves. My sadness compels me to hide it so that people won’t judge me. Seeking help would have blown my cover. Meanwhile, my mania convinces me that it’s making me fun so I’ll want to dive further into it. Seeking help would’ve ruined that good time. Overcoming the effects those feelings have on me—and they way they make me antisocial, unapproachable, and impossible to deal with—was very hard, even without the social stigmas that come with declaring to the world I can’t handle my shit.
My medications make me easier to deal with. They don’t interfere with my creativity or turn me into a zombie or dull my real personality. They help me connect with people, allow me to stay calm when situations seem overwhelming, and help keep my thoughts from racing out of control. They help me leave the house when I’m scared to. They help.
I won’t lie—there are certain drawbacks to medication, mostly the side effects. It’s important to note that the side effects of these drugs have generally lessened since I started taking them in 2002. But I’d argue that even at their worst, these side effects don’t detract from one’s well-being more than being a lunatic with out-of-control emotions does. To illustrate this, I’ve listed the side effects of various medications I’ve taken over time, as well as the behaviors that made those medications necessary. We can all judge together if the pills are a net benefit or not.
Side effects of Depakote (in 2002):
First of all, there was the short-term memory loss. I would often find myself in the middle of conversations with no knowledge of what I was talking about. This affected my work (I often had to have things explained to me multiple times because I would forget what conversation I was having) and my social life—I was once on a date with a young lady and had to interrupt her to say, “I have no idea what we’re talking about, I’m sorry.” Needless to say, my game was not as smooth as it could have been. I also became a real fat fuck. I was warned when I went on Depakoe that it would be hard to lose any weight I put on. Instead of watching my eating and starting to exercise more, I altered nothing about my life and ballooned up to close to 180 pounds, the largest I’ve ever been.
How Depakote helped me:
I was able to talk to other human beings, including girls, without averting my eyes and wanting to shit my pants. This allowed me to have calm conversations with people I was intimidated by. I was able to ask out girls when I sensed they thought I was charming, instead of quaking in fear and avoiding seeing them ever again. So while I was now fatter and occasionally forgetful, I could take ladies on dates and comfortably interact with other humans. Also, before I went on Depakote, I had an overactive long-term memory focused primarily on self-hatred and doubt. While my short-term memory suffered under the effects of medication, my non-medicated memory kept bringing up all the times I fucked up, all the conversations I ruined, and all the unlikeable things about myself.
Being skinny and silent loses out to being chubby and social, especially since the skinniness was at least in part due to the constant shitting caused by my anxiety. And while my memory lapses lead to some truly uncomfortable interactions, the overall improvement in my opinion of myself is decidedly worth it.
Side effect of Risperdal (in 2002):
Risperdal is arguably the most heavy-duty drug I’ve ever been put on. It is a straight-up anti-psychotic that I took for a few years when things got really bad. Risperdal itself only gave me tightened-up back muscles, but the muscle relaxer they gave me to deal with that had a severe side effect. How do I put this?
It made me ejaculate water.
That’s really the simplest way to explain it. I’m sure that it wasn’t actual molecules of hydrogen bonded to oxygen emerging from my penis; I’m sure that the substance actually did include bodily fluids more akin to the substance I ejaculated before and after being on Risperdal. That being said, whatever I was cumming, to the naked eye, looked like pure H2O.
I can remember few instances in my life that were sadder than the first time I masturbated after these side effects set in. I cried instantly when I saw the results. The anxiety of it potentially happening again lead to future instances of crying during masturbation, which was actually less sad—the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain intermingled so directly that the experience was borderline poetic.
How Risperdal helped me:
While you may think that nothing is worth cumming water and crying while masturbating, the behaviors Risperdal helped solved were scary and were probably putting my life in danger. Specifically, I suffered from severe bouts of paranoia. This paranoia presented itself in some innocuous but annoying ways, like my inability to sleep through an entire night without waking up 15 times thinking I had slept through my alarm and was late for something. There were also less-innocuous manifestations, like how I refused to push the button to signal busses to stop because I was convinced the government could track me if I did, or how I was unable to drive at night because I would convince myself the car behind me was a cop about to pull me over. These were life-altering fears and behaviors that only got worse over time. On top of that, my personal relationships suffered immensely because of my ever-growing suspicions that people around me were out to sabotage me.
Tie. The paranoia was insane, ruined my life, and I remember the exact day when the medication took hold and my paranoid behaviors began to lessen. It remains one of the best days of my life. That being said, I came water. Nothing’s going to balance that out completely, so we’ll call this one a push.
Side effects of Wellbutrin (from 2007 onward):
How Wellbutrin helped me:
Oh I don’t know, maybe it helped me not feel the way I felt when I crashed a car just to see if I would live or die.
Not taking this medication. Psych!
Side effects of Adderall (in 2012):
Intense muscle cramps, a constant need to urinate, alternating inability to gain an erection and inability to ejaculate once an erection was maintained, and increased muscle tension that led to internal hemorrhoids that caused me to shit bright red blood.
How Adderall helped me:
My shrink had a hunch that a lot of my anxiety was rooted in some ADD and OCD tendencies, so she put me on Adderall. The benefits were that I felt like a superhero who didn’t need to sleep or eat, I could get projects done seemingly as soon as I thought of them, and my ability to be charming and quick-witted increased by roughly 1,000 percent.
Not taking this medication. Adderall is not for me. It’s pretty clear that I didn’t have OCD/ADD imbalances and was basically just turning into a meth head. That said, I have an unfinished bottle of Adderall in a drawer somewhere, so if any NYU sophomores want to trade goods for them, hit me up.
For those keeping score, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks by a tally of 3-1-1. It’s not really a contest.
I’m down to support anyone who looks to get better. If someone feels strong for not taking pills, I applaud them. But I hope people out there who might not suffer from mental illness themselves understand that those who are not in a healthy frame of mind often have a lot of fear and paranoia about admitting weakness, and it makes getting help a truly terrifying prospect. From calling a doctor to showing up at his office to getting a prescription to putting a pill in your mouth, there are a lot of chances to bail on giving yourself the help you need. To actually admit that you have a sickness, get help for it, and get to a point where you’re regularly taking medications involves a lot of soul-searching, shit-eating, and fear. Not needing pills is strong, sure. Taking them is sometimes even scarier, so let’s applaud that too.
PS: I'm still not sure if cumming water is worse than shitting blood.
Also by Chris: Why I Quit Drinking