Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Response to a message on a web site

On the evening of May 27, 2014, I received a message from a young woman on a unique networking web site I participate in that relies on making connections through common experiences. The experience that I have in common with the woman who contacted me is a diagnosis of Dysthymia. According to her profile, she had just created her account that day:
I am 19 and i have Dysthymia. I will be 20 soon and i would like to have children in 3-5 yrs. I dont want to be dependent on medication, because if i am, i cannot have them. If i am off of meds i am crazy. I dont take them like i am supposed to. I feel like my old self (my NORMAL self) is trapped in this foreign body, trying to break free.
I was a little surprised by the message and was unsure about how to respond, though I definitely wanted to. I decided to take some time to think about what she said and reply to her the next morning. What follows is my response:
Hello, dear. 
I can appreciate your concerns about having children while medicated. My girlfriend is on anti-depressant medication as well, wants to have children and is also worried about what effects the medication would have on our baby. 
I would suggest talking to a doctor about what your options are—when the time comes. They’re going to be in a much better position to tell you what the risks are.
I’m trying to imagine what it would be like if my girlfriend were to stop taking her medication for a pregnancy. I love her very much and would definitely be there for her, support her and help her any way that I can. I would hope that when the time comes for you, if you were to go off your meds to have children, that you have someone in your life to help, comfort and support you through that time. Of course, we all hope for the ideal, to be part of a loving couple deciding to start a family. 
It’s good to remember also that antidepressants are not addictive. We certainly “depend” on them to regulate our moods and keep us emotionally balanced but, in my experience at least, I’ve never thought of my meds making me happy, just keeping me chemically balanced and allowing me to experience life’s ups and downs in a more typical fashion.
I remember when I first started taking antidepressants in the late ‘90s and they finally started to kick in. I was still in the military and I remember walking from my barracks to the administration building and thinking to myself… “I’m not sad… something’s not right… this isn’t normal… no, wait a minute… this is what normal is supposed to feel like.” 
After a while, I tried to go off of the medication, wondering if I could maintain that balanced without it… but I discovered that that simply wasn’t the case. Dysthymia is a chronic illness. It can’t be cured, just treated. So, I simply had to accept the fact that I would have to be on antidepressant medication for the rest of my life. I have since made my peace with that. I would rather have this daily routine of taking some pills first thing in the morning and living an emotionally healthy life than take my chances without them.
I’ve tried going off of my meds a few times over the years. The results weren’t pretty. I have also been hospitalized a number of times for my depression and being suicidal. Thankfully, I’ve always been able to recognize when I needed help and knew what I needed to do to get it. 
I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around what you said about feeling as though your “old self (…NORMAL self)” is “trapped in this foreign body…”
When I first read your message last night, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I knew that I would have to sleep on it and give it some more thought in the morning before I responded. 
Let me start by saying something that is trite but true: There is no such thing as “Normal.” 
There might be “typical,” “common” and “usual” but there are so many variations in lives, experiences and abilities to cope with them (helped and hindered by any number of factors from our upbringing to our use or misuse of pharmaceuticals both prescribed and/or acquired by other means) that everyone’s experiences are inherently unique.
Please consider what your “old/normal” self was: a person with an untreated illness. Of course, when we’ve lived with the illness for so long, it does become our “normal” and as human beings, we tend to find comfort in what’s familiar—even if what’s familiar isn’t pleasant or healthy—it’s what we know and it feels easier and safer to stick with an unpleasantness that’s familiar than to summon the courage to face a life with considerably less pain but is completely alien to us. 
Please don’t think of yourself as “trapped.” The real prison lies in giving in to the illness. You needn’t try to break free because you are free. This doesn’t mean that your concerns aren’t valid and worthy of being addressed but know that treating your illness is what gives you the lucidity to be aware of things that might otherwise be ignored. Would you even think about having children were you not on medication? If you were, what would your motivations be for having them compared to your present motivations? I can only speculate but it’s not unusual for people to try and “cure” their ills by having children, hoping that they will fill a hole that they feel is in their lives. Ultimately, this turns out to be a very unhealthy environment for the children. Consider that by treating one’s illness first, one’s reasons for having children would be more about bringing into the world a new generation of individuals to live their own lives and not existing for the sole purpose of addressing the “needs” of their parents. 
I’m not suggesting that that is your motivation for having children. I just want you to understand that by treating your illness first—taking care of yourself—you’ll be a better caregiver and mother to your children. 
Thank you for contacting me and sharing your experience and concerns with me. I really appreciate making this connection with you and I hope that I’ve been able to say something here that’s been helpful.

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