Central Park, NY City, in the cool fall. I'm standing in a small shadowed clearing, trying not to shiver, surrounded by 15 first graders dressed in private school uniforms. Their eyes are eager and mischievous. I see quickly who is comfortable and who is wary. There is always a wary one or two that stands out on the first day. I've had so many first days, but on this day, I was demonstrating how well I can conduct the class in an outdoor game of Mother May I. I'm 29 years old, embarking on a new career to become an after-school creative dance teacher.
This was also a pivotal time in my romantic and personal life. I was a serious ballet dancer in my youth and studied jazz and modern dance through my twenties, so this was a perfect way to transition. And I was engaged to an athlete & coach, artist & teacher, and we had dreams we wanted to work on! Not many years later, I was a certified educator. I had found my calling.
It was through my husband that I found a remarkable career as an elementary school teacher. I remember feeling I had found a way to extend my childrearing philosophy of unconditional love and a deep belief in personhood to the classroom! I did my research and due diligence and truly believed I found the career of my dreams.
Before long, the school's Special Education Director told me that my colleagues are noticing my emotional affect is a little flat, and parents expressed concern about me to the Principal. I don't know why it never occurred to me then that this was not me, but the actual antidepressant doing its job. Tamping down my emotional ups and downs. But I hadn't yet started my insatiable desire to understand these medications. Other side effects like attention issues were also present. When I discussed these with my psychiatrist who I'd been seeing since my PPD, he screened me for ADD (a brief questionnaire) and prescribed stimulants. Let the cocktail hour begin! I lost weight rapidly and was envied for it. I sweated a lot and needed help to sleep. I also became aware of unusual tics in my legs and hands. The beginning of decades battling side effects and withdrawal symptoms.
I asked my psychiatrist about these new symptoms. The answer? Perhaps you have an underlying neurological condition that was uncovered by the medication. I saw a neurologist. I suspected it was the medications I was on but went anyway. What did the neurologist find? Nothing. His suggestion? If you think it's the psych meds stop taking them! And he was smirking while he said it.
As I've said in previous articles - it is a slippery slope. There is a reason doctors don't suggest you get off your antidepressants and can predict that you won't be able to stay off them if you do. It isn't easy to get off them and it is potentially dangerous. Better solve the side effects of ADs with more medication. More money for everyone.
Today, antidepressants aren't the first in line for treatment of PPD/PND. And that's a good thing. But antidepressants remain prescribed in high numbers and largely to women for what are normal life trials that we must learn to thrive in if we are to have a life. And we can. You can.
We must challenge psychiatry and the medical community at large to embrace a new non-drug based paradigm. The Mental Health Industrial Complex is entrenched in making money. Lot's of money. And they don't care about whether you just survive or thrive.
Further Reading: Robert Whitaker, Anatomy of an Epidemic, is an expose of the pharmaceutical and psychiatric industries. Showing how we've risen to unprecedented numbers of diagnoses of mental health issues and prescribing of psychiatric medications.