This one’s for all the naysayers. For all the people who say depression is all in your head. For anyone who has been affected by this disease.
Let me tell you a story. A story about a girl. When this girl was 19 and home from college for winter break, she got very sick. She had debilitating headaches every day. She couldn’t leave her bed. She slept most days because that was the only way to keep the headaches at bay.
Her family became growingly concerned about her health and encouraged her to see her doctor. Her doctor ran some tests which were mostly inconclusive, and then referred her to a neurologist.
Unsure of the cause of his patient’s headaches, the neurologist ordered an MRI. He was concerned there may be an aneurism or tumor.
Thankfully, when the MRI results came back, no aneurism or tumor was found.
But that didn’t mean the girl’s headaches had gone away. The neurologist ran some additional diagnostic tests and concluded that the cause of the girl’s headaches was a chemical imbalance.
The girl had low levels of serotonin in her brain.
The neurologist explained by using the following example:
“Let’s say that most people, have a serotonin level of 10 out of 10. People with severe depression are at a 1 out of 10. You’re somewhere in the middle. For you, right now, the chemical imbalance is causing headaches. It could easily lead to depression over time.”
So the neurologist put the girl on a low dose of Zoloft (most widely known as an anti-depressant). The neurologist gradually increased the girl’s dosage until her headaches went away.
The neurologist warned that the girl could never go off the medication “cold turkey” or there could be serious side-effects and mentioned that she would most likely be on this medication for the rest of her life. You see, if the chemical imbalance wasn’t rectified, she could fall victim to her debilitating headaches again or become clinically depressed.
As her doses increased and her headaches became less frequent, the girl quickly bounced back to life. She was no longer sleeping all day. She wasn’t taking copious amounts of Aleve or Advil to get through the day.
All she needed was that one little pill.
But then, about a year or two later, the girl thought she knew better than her neurologist. As is typical of young adults in their early twenties, the girl was “college poor” and working her way through school. She mismanaged her money and was dangerously close to falling behind on her bills. Since her headaches hadn’t been very frequent, she thought she could maybe just skip her pills for a month. Her pills cost about $50 or $75 a month (which was a lot of money for her).
She started cutting her pills in half, to make the ones she had at her apartment last a little while longer.
But then, things started to change. The girl became very moody. She kept to herself. She never wanted to hang out with her friends, family or sorority sisters.
Then one day, the girl’s best friend and pledge sister sat her down and asked, “What is going on? Something’s not right. You’re not yourself. I struggled with depression in high school and I’m seeing a lot of these signs with you. What do you need? What can I do?”
The girl began to sob. She knew something was wrong, too. And she knew what the cause was – that pesky chemical imbalance.
She knew that what she needed was her medication. But she couldn’t afford it. The girl’s BFF told her to call her parents.
The girl’s parents had noticed some of the signs as well and were relieved their daughter had a friend who was looking out for her. Who saw the warning signs. Who helped her get the help she needed.
Of course, the girl’s parents said that finances should never be a reason why the girl couldn’t get her much-needed medication. So they paid for her meds for the following months until things started to balance back out.
The girl realized that this chemical imbalance caused more than just her headaches. If untreated, her life could quickly head into a downward spiral.
It’s now been more than a decade since that girl learned that lesson. She hasn’t always remembered to take her medication faithfully every day, and when she does forget, she’s usually reminded within a couple of days with one of those debilitating headaches.
If she misses more than a day, she feels the overwhelming weight of the early stages of depression.
Obviously – if you haven’t figured it out – I am that girl.
I am that girl who used to hide behind the fact that she took an anti-depressant daily and would tell any pharmacist, doctor or nurse who asked why she took it, “Oh, it’s NOT for depression. I get headaches.”
I am that girl who was afraid to be labeled as someone who suffered from depression because of society’s negative labels of mental illness.
I am that girl who takes a little pill everyday to keep her happy and headache free.
I am that girl who was lucky enough to have loving family, friends and a BFF who cared about her and pushed her to get the help she needed.
I am that girl.