Is the title click bait? Maybe. But I’ve just finished yet another online article, by another well-meaning “naturalist,” explaining why medication isn’t necessary to treat diseases like anxiety and depression. Dietary changes, exercise and herbal supplements can cure you. Don’t buy the lie that a pill will make you better. Take control of your own health.
I’m not going to wholly disagree. Wellness isn’t something that’s done to you, or given to you; it’s something you choose to pursue. I’m also proof that sometimes, The White Man’s Medicine (as my husband calls it) is the most efficacious route.
Since my early 20s, I’ve struggled with depression. Sometimes, it’s mild and manageable. Sometimes, like after all three of my children were born, it was crippling. Twice, I’ve had what qualifies as “a major depressive episode” and was hospitalized. I’ve taken medication on and off the last 20 years. The last 2 years, I’ve been on a steady dose of prescription anti-depressants and in regular therapy. With one glaring exception, this is the healthiest I’ve been in a very long time.
My struggle is more with other people than with myself. Mental health, mental illness, and pharmaceutical treatment are still awkward conversation topics. Over Thanksgiving, a family member asked if I was taking any medication. In retrospect, maybe I should have declined to answer, but I waded in and shared that I’d been taking medication for some time. I was careful about how much I drank over the holidays, both because it doesn’t mix well with anti-depressants and because I didn’t want that to be fodder for gossip. Later, the same person told me that “It was understandable if I need to use drugs or alcohol to cope with the death of my child.”
It wasn’t meant to be smug, I don’t think, but it didn’t sit well. I don’t need anyone’s permission to grieve however I need to grieve. If I did decide to spend a week in bed, binging on Netflix and drunk on box wine, I think I get a pass. It’s not healthy, and that’s not my choice right now, but please, don’t tell me what’s allowable or understandable.
Further, I’m not taking drugs to cope with the death of my child, but if I did? That would be perfectly OK. I’m taking drugs so I’m here to cope. Many bereaved parents, myself included, have thoughts like, “If that oncoming car hit me, and I died today … that would be OK.” It doesn’t mean I’m suicidal; it just means I’m despondent without my son. Without medication, my next thought might be how, exactly, I could cause said accident, or that my husband and kids would be just fine without me. Despondency is a normal part of grief; depression is a disease that needs to be treated.
Even health care providers and clergy have asked me, regarding my son’s death, “Was there a family history?” Perhaps that’s meant as an explanation, or an excuse, for my son’s death. It couldn’t be helped. There was a “family history.” It’s likely it would have happened eventually.
What I hear instead is, “He had your disease,” that somehow, I had passed this to him, and that it’s my faulty genes that are responsible. And of course I’ve endlessly asked myself, “How did I not see it? How did I not know?” Our son was in therapy because he’d asked for help managing his anger. He did have a quick temper. He did struggle with some anxiety. But depression? There were no warning signs, nothing to suggest he was having suicidal thoughts.
My husband and I have concluded that though our son’s act was intentional, the results were accidental. There is a possibility he was goofing around with The Choking Game, taking a risk he knew he shouldn’t have. At 12, he didn’t have the foresight to realize the consequences of his actions. There is no blood test to detect depression, or bad judgment, nothing that would definitively tell us his state of mind when he made that fateful choice.
The reason my son died, which I will never know, doesn’t change my reality. I still have to wake up every day and walk past his empty room. I still have to put out one less plate at the dinner table. I still see his urn and the blown-up photos from his funeral. I know that his birthday coming up in May won’t be a celebration this year, but a memorial.
Thankfully, with treatment, I know that I will be here for his birthday, this year and for many years to come. I just wish he could be here to celebrate, too.