Every time I write about my postpartum depression, I write about how I got better: through the use of antidepressants. I share this because I think it’s important to reduce the stigma around this type of medication; to offer myself up for questions from people who don’t know where else to turn; to be a lifeline to those in need.
Of course, my pieces are very polarizing and elicit two very different responses. The first, from women who thank me for my openness and honesty. They’re grateful for someone helping to normalize the medications that are essential for so many of us.
The second type of response, however, is from people who attack me. They cluck that I shouldn’t have had children if I can’t take care of them “sober.”
They accuse me of self-medicating.
They call me a bad mother.
Contrary to their opinion, I’m not a bad mother for taking antidepressants — I’m a better one.
First of all, by definition, when you take antidepressants, you’re not self-medicating. Self-medicating means you use drugs or alcohol at your own discretion to medicate or over-medicate yourself, and that’s not how antidepressants work.
My doctor prescribes my medicine for me. We met for months, with her monitoring my feelings and reactions, to find the right drug and dosage that worked for me. I don’t take a pill will-nilly; I have a set dosage that I take every morning to make sure the drugs release the right amount in my system at the right time.
No one blames diabetics for needing insulin, so why is there still so much shame around needing a drug for a mental health reason?
Second of all, I am sober.
Antidepressants don’t get me drunk or high. If you feel out of control, high, or numb, you’re taking the wrong medication. When used properly, antidepressants allow you to feel like yourself, just with the sharp edges rounded off. They give you perspective to recognize the hard minutes for what they are, but the ability to move past them so they don’t ruin your entire day. They help prevent problems from spiraling out of control. They help you realize that everything doesn’t have to mean everything.
Antidepressants aren’t the answer to every problem, but they make my life as a person and my experiences as a parent infinitely better. I no longer have anxiety loops in my head, making me obsess about the same, insignificant worry over and over and over. I’m able to understand that my son’s sleep issues aren’t about me failing as a parent. I no longer let small things become overwhelming until I break down in hysterics, unable to breath or move or think. I no longer wake up crying.
Antidepressants are also just one tool in my arsenal. I’ve begun to employ breath exercises when I’m feeling stressed. I’m not good at mindfulness, but I try to practice it and I try to remain grateful for my children and the things we have.
Because of my medication, I’m able to live a fuller life. I’m able to engage with my children, to enjoy my children. If that doesn’t make me a better mother, I don’t know what does.