These were the drugs that gave us a new way to slay our inner demons, medicating our way to a happier life. — Valium’s Contribution to Our New Normal
There are so many perceptions about depression, anxiety, mental health that it’s difficult to battle them all and educate everyone properly. But one of the biggest ones that drive me up the wall is the perceptions around the drugs to treat people with mental health disorders.
The quote above is from an opinion piece from the New York Times about the history of Valium. Roche, the maker of Valium for decades, is closing its Nutley campus (which actually is not that far from where I live), so the writer decided to take a look back at Valium and how it revolutionized treating mental health problems.
But the big problem with the article, though, is how it basically treats how Valium and the drugs that have followed are a cure for everything in our lives in a bottle. Here’s another quote from the article:
Taking a pill to feel normal, even a pill sanctioned by the medical profession, led to a strange situation: it made people wonder what “normal” really was. What does it mean when people feel more like themselves with the drug than without it? Does the notion of “feeling like themselves” lose its meaning if they need a drug to get them there?
Anti-anxiety pills, like the bottle of Xanax in my medicine cabinet, or antidepressants, like the Zoloft and Wellbutrin I take every day, aren’t a magical cure for my life and make me happier or make me feel more like myself, though that is a term I have used.
Even with the medication, the problems in my life and everyone else’s life still exists. It’s why many people not only take the medication but also go through talk therapy. And while I won’t go to therapy because it has never worked for me, I do work on the issues around my life to get myself to a healthier place.
The medication isn’t happiness in a bottle. Rather it’s a tool to treat the issues with our brains. It calms the noise for some and levels our the chemicals for others, like me. It allows us to be in a place where we can deal with the issues of our lives. It means I am in a place where I can handle the stress of work or an argument with my family without having a panic attack or wanting to run away.
Because the medication levels me out so I’m not in a hole and depressed, I can look at the things in my life that make me happy or bring me down. I can fix things more easily.
The perception around medication for mental health issues has been around for quite some time. Earlier this year New York Magazine ran a lengthy article about Xanax, which annoyed me because it made light of the issues around anxiety and the need for Xanax.
But there are people around me who also have a perception that medication is no good to treat depression. I’ve been battling side effects of the Zoloft, specifically the fact that it substantially increased my appetite. The end result was gaining weight after I had lost 40 pounds. I gained back almost half of what I lost, which was counterproductive since it made me depressed. So my doctor changed my medication slightly, which has been a blessing (after I adjusted).
But one friend at every chance she can will say how this proves that antidepressants are no good. She said in passing how I needed to just kick the meds and drink at a gathering. More recently she said how antidepressants have screwed up everyone she knows big time and how they’re evil. Again she said I should just drink instead.
But drinking isn’t exactly a healthy alternative. Crawling inside a bottle is escaping from your problems rather than tossing you a rope to help you pull yourself out of the hole. I’d rather the rope be there so I can work to get myself out of the hole even with the side effects.
So it’s just a matter of telling people that the pills don’t make me happier. Oh how I know they don’t make me happier. Instead they’re my life preserver to keep me afloat while I swim for shore.
Update: My friend Michele also wrote something about the New York Times article and feeling “normal.” You should read it (and her blog) by going here.