A Word About Medication
Joyce began taking Prozac while doing research for her Ph.D. in English Literature. Joyce described a lifetime of self-doubt as she tried to live up to the standards of her perfectionist father.
While writing her dissertation, she was ambushed with sleepless nights spent worrying about falling short of the mark. She felt hopeless, and the agonizing self-doubts came with such intensity that she often fantasized about suicide as a welcome relief.
The pessimistic thoughts came with unprecedented force landing her in the doctor’s office for relief. Her psychiatrist understood that prescription drugs alone rarely change the way clients choose to live their lives or the way they think. He recommended a combination of an antidepressant, a sleep aid, cognitive therapy, and mindfulness training.
Psycho-therapy was to help her address the origins of her self-doubt, learn the empowerment of taking responsibility for her choices, and develop her ability to have an optimistic life outlook.
Joyce took the sleep aid consistently for a short time, and after that, only as needed. She was on Prozac for about year. S he successfully finished her dissertation and continues to use the life skills she learned in therapy.
Medication & Empowered Solutions
The Reader’s Digest version of Joyce’s story goes like this: Joyce felt some immediate relief with improved sleep which helped her feel more motivated during those first days on the medication. Feeling more rested, though, was not enough to undo a lifelong pattern of self-deprecation.
Through therapy, she realized that her father had battled depression throughout his life and was extremely hard on himself. She learned that the standards she struggled to live up to had been self-induced.
Joyce thought she had to earn her father’s love by being perfect. She realized that she had an underlying belief that others were repulsed by her and, when she was in any social situation, she hung back trying to avoid attention. She compensated for this belief by trying to be the smartest or best.
Despite her best efforts, deep down she believed she was stupid and inherently flawed. These obsessive thoughts sapped her strength and motivation. In therapy, she learned that her body was responding to these false beliefs with depression.
As she confronted these thought patterns, she learned to replace them with more realistic thoughts that were more aligned with her authentic self.
Her ability to manage her depression, mood, and feelings from within was extremely exciting for her.
Her learned optimism helped her adopt healthier and more realistic thought patterns.
Her mindfulness training helped her learn the skills of suspending judgement, living within the present moment, and assigning meaning to her life experiences.
Medication & You
Joyce’s story gives a good example of how medication falls into the overall treatment of depression.
Depression comes in two main categories:
- Situational depression (due to a major life stressor) or,
- Biological depression (due to inherited genetics)
Depression that is more biological in origin can respond favorably to antidepressants as part of overall treatment, whereas antidepressants usually have a lesser effect on situational depression.
Joyce’s depression surfaced as a reaction to the stress of graduate school but was actually more biological in nature due to a genetic component. Prozac proved to be a successful piece of Joyce’s overall treatment strategy.
However, many people address their depression successfully without the aid of antidepressants. Using an antidepressant is a personal choice which should be made in consultation with your psychiatrist.
As a rule of thumb, an antidepressant is not meant as a stand-alone treatment because they can’t protect you against the ups and downs of life. An antidepressant can relieve your depressive symptoms and bring you back to a normal state, but you still remain vulnerable to regular life stressors.
Psychotherapy and mindfulness training (including meditation) provide the skills that offer lifelong reduction of symptoms. Understanding the function of both psychotherapy and antidepressants can help you make the choice that is right for you.