CW: Suicidal Ideation

After four years of successfully taking antidepressants, this January, I made a mistake. I’d picked them up while I was home for winter break and forgot to bring the new bottle with me when I returned to campus. I would not recommend doing this. I went to the CVS on Nassau street, and they told me it was too soon to pick up my refill, so my doctor needed to prescribe a “bridge” —which I’ve learned is just a bottle with less pills in it—and then my insurance still wouldn’t cover the cost of the refill unless I waited a month, but obviously I couldn’t wait a month, so, all very messy. 


It eventually worked out fine, but there were a couple of days where I thought it would not. These days were disturbingly terrifying. I thought about cutting my pills in half to make them last until spring break or spacing them out every other day—I do miss a dose every once in a while, and it’s not the end of the world. But both of these options made me feel quite stressed out. Google will tell you that suddenly stopping antidepressants is potentially life-threatening; for a moment, I felt potentially life-threatened. 


I started taking Lexapro and Wellbutrin when I was fifteen. I think there is a larger discussion to be had about the ramifications of putting young teenagers on mind-altering medication, but for me, it turned out to be the right move. Extreme, intolerable lows began to feel a little bit less extreme and intolerable. The part of my brain that was latently planning my suicide gradually just…stopped doing that. I don’t think my emotions have become duller or suppressed. I still experience a lot of human sadness, and a lot of vivid joy. I cry about things. Sometimes life feels unbearable, it’s just that when it does, I know that I’d still like to live it.


I have no idea how that works, by the way, and I’m not sure how much I can credit it to medication—lots of things have changed about my brain and my body over the last four years. What I do know is that I got better, and I did so while taking these pills. And I’m lucky enough to not experience significant side effects or huge financial costs, so there’s nothing immediately deterring me from taking this medication forever and ever. 


Except this: when the pharmacy—temporarily—wouldn’t give me my medication, I felt weirdly helpless. It became salient to me, in a way it wasn’t before, that I was dependent on this medication, and that if I didn’t get it, I couldn’t trust my own brain to function in the way that I have become accustomed to. There are a whole bunch of disconcerting physical symptoms that can come with antidepressant withdrawal, but the biggest risk is suicidal ideation. I haven’t felt suicidal in a long time. It’s really scary to think that I might just by virtue of forgetting to bring my medication back to campus. 


People stop taking antidepressants by tapering their dosage in increments. They often experience some degree of withdrawal but usually successfully get off the medication and on with their lives. Except sometimes, they experience a relapse in depression and start taking medication again. They might try this five or six times over the course of their lives. It might never work.


I can’t speak to what that feels like. I haven’t done it yet. But I think I would feel very defeated. I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about a future without antidepressants until recently, but I have spent the last year imagining that I have recovered all on my own, and the antidepressants are just a coincidence. I wouldn’t like to be proved wrong.


I am functioning at a much higher level than I was before. Every year, I seem to have more and more obligations; it is never the right time to risk not being high-functioning. And for all the discomfort I feel at the notion of being dependent on something, antidepressants give me more, not less, control over my own mind. A large part of my concern about taking them for the foreseeable future is probably due to our narrative that being on medication means you have a problem, that effective medicine doesn’t “fix” you because if you were fixed, you wouldn’t need the pills in the first place. No longer being suicidal is only an achievement if it remains true without Wellbutrin and Lexapro. 


Rationally, I can look at all of those thoughts and say that they are nonsense. I am very lucky to have found something that works for me even if it’s somewhat stigmatized. But on a purely emotional level, I do feel a little bit trapped. 

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