Waiting Until You’re ‘Old Enough’ for Antidepressants
What’s it like to suffer from severe depression for as long as you can remember – and to be too scared to ask for help until age 18? Today I’m featuring the story of Allie, a 21-year-old college senior in Wisconsin who was ultimately diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Allie kept her unhappiness a secret and didn’t begin taking medication when she was old enough to ask for it without her parents finding out.
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Psychiatric Drugs and Culture
Allie’s story is interesting, because it shows how kids can suffer from severe depression from a very young age.
It also shows how in a culture where psychiatric drugs seem ubiquitous kids can come to focus on medication as a source of salvation. For as long as Allie can remember, she’d wanted to die. As a little girl, maybe five years old, she used to lay down in the alley behind her house. In retrospect, she thinks she was hoping a car would hit her.
Photo by Flickr user Andy.
She used to scout out every situation she was in, looking for a way she could kill herself. In a weird way, it calmed her down to know she had an out.
At 13, she begun cutting herself. Like her suicidal plans, the physical pain was strangely calming, a distraction from her mental anguish. From a very early age, Allie had sensed she was different. Finally, she decided to try to find out why.
“When I was thirteen I took a book from the library (being much to embarrassed too check it out) that was entitled “Depression.” I knew there was a name to what I was feeling.
I felt down and I cried a lot. My puzzle didn’t quite fit, though. I was a girl that was able to stand up in front of crowds and sing my heart out. I knew how to work people to get what I wanted. I was bold, unafraid to speak my mind. I was a good listener to friends and a careful student. I worked hard, but I just couldn’t feel the joy that I thought other people were experiencing. I was self- diagnosed with depression, from a young age.”
Self-Defeating and Distractions
Allie didn’t want to tell her parents how miserable, weak and desperate she felt because it completely contradicted the façade she put on at home and at school – that of a competent, self-confident, bubbly girl.
So she kept quiet about her newfound self-diagnosis. In high school, she tried to distract herself from the self-defeating and suicidal thoughts that looped threw her head until she couldn’t think straight anymore. She threw herself into the swim team, teaching swim lessons, working at a coffee shop, and singing in three different choirs.
Still, she had a feeling she needed to do more than just try to ignore her worst thoughts.
Allie knew about antidepressants because a family member had taken them for depression, and she finally decided that they could help her, too. But she was still a minor, and there was no way to get a prescription without her parents finding out. She still didn’t want to admit to them there was anything wrong.
“And so that’s about all I did about medication for a long time, I thought and thought about all the things that it could do for me.
My hopes were that my thoughts of suicide would go away. I thought with medication I could be cured. I would find out that it’s not that easy.”
Allie’s 18th Birthday
She finally turned 18 in the middle of her senior year in high school. She went to her pediatrician, the same one she’d been seeing since she was a baby, and explained that she’d been feeling depressed.
But Allie didn’t tell the pediatrician anything about cutting herself, or wanting to kill herself. She was afraid the doctor would tell her mother. Allie’s mother was a social worker and knew how low people could sink. Allie didn’t want her mom thinking Allie was like the people she worked with – sick, hopeless and doomed.
Photo by Flickr user Andy Melton.
Still, even without hearing about Allie’s most dire thoughts or behaviors, the pediatrician prescribed Lexapro, an antidepressant. Allie poured her hopes into Lexapro lifting her depression.
But, as she would find out, her self-diagnosis wasn’t quite correct. And, as we’ll see in a future post, medication would worsen her condition for a long time before making it better.
I’m planning to write more about the issue of kids suffering silently from emotional problems, but not wanting to ask for help because they don’t want their parents to know. If you’d like to share your story or your child’s story, please post in the comments section, and I’ll get in touch.