When I was 20, I drove myself to the beach in the middle of winter to end my life. My first boyfriend who I met online when the internet was the new 90s craze had just ended it with me, and I had no real backbone to emotionally support myself. I didn’t go through with it, but when I returned home I was put on antidepressants .A few months later I met my now ex-husband. I often recall how I was encouraged by my psychiatrist to pursue this relationship despite my concern it was too soon. She told me that relationships were good for people with my condition: anxiety and depression . Back then, in my Greek-Cypriot culture, I was not allowed to move out of home.
My parents did not even know that I had a boyfriend, I was only allowed to have a ‘friend’ until I was married. So, just over a year later, I was a married women, at 22.
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The next seven years were a blur, like I was living my life half-asleep. Then I stopped the medication to do what was next expected of me, to have a baby.
This was when I woke up.As the drugs receded, I didn’t know what to do with all the anxiety, all the depression – it came for me like an avalanche. My psychiatrist encouraged me to write as a way of coping. Pages and pages began to pour out of me. A novel which I have nearly finished, called Divided Island, and lots of poetry, some of which can be found in my new book, Just Give Me The Pills.
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Having a baby made me question what kind of role model I wanted to be for my daughter. Did I want her to learn that she should do what is expected or to find who she is and do what she wanted? But the desire to be this kind of role model was buried under layers of anxiety and depression. I discussed with my then-husband going back on the medication. To both of us, it seemed like the only way.
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I had this huge desire to ‘be normal’. It was torturous. I felt so alone. Nobody understood. I could have easily gone back on the medication but I chose the hard way. I chose the path of trudging through my fears and leaving my marriage to find who I was and facing my fear of being alone. I chose confronting my past and starting again. That was 10 years ago. It was the hardest yet most rewarding decision of my life.
Are you just taking the pills to ‘be normal’?
Although mental illness is a largely stigmatised illness, as a society I think we need to ask ourselves if enough is being done to prevent the long-term medicating of women in vulnerable positions.
Image: iStockAccording to the Black Dog Institute mental illness affects one in five Australians aged 16-85 in any year, with anxiety and depression being the most common.
Genetics may have a part of play in developing a mental illness but not always. What you’ve experienced in your life can be a much more reliable predictor.The World Health Organisation (WHO) references gender differences on their website stating: “Depression is not only the most common women's mental health problem but may be more persistent in women than men. More research is needed.”
The report published by WHO, ‘Gender Disparities in Mental Health’, discusses how depression is twice as likely in women, highlighting the need for gender-sensitive mental health services as a matter of urgency. Despite presenting with the same symptoms, women are more likely to be prescribed psychotropic drugs than men.
"We spend the first 12 months of our children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk, and the next 12 years telling them to sit down and shut up."- Phyllis Diller
“Traditional gender roles further increase susceptibility by stressing passivity, submission and dependence and impose a duty to take on the unremitting care of others and unpaid domestic and agricultural labour,” the report says.
Of course if someone is suicidal and can’t function, maybe medication can be used as a way to regain control. But I’m concerned that there are a lot of women out there on medication who take it because they want to feel ‘normal’ when in fact what they really need is psychological support to ensure the life they are living is the one they have chosen, not one that has been chosen for them. Practitioners need to empower women. They need to have them examining their lives and circumstances, not just prescribing medication and checking in every now and then to see if the dosage is right.
Don't try to fix everything. Give young kids a chance to find their own solutions. When you lovingly acknowledge a child's minor frustrations without immediately rushing in to save her, you teach her self-reliance and resilience.
You could argue that in some cases, medication can be used to silence women who don’t know better. I never once questioned any of it until I had my daughter. When I look back I am dumbfounded as to how powerful family, culture and obligation can be, that it can blind-side you when you are raised to bow to patriarchy and do what you are told. If anything, I hope I can bring awareness to this issue, and other issues that come hand in hand with emancipation, such as divorce, the broken family system, and the lack of support – both government and social – for women who choose to leave.
Julie Holland, psychiatrist and author of Moody Bitches: The Truth About The Drugs You're Taking, The Sleep You're Missing, the Sex You're Not Having, and What's Really Making You Crazy believes the overuse of medication in women is creating a "new normal" and that a woman's moodiness - which is natural source of power - helps ensure our survival.
She wrote for CNN "Change comes from discomfort – and awareness that something is wrong. Sadness and fear are not always symptoms to be medicated. Anxiety and tension come foremost from the denial of emotions, from their repression. My patients want to feel better, but really what many of them need is to get better at feeling."
Tina Fey (mom to daughter Alice): “I think every working mom probably feels the same thing: You go through big chunks of time where you’re just thinking, ‘This is impossible - oh, this is impossible.’ And then you just keep going and keep going, and you sort of do the impossible.”