At the end of February, an op-ed came out in the New York Times called “Medicating Women’s Feelings.” You’ll probably want to read the article before continuing on. I’ll wait.
I’m so thankful for this article. Americans are scared to talk about mental health. I think many are also scared of women, especially “emotional” women, and I’m going to keep calling bullshit on that, as Julie Holland did.
“Women’s emotionality is a sign of health, not disease; it is a source of power. But we are under constant pressure to restrain our emotional lives.”
Women are told not to be so sensitive, then not to be so bubbly. At work, have original ideas but don’t be aggressive about them. It’s confusing. As for many women, learning to understand my emotions and the way the world thinks of them has been a journey. For a long time, I was terrible at thinking through the levels of my emotions and expressing them to the people around me. Honestly, I’m still not great at it sometimes *cue side-eye* but I’m learning that my emotions have value.
2011 was a difficult year for me. Through family moves, deaths, a breakup, and a job ending, I felt everything dear was being violently ripped away from me. I was left in a very dark place, where I was quick to snuff out any light, content to sit in the cage of sadness I had built for myself. Then, in 2012, after talking with my parents, friends, doctor, and counselor, I decided to begin a low-dose antidepressant in conjunction with counseling.
I didn’t tell too many people, even close friends, when I started taking an antidepressant. But, I’ve realized since then that it’s not something I want to keep in the dark. The dark is where shame lives and grows, and I am not ashamed of who I am or the steps I chose to take to become who I am.
In her article, Holland says that more women than men are prescribed “psychiatric medication” and “are nearly twice as likely to receive a diagnosis of depression or anxiety disorder than men are.” I hate that those statements are true, that too many women are being numbed by over-medication, labeled with a misdiagnosis, and separated from society in yet another way. And, at the same time, many women and men with mental health issues go un-diagnosed.
Medication isn’t always bad. I was happy with my decision to take an antidepressant; I believe it helped me function and made it easier to sort through all the emotions I had, instead of being weighed down by only feeling sadness. After a year, I began to wean off the antidepressant, and let me tell you, it’s hard to come off. But I wanted to be back in the world fully. I felt I had to re-train the parts of my brain that had been numbed for so long. I had to remember that extremes don’t have to be bad and that feeling deeply is one of the most human things about us.
“We need to stop labeling our sadness and anxiety as uncomfortable symptoms, and to appreciate them as a healthy, adaptive part of our biology.”
I believe Holland when she writes this. For me, medication was part of my journey to accepting my emotions, but it doesn’t have to be part of everyone’s experience. As women, we are emotional and sensitive beings, and it is a strength. Feeling is not weakness. Emotional responses are not weakness. They are human. They are vital.