If there is anything I wish I could make every reader here understand, it’s that you’re not a failure for needing a leg up when it comes to your mental health.
Recently, I posted on my socials about the “SSRI safety net.” I described how taking an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) is like having an emotional safety net underneath you at all times. You still feel things, still experience anxiety, fear, sadness. But as you fall into the depths of those feelings, the safety net catches you. It holds you up, keeps you from plummeting to the ground. It gives you a chance to breathe, make a plan, regain your footing.
The video was generally well-received, but I noticed a small handful of people who expressed their woes about taking an SSRI. They said things like, “I tried so hard to not have to take medication. I went to therapy, meditated, I did it all. But nothing worked. I’m so ashamed that I have to be on an SSRI to function.”
I was deeply saddened by these comments.
Taking an SSRI, or any kind of mental health medication, is not shameful. A lot of us grew up in households where mental health was stigmatized — where being put on medication was a threat to get you to behave better, instead of a loving resource to help you feel better.
You are not a failure for needing medication. It doesn’t mean you weren’t capable enough to overcome things on your own. Nor does it mean you didn’t do the work in therapy. It just means that there is something about your brain anatomy that needs a little help for you to feel your best. What’s wrong with that?
So, what are SSRIs for, exactly?
SSRIs do exactly what their name suggests. They block the absorption of serotonin into your brain’s cells, leaving more serotonin to knock about inside the brain. Serotonin is one of the chemicals that regulates your mood. Having more of it in your brain makes it easier for you to regulate how you think and feel.
So, let’s just say that you’re doing all the hard work in therapy. You’re reading, too, and meditating, and journaling. You see that you still feel like crap — nothing seems to be changing. Maybe you’re feeling completely overwhelmed and struggling to cope. It may be that the work is working, but your brain’s lack of serotonin makes it hard for the fruits of that work to show up. If you could take a magic pill that you instantly reveal all the hard work you’ve done on yourself, wouldn’t you take it? For some people, that’s precisely what an SSRI does.
I had begun stagnating in therapy. It was beginning to feel like I’d taken my healing journey as far as it could go, but I was still in pain. Nothing was working. Honestly, that was when I began to feel like a failure. Defeated, I decided to try an SSRI. It took some time to see the full effect of the drug, but even within a few weeks I was already beginning to see signs of improvement. I got “unstuck” in therapy. It felt like I was making progress again. I think I’ve done more personal growth and healing through therapy in the last year that I’ve been on an SSRI than I did in two years doing therapy alone. Finally, I felt like things were coming together.
SSRIs might not be for you, but maybe they’re worth a try? You’re not a failure. In fact, you are winning in self-care. It means you love yourself enough to get your brain and body the resources they may need to function at their best.