I heard someone use the term “happy pills”the other day, and it really stuck in my craw. I knew, of course, that they were referring to antidepressants.
What is a happy pill exactly? I have taken antidepressants, as you know, and I haven’t experienced any sudden need to traipse through a meadow singing songs. I may be on Cymbalta for my OCD, but last time I looked it didn’t lead me to float on air, breeze through life and handle everything with aplomb come what may.
When I hear “happy pills,” I can’t help but think of Amy Adams in the Disney movie “Enchanted” — watch the video above to see what I mean. Is this how you feel when you’re on Prozac? Or Zoloft? Or Lexapro?
I didn’t think so.
I think some people throw around the phrase “happy pills”as a way to stigmatize one of the treatments for postpartum depression and other mental illness. It’s a not-so-covert method of making those of us experiencing a serious mental illness feel bad and question ourselves if we take medication for treatment. To make us feel like we are taking illicit drugs, and make us fear the judgment of the ones who don’t NEED happy pills in order to live their lives. You don’t have to look far to find headlines like this one from Ladies Home Journal: “Are We Hooked On Happy Pills?”
While pondering this, I came upon an article from Reason magazine by Maia Szalavitz entitled “In Defense of Happy Pills”. Here’s a bit of what she had to say:
“Unlike in any other area of medicine, treatments that reduce pain and suffering, rather than being welcomed as miraculous breakthroughs, often are denigrated as ‘quick fixes.’ They’re viewed as band-aids that cover up, but do not solve, the real problem –only marginally more acceptable than illicit drugs.”
While I don’t agree with all of Szalavitz’s conclusions in the article — for instance, I personally think talk therapy can help people gain the tools necessary to cope with underlying problems, which is something medication can’t do — I do agree with this one:
“Most important, the backlash against antidepressants may discourage people they would help from trying them by reinforcing the sense that there is something fundamentally suspect about turning to drugs for assistance in coping with life.”
I reject the position that taking psychiatric medication is always the wrong choice, or unnecessary, and that mothers with postpartum depression are only doing it so they can be happy rather than deal with the tough issues of parenting. Taking medication was, for me, part of my recovery from an unwanted and horrible illness that I didn’t cause and needed to get over as quickly as possible so that I could be a functioning mother for my new baby. The pills didn’t make me happy. They didn’t take away the need to deal with my problems. They didn’t diaper or clothe or feed my child. They simply allowed me to do those things without being crushed inside the massive, oxygenless black hole of postpartum OCD.
Happiness is a choice. Unfortunately, when I had postpartum OCD, the choice to be happy was taken away, hidden from me by my illness. Once I got better, partially because of medication but also because of therapy and support from friends and family, I got that choice back. But only the choice. At that point I then had to decide whether I wanted to be happy. Even though I’m fine now, I still have an opportunity every day to choose to be unhappy too. I can focus on the parts of my life that suck, or I can be grateful for the parts of my life that are pretty damn good.
I am happy by choice. Pills don’t have ANYTHING to do with that.