Taking Meds: Overcoming the Shame Factor

By Allie Marie SmithMarch 13, 2014

“It’s not your fault,” my dad said in his wise, loving voice, as we drove to the pharmacy for my first prescription of Prozac.

“Yes, it is,” I said with assurance. “This is my fault. I’m a bad person.”

I was 18 years old and had just been discharged from the behavioral health partition of the hospital and diagnosed with severe depression. Deep-seeded insecurity, stress, perfectionism, and grave hormonal and physiological imbalances collided, shattering my picture perfect world into bits of broken pieces.

My parents did their best to help me understand the diagnosis I had been given, which they too were just coming to grips with. I wasn’t buying it—I didn’t believe I was depressed, just that I was a horrible person who deserved to die and there was absolutely no hope for me.

It’s been a journey since to accept that my brain is wired differently than most and that it needs a little help. I’ve experienced shame along the way—a little from others and a lot from myself.

Recovery from depression, mood disorders, eating disorders, and addiction looks different for everyone. These struggles are complex and, like an onion, there are many layers involved: hormonal, emotional, spiritual, relational, physiological, and more. Each layer needs to be tended to, nourished, and addressed.

Like many, I worry that our nation is over-medicated, but believe that when used properly under a good doctor’s care, medication can be a gift, a true lifesaver.

Mental illness has been misunderstood and mistreated for so long because of its relative obscurity. An x-ray can show the exact fracture point of a broken bone, but without brain scans, which are expensive and difficult to do, you cannot see the physiology of a brain struggling with depression and anxiety. This leaves at least part of mental illness as somewhat intangible. And because we cannot see the source of the brokenness, we believe as a whole we are broken. We judge our character, when our chemistry, circumstances, or a number of other factors may be the problem.

If a doctor has advised that you would benefit from taking medication, doing so faithfully could be a critical step in your healing and recovery. I know from experience that it can be a long, frustrating road. There can be side effects, and sometimes certain medications don’t quite do the trick. But be patient. Keep trying and keep fighting.

It’s also important to know that a while a pill (or a combination of a few) might help fix your brain chemistry, medication can’t sooth your soul. Commit yourself fully to the deep soul work you need to do to live a healthy, whole, and free life.

If you are struggling in the darkness, see a doctor. Take your meds. Do your soul work. Show up for your life. Live your story well. Invite others to support you, and support them as well. You are irreplaceable, and this world is more beautiful with you in it.

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Comments (17)

  1. Melyssa

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I was diagnosed with major depression four years ago along with general anxiety disorder. I had been cutting, my life was a mess, my emotions were out of control. I remember thinking that my depression and self harm would always define me, that it was something to hide and be ashamed of. Over the past four years I have been recovered from self harm and am currently working a 12 step program. I still take my Zoloft every day and realize the quote “depression is a flaw in chemistry, not character” is so true. Don’t let your depression, or anything else, define you. You can be free. If I can do it, so can you.

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  2. Dean D.

    “There can be side effects, and sometimes certain medications don’t quite do the trick. But be patient. Keep trying and keep fighting.”

    This is so true. It’s very common for people to have to try more than one medication before finding one that works for them. My son probably tried four or five, but when he finally found the right one it was such a relief. But *always* follow your doctor’s instructions while going off of/starting a medication. Thank you for sharing, Allie!

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  3. Becky

    For a long time I’ve battle with depression,I’ve taken god knows how many different prescriptions over the years, but I’ve always been brought up around the stigma, with my siblings saying tablets are for the weak, my dad telling me he cant handle it, over the last 3 months I’ve had my meds played with numerous times, everytime it starts with a breakdown, having ended up in hospital once already this year and been off work the tablets alone aren’t working, but a lifeline until therapy becomes available, due to long lines all I can do is swallow my tablets and hope

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  4. Yvonne

    As my almost 13 yr begins her journey with diagnosed depression and anxiety, it was a blessing to read this right now. Perfectly said. Thank you.

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  5. Sarah

    Fantastic post. I wanted to add to your discussion of soul soothing. For me, and many whom I’ve spoken with, meds can give the strength necessary to fight the pain, seek deep soul soothing, and continue work/school/etc in the meantime.

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  6. Emma

    The first time my parents took me to see a physiologist, she asked me how I felt about taken medications. I was horrified by the idea, horrified by the idea that the medication might help me do something I couldn’t do on my own – get better. I felt that if I took medication, I was weak. I didn’t judge others that took medications, but for some reason, I felt that if I myself took them, it meant I was weak. That was a few years ago. Nowadays, many of my friends have opened up to me about various medications they are taking to help them deal with their mental problems. Through my friends, I have come to realize that taking medication to help you doesn’t mean you are weak. Quite the opposite, it means you are strong enough to accept help. I am now completely open to taking medication, and no longer see it as something to be ashamed of. Thank you for taking the time to write this article. I think society really needs to wake up and lose the stigma that is associated with taking medication for mental disorders. To anyone reading this who may be struggling to come to terms with the “shame” of taking medications, please don’t be so hard on yourself. There is nothing shameful about taking medication. I repeat – nothing.

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  7. Kristin

    Thanks for writing this, Allie. I too was ashamed when I started my first dose of Prozac; I thought that once I started taking the pills, I would never be able to function again without them. I didn’t realize then that medication can, as you say, be a real gift. Mine kept me alive. I tried six different drugs before finding a combination of three that are right for me. Really applaud you touching on this topic! Sending hope + love to you.

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  8. Danielle

    Wow. Thank you for being brave and writing this. I’ve been going back and forth on the decision to try medicine for anxiety. I tried once but had such a bad reaction that I’ve become scared to try another. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading this and it gave me a new perspective on my anxiety. My favorite part was about how the illness can make us doubt our entire character. That is so true. Thank you for showing me how it’s just the “illness talking”. Very inspiring.

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  9. Rebeca

    Thank you so much for sharing your story.

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  10. Annalisa Jackson

    And even having a fairly supportive family I receive grief about when am I stopping my meds from my family. I know they mean nthing but the best but even on my meds Im controlled to a mediocre degree so why would I think about stopping them yet? Its hard not to feel ashamed

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  11. BennyT

    thanks for this. i think it is important to talk about the role of medication with someone who is battling depression. it is not talked about enough. that last paragraph is life-giving

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  12. alison smith

    good point

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  13. Amber

    Thank you for this blog. It was what I needed to hear.

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  14. Anonymous

    Great blog! Thanks for sharing!! There is so much stigma and unnecessary shame associated with mental health and taking meds, I know this was a lot of the reason I put off getting help. Thanks for speaking out and letting people know its ok to ask for help or take meds.

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  15. Jom

    Thanks for sharing your story, I too am struggling to come to grips with the fact my brain is wired in such a way that it needs some help.

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  16. Leah Harris

    There is NO shame in taking meds, but I worry about a simple “take your meds” message. Some meds make people feel more suicidal. Most people don’t get the full info from their doctors. Read and research obsessively before starting any med, find out what others’ experiences have been like, and be sure your doctor would support tapering or withdrawal if you decide you’d like to try to reduce or get off meds. Doctors are great at prescribing, not so great at helping people come off them. So, NO shame whatsoever, but we need good info to make an informed decision. And that’s not always easy to find.

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  17. Charles

    How did your dad treat you in early childhood? You were just born this way? Where’s mom?

    Reply  |  
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