Last month, Rachel Griffin started the #imnotashamed hashtag on Twitter for people to talk about and try to destigmatize mental illness. Naturally, there were a handful of people who took this as an invitation to try to undermine that message.
Low libido, erectile dysfunction, decreased genital sensitivity, inorgasmia, blunted emotions. Antidepressants destroy Love. #imnotashamed
— Jayla (@jailina_) January 17, 2016
This is the example I ended up arguing with, which led to me designating a brand new subspecies of internet troll: a genital sensitivity concern troll. She asked if I was still in that relationship, what meds I was on, talked to me about how my medication usually causes emotional numbness and sexual dysfunction, and so on. Gosh, it’s nice to know that whatever else happens, some random stranger is Very Worried about whether or not my genitals are fully functional.
Well, I’ve been on Zoloft for more than three years now, and I’m happy to say that not only has it helped my life immensely, everything (with the exception of my pancreas — and that’s a totally separate issue) remains fully functional.
Too much information? Maybe. But @jailina was just so worried about all of us people on antidepressants, and whether or not our various bits still worked. She also seemed convinced that antidepressants were just a conspiracy by Big Pharma to sell drugs, and we all get depressed sometimes, and so on.
Now, she wasn’t entirely off-base. Mostly, but not entirely.
Most medications have potential side effects. For Zoloft, those side effects can include sexual problems, as well as sleepiness, nervousness, insomnia, dizziness, nausea, skin rash, headache, diarrhea, constipation, upset stomach, stomach pain, changes in appetite, dry mouth, and weight loss.
Sounds intimidating, eh? But so far, the only side effect I’ve run into was some dry mouth in the beginning.
Shall we compare that to the “side effects” of my untreated depression? Because those effects included oversleeping, impaired relationships with my children, impaired relationships with my wife, reduced productivity as a writer, and oh yes, a major reduction in my sex life. When I was younger, there were also effects like suicidal tendencies.
Side note: suicide also has a negative effect on your sex life.
I get the fears. What if medication turns me into an emotionally numb zombie? What if it takes away my creativity and spirit as a writer/artist?
Let’s start by busting that last myth: Depression does not make you a better writer!
The myth of the tortured artist is bullshit. Not only do you not have to be tormented and miserable to be creative, you’ll almost always be far more productive if you’re mentally and emotionally stable. I almost doubled my writing output the year after I started getting my depression under control. Every writer I’ve talked to who has a mental illness has told me they do better when that illness is managed.
As for the side effects? Tell your doctor what you’re worried about. Talk about the potential side effects and what to watch for. The first medication you try might not be the right one for you, or the dosage might need to be adjusted. It can take time to find the right treatment. If you encounter side effects, you and your doctor can adjust your medication. You’re not damned to an eternity of dizziness, dry mouth, and numb genitals.
Depression is not just a bad mood. Mental illness is not something you can overcome through stubbornness. I liken it to my diabetes. I can’t tough my way through having a nonfunctional pancreas. Trying to do so would quickly put me into a coma, and then into a grave. Likewise, stubbornness isn’t going to straighten out neurochemical imbalances in your brain.
Don’t let the genital sensitivity concern trolls scare you out of asking for help if you need it. Educate yourself, yes. Ask about side effects and treatment options. In my case, the combination of medication and talking to a therapist is what worked best.
“Antidepressants destroy love?” That’s some Jenny McCarthy-level ignorance there. 100% pure, uneducated ass-talking.
Without exception, my relationships are stronger, healthier, and more loving today than they were before I started antidepressants. (They’re not perfect, mind you. No pill can do that. But they’re so much better than before.)
Mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of. And getting help isn’t something to be afraid of.