A look into the many stages of being prescribed antidepressants, and everything Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has done to destigmatize it
A recent episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (which everyone should watch, by the way) got me thinking about something I hadn’t actively thought about in a while: the medication I take every day.
If you’re not blessed by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend being in your life, I’ll try to summarise as simply and spoiler-free as possible: the show has long been lauded for its handling of mental illness, and a key component of its protagonist’s journey is getting diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and taking steps to manage her mental health. When we first meet Rebecca in season one, we watch as she dumps her “zombie” pills (the antidepressant trope to beat all tropes) into the bin; later she desperately searches her therapist’s bathroom floor for any pills she could find; and in season three, she overdoses on a plane. Still, the show has consistently made one thing clear throughout all of Rebecca’s many medication mishaps: the pills aren’t the problem, her attitude towards them (and everyone else’s) is.
The very same is true for society at large. “Zombie pills” is still a trope as old as time, well-meaning family members often react to being told a loved one is on antidepressants as if they’d been told you’re on hospice care instead, and social media is currently rife with people sharing the triumph of finally being off antidepressants as if they’ve finally reached the finish line of a marathon they didn’t mean to sign up for. It doesn’t exactly help either that far too many GPs still fail to tell their patients that the “zombie” side effects of antidepressants wear off after a few weeks, and that they won’t start to positively impact your mood until around week six – by this point, most people have understandably thrown their meds in the bin like Rebecca did.
But it was a recent episode – the episode where Rebecca finally realises just how normal taking antidepressants is – where Crazy Ex-Girlfriend hit the nail on the proverbial mental illness head. After being encouraged and reassured by her therapist, Rebecca and Co. launch into possibly the best song the series has ever done: “Anti-Depressants Are So Not A Big Deal”.
I don’t have Rebecca’s borderline personality disorder, but I do have bipolar disorder – both are particularly nasty mental illnesses that require constant vigilance, constant trips to your exasperated doctor and, yes, a lifetime’s worth of medication. I’m used to the meds now, so there’s no need to convince me of their fundamental necessity and helpfulness; I literally lead a (relatively) normal life because of them. What did strike me after this episode, though, was just how many of my friends take psychiatric medication too.
“Yes, everyone is special, that’s usually the sitch / But when it comes to meds, you’re such a basic bitch,” they sing, and I laugh, wondering what sixteen-year-old me would think if she knew that over half of future Georgina’s friends would be taking the very same kind of medication that she feels like a freak for being prescribed.
Once you’ve accepted that antidepressants will help you, you’ve already climbed a particularly daunting mountain that most people don’t get even halfway up – but it can feel lonely up there. Are you now doomed to a lifetime of having to slyly take your pills with a glass of wine at dinner with your friends while they all give you an awkward side-eye? What will your parents’ faces look like when they ask if you’re still on the meds and you say yes, or will you just lie about taking them at all to save their concern? What about the dreaded weight gain or interference with your ability to orgasm?
But actually, once you’re ready to be a bit more honest with your friends about the fact you take antidepressants/any psychiatric medication in general, you’ll probably find that you’re far from the only one. I’m not exaggerating when I say that well over half of my friends at university take them, and while I accept that people with similar afflictions are drawn to each other, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend gets it right when it sings that they’re not as big of a deal as you may think.
And no, the fact that antidepressants are more common than we think doesn’t mean that it’s the sign of an over-medicated generation; if anything, it’s the sign that we’re a generation finally stripping away from of the stigma and getting the care we need and deserve. Medications didn’t just save my life – I’ve seen them save the lives of my friends too, and being able to talk to each other about some of the nastier side effects and stigmas (as they do in “Anti-Depressants Are So Not A Big Deal”) with the people in your life is a huge comfort.
It’s hugely refreshing to see a portrayal of antidepressants that doesn’t treat them as something to shamefully take temporarily until your mental illness is magically disappeared by mindfulness and eating well. Being prescribed antidepressants doesn’t automatically make you a basket case or an edgelord – nor does it made you a cliche. Lots of different people will take them at some point in their life – some for a long-term psychiatric condition like myself, others for a few months or years to alleviate the pain of a situational depression. Whatever the reason, though, it’s perfectly okay, relatively common, and so not a big deal. So if you find yourself having to tell a panicky pair of parents about the new addition to your medicine cabinet, maybe direct them to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s latest three minute musical masterpiece.