I have a lightbox I’m supposed to sit next to in the darker months for seasonal affective disorder. It’s best to do it first thing. If you use it later in the day, it’s been associated with sleep problems. And you’re supposed to use it daily and consistently for optimal results.
Last winter I was really consistent because I was home. This season, not so much. I have to get up at 5:30 to be at work by 7:00. But often, it’s more like 5:45 because I’m a snooze-button-pusher (alarm is actually set for 5:00), and then there’s not enough time for 30 minutes of lightbox. So some days it’s 20 minutes or less, or not at all.
Used as directed, is it effective? Honestly, I’m not sure. Even when I sat by it according to plan, I was simultaneously on meds. So it’s hard to isolate the cause of improvement.
Meds have generally made a significant difference for me, though, especially when Dr. Naimark put me on Adderall for ADHD, after I had my daughter. I don’t know for sure if there’s actually any “H” in me, although I have always had nervous, fidgety, almost compulsive behaviors. Touching my lips is one. But anyway, the DSM calls all forms of attention-deficit ADHD, now. I do test weirdly high in impulsivity, though. And I suppose some of my behavior would support that.
Apparently, if you have untreated attention deficit, it can impact your depressive symptoms. Though I wouldn’t have guessed ADHD of myself, Adderall has made the difference between night and day for me.
If I forget to take my meds (and unfortunately, I do sometimes), it doesn’t take long to figure out. One day last July, we had a funeral for my uncle (my Aunt Eileen’s husband), to whom I wasn’t exceptionally close, though I am close to Leenie, and we had to travel a bit for it because it was in Natick, MA. It was of course a sad day anyway, a beautiful service. Everyone cried.
But I had also forgotten my meds that morning and didn’t realize it until we were on our way home, at something like 3pm. It explained a lot of my behavior that day. I was overly sensitive, snippy on the way up, anxious, antisocial at the luncheon and all the way home, and finally, I fell apart entirely on the livingroom recliner, trying not to be noticed by anyone as silent tears streamed down my face for half an hour. Yes, I was devastated for my aunt. Bruce was such a good guy. But that wasn’t why I was crying. I was crying because I felt so badly about my own behavior that day. The lack of meds had made everything 10 times worse.
I’m comfortable talking about my meds maybe because I don’t know most of you. But also, I’m not so ashamed of having to take them anymore. My mother was schizophrenic. It was bound to affect me in some way.
My mother somehow stumbled upon my Zoloft when I was a teenager. She hadn’t known I was on antidepressants because I lived with my father at the time. She was so angry with me, she didn’t really talk to me again until I went to college: “Don’t tell me you don’t do drugs, Leah, because you do!” is what she screamed when I told her what they were for.
My mother hated that she had to take medication to be “normal.” Mental illness is stigmatized by people who don’t understand it. Even though it’s now accepted as a medical condition.
There are side effects to meds, too. I imagine she suffered from some of them. Every few years, she would experiment, only taking half of what was prescribed or going off of them entirely. Months later, she would collapse into nervous breakdown and, once, ended up hospitalized. I used to count her pills sometimes when she wasn’t around.
It was abandoning her meds that ultimately led to her death. That’s why I take mine. I know I need them, to be the best parent I can be. Best self. It would be irresponsible of me not to.
The good news for me is that I function really well with medication. I tried going off of it once in college, and the difference was obvious. I expect to need it for the rest of my life, just like my blood pressure and migraine pills, and I’m okay with that. I don’t think it makes me less than or flawed in any way. It’s just who I am.