“그약 먹지마! 아유… 너무 속상해 (Don’t take that medicine. I’m so upset),” Mom said to me after she caught me taking Cymbalta a couple weeks ago. Cymbalta is an antidepressant. One of the medications I tried along with Sertraline, Wellbutrin, Wellbutrin XR, Lexapro, Prozac, and probably one I’m forgetting. My parents don’t believe in antidepressants because they don’t believe in Depression.
Depression isn’t real – you’re just sad. Don’t be sad. What do you have to be sad about? Depression doesn’t exist – you just need to exercise and get a job and you’ll feel better. Since Depression isn’t real, Mom and Dad weren’t worried when I told them I was depressed. It was the Sertraline that made them “so upset.” Upset.
In Korean we say, “속상해 (sohk-sang-hae).” The first syllable, “속” (sohk) can be translated as “inside” or “heart.” The second two syllables “상해” (sang-hae) means “damaged” or “rotten.” When you say you’re upset in Korean, you’re saying your heart has been damaged. In other words, I damage my mom’s heart by trying to keep myself alive.
Mom talks about antidepressants with a gravity appropriate for, I don’t know, an opioid addiction? Maybe that’s too severe, but she’s pretty serious about it. “You need to stop taking them,” Mom says, brows furrowed. “큰일나. (Kkeun-il-nah) They’ll mess with your body and you won’t be able to have kids.” 큰일나 (Kkeun-il-nah) directly translated in English means, “A big event will occur.” It’s a negative phrase meaning something bad is going to happen. Warning: Danger.
I’m sure Mom was extra hurt and worried because she thought I had stopped taking my medication six years ago when I first started taking them and she and Dad told me to stop. Back then I couldn’t explain Depression or medication very well, and it was exhausting to explain myself anyway, so I just nodded and continued taking the drugs in secret.
Before I got married and moved out of my parents’ house I would stash Sertraline, or whatever I was taking at the time, in my backpack because my parents respected that boundary. I’d take the pills out quietly and pop them in my mouth before I left my room to get water. Or I would get a cup of water and take the pills in my room. I was really careful. But I guess taking them freely in my own home after I got married made me too loose with my drug use. That rhymed, ha.
A couple weeks ago I visited my parents. At 8PM I took two Cymbalta capsules and popped them in my mouth as I walked down the hallway toward the kitchen on the way to get a glass of water. I reached the water cooler and thought I had gotten away with it until I heard Mom ask from the kitchen island, “What medication did you just take?”
I’m not a good liar. So I drank my water and pretended not to hear her. She walked over to me and got close to my face. She asked again in almost a whisper as if it was an illegal substance, “What medicine did you just take?”
I looked her in the eye and continued to drink water trying to gather up the strength to lie. Just say it’s Tylenol, Elise. But when she asked me again, I swallowed my water and instead of lying, I shook my head as if to say, “It’s nothing, it’s nothing.” That gave it away.
“Are you taking those pills you were taking before?” I nodded.
“Stop taking them!” She was really upset now. If I were a teenager in that moment, my heart would have started racing and my throat would have had that swollen feeling. I would have felt so ashamed and sorry for taking medication my parents don’t approve of. But I’m 31 years old and have been going to therapy for six years. So instead I said, “엄마 (Mom), It’s fiiine,” and walked back to my room to tell my husband and laugh about how I’d been caught taking antidepressants.
Even though I’m 31 and no longer afraid of my parents’ opinions. I had still been hiding my medication from them because I still don’t know how to have a direct, clear conversation about why I need to take my antidepressants. I immediately go into defense mode and assume they will never understand. I dismiss everything they’re saying about it being dangerous, etc, and walk away hoping they’ll leave me alone.
I don’t think I owe them anything. It’s my life and my body. I’m trying to save myself any way that I can right now. On the other hand, it would be nice to explain and eventually have parents who understand that Depression is real and suicidal thoughts are real and I have been suffering for the last six years. I’m not just lazy. A word they use to describe me all the time. They even once told our waiter at a Korean restaurant that I was lazy – I don’t remember why.
I want to be understood by my family. I’ve tried to explain it when I first started antidepressants. But they were so against it that they couldn’t really hear me. And I don’t think their views have changed.
I’ve had really bad luck with antidepressants. My body hasn’t responded well to all the ones I’ve tried so far. I’ve experienced bad side effects and the medications haven’t been very effective. But they have helped with the suicidal ideations more than if I wasn’t on them, but not completely.
In addition to Cymbalta, I started taking Abilify exactly a week ago. It’s a different class of medication and I’m finally starting to feel a little better. Apparently I respond better to antipsychotics than SSRIs. (I hate that it’s called an antipsychotic. It makes me feel like a crazy person.)
I don’t like having to take medication. I wish I could live without them. But they’re keeping me alive. And a month ago I didn’t even want to be alive. A week ago I wouldn’t had been able to write five sentences. But today I am happy to be alive and I was able to write this blog post. I’d say that’s an improvement.
Even if my parents never understand, that’s okay. It’s more important that I get to share other parts of my life with them. We’re going home this weekend, so maybe I’ll try to explain it to them again. If I do, I’ll have more to write about 🙂