I’m 38 years old (as of September 2017). I’ve been seeing a therapist every week since 2010 and I can safely say that I’m finally the man I always wanted to be largely because I’ve been in therapy.
A big part of my transformation, however, has come because I’ve also taken antidepressant medication concurrently over the past two years. Specifically, I’ve taken Effexor (generic name, Venlafaxine). I take 150 mg per day, which isn’t the highest dosage, but it’s above average.
But guys, here’s the important part: it took me over a year of thinking and discussion with others to get to a place where I felt comfortable taking the plunge with this stuff. That’s a long time when you’re anxious and depressed and ruminating endlessly about pointless stuff and getting in your own way every other day. Don’t be me. Don’t be ashamed of this.
A major source of men’s struggles in life are because of shame. Most of us really suck at feeling this emotion. It usually causes us to go zero to 100 and lash out in anger, sometimes even physical violence, before we even have a second to process what’s happening.
James Gilligan, psychologist and expert on violence, spent decades interviewing prison inmates for his book Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic. He found a consistent theme throughout his interviews, that the feeling of shame led to these men being violent more than any other cause. (Here’s a quick two minute video of him talking about shame and pride and their link to violence.)
So your ability to process shame without becoming angry (toward others or yourself) is probably going to be a big thing for you, if it isn’t already. Let’s start now by dropping the shame you feel about taking medication to potentially improve your level of life satisfaction.
Yes, there’s some pretty robust evidence that a lot of the benefits of antidepressants may come from the placebo effect. I kinda don’t care, because the results are what matters, and what I just experienced since 2014 was nothing short of miraculous to me. As in, two years ago, I thought I’d be like that forever, and now I’m looking back wondering why I ever thought that.
What exactly was “that” back then I was going through? Briefly, I had a low-level background anxiety as a constant companion, which would usually lead to borderline obsessive rumination in my head, which would lead to slow, steady declines into depressive periods of a couple of days to a week.
I’ve never been suicidal and never been so depressed that I couldn’t get out of bed or any of those other cliches we tend to latch onto when we talk about this stuff, but I definitely was sabotaging my ability to get happier in small ways that would regularly accumulate into periods of relative hopelessness. I was ready to try something I considered drastic and an indication that I had failed: taking meds. I’m really glad I did.
The best way to describe what medication can do, if you find the right combination of type and dosage, is that it turns down the volume of the noise in your head. That noise is usually unconscious because it’s so prevalent and habitual, so we don’t see all the ways it changes our beliefs about ourselves.
With that largely imperceptible chatter quieter, I could see and then interrupt long-held thought and action patterns more easily. I could just hone in on what was really happening in my life, what part I was playing in all of it, and clear out more space in my head and heart for the really hard work of building new beliefs, attitudes and habits.
I repeat: you should strongly consider not just taking medication. Do it in conjunction with weekly psychotherapy sessions with a well-trained and experienced therapist who cares for and respects you.
Otherwise, the really (and I mean really) hard work of building these new beliefs, attitudes and habits could be so overwhelmingly hard that you give up or you get sidetracked by terrible advice you find on the internet from untrained idiots who just want to sell you shortcuts… which is 90% of the self-help gurus telling you they get laid every night. Trust me. I’ve spent a decade tracking most of their work and a lot of it is narcissistic, nihilistic and harmful to our society. But that’s another article for another day.
Life, in the end, is about getting better at stuff. What’s more important than getting better at being content? Reflect carefully on the resistance you feel to therapy and medication. It can work wonders if done properly. Rock on, gents.