Don’t Call Them “Happy Pills”

15 Apr

It’s no secret that I take medication for my anxiety and OCD.  It’s in my intro on the sidebar, for crying out loud.

Every morning, it’s 1 1/2 antidepressant pills and 2/3 of a long-acting anti-anxiety medication.  And in the evening, another 2/3  of the anti-anxiety, along with my prenatal vitamin for lactating moms (yes, I’m still nursing), and lately some ibuprofen for my earache.


I don’t take them lightly.  After all, these medications are altering my brain chemistry.  I’ve worked closely with my doctors and therapist to find a medication combination that works for me while balancing the side effects.  I’ve considered the risks and have researched their effects on breastfeeding.  I’ve adjusted doses and schedules more times than I care to count.  And this is all after spending a year fighting against taking anything at all because of the stigma and my misunderstanding of how psychotropic medications work.

My antidepressant works by soaking the nerve cells in my brain with seritonin.  Seritonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible in part for regulating the intensity of moods.  See, a normal brain releases seritonin, exposing the nearby brain cells, and then reabsorbs it.  My brain either does not produce enough seritonin or reabsorbs it too quickly.  SSRI’s (selective seritonin reuptake inhibitors) work by blocking the reabsorption process, thereby allowing the nerve cells to bathe in the seritonin for longer.  In my case, more is better.

The long-acting anti-anxiety medication increases dopamine levels and, along with melatonin,  has been shown in studies to rebuild neurons.  Dopamine is part of the “reward system” of the brain and is responsible for many functions, including mood, movement, working memory, learning, and motivation.

These medications work together to relieve the crippling anxiety and buzzing energy of my OCD and anxiety disorder, both of which have contributed to depression in the past.  They allow me to strap my children into my mother’s car and watch as she safely drives them for a sleep over without slumping to the floor in paralyzing fear that they will crash during the ride.  They help regulate my reaction to hormones like cortisol (the stress hormone; think fight or flight) during arguments with my 4-year-old.  Without this regulation, I am susceptible to anxiety-induced rage.  And most importantly to me, I couldn’t have slugged through the messy, emotional work of therapy had my seritonin and dopamine levels been unbalanced.

What they don’t do?  Is make me happy.  Instead, they allow me to feel the happiness that my unbalanced brain chemistry was robbing me of.

So do me a favor and don’t call them “happy pills.”  It makes you sound ignorant and makes me feel stigmatized.  It’s medication for a medical condition.  Period.


** I don’t have to remind you that I’m not a doctor, right?  I’m just one person sharing her story.  Medication decisions are personal and are best made with your doctor’s supervision.**

8 Responses to “Don’t Call Them “Happy Pills””

  1. motherhoodisnotforsissies April 15, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    Like this LOVE you! You are so brave and such an inspiration. YEs like you I have my meds to keep me “in check”. Without them I am nothing but a mess of a woman that wants to tear down walls, kick holes into doors, scream at her husband and run away from life. Pretty scary isnt it. And it husrt to say that. So every morning I take my pills – or as I call them “Moms Crazy Pills”. I try so hard to be kind to myself – but somedays its easier said and preached than done.

    • motherhoodisnotforsissies April 15, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

      Please forgive the typos – clearly even with the medication I either type to fast or cant spell 🙂

    • learnedhappiness April 15, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

      Aww, thanks, D. It’s bizarre how “not myself” I am without the medication. I’m so fortunate to have access to good doctors and to be able to afford medications, you know?

      And I say call them whatever you want for yourself. It’s when others stigmatize or simplify AD medications that I get my panties in a wad. LOL.

      • motherhoodisnotforsissies April 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

        Totally get it. I didnt get the right dose in the beginning and WOW what a difference. Thank goodness I have a dr that is on top of his stuff. I often wonder how much longer I am going to be on these for – and if I will ever mother without them. One step and day at a time I know. Love to you and yours my cyber friend.

  2. story3girl April 15, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    Yes, to all of this. You are doing the hard work and dealing with the hard stuff and all of your experiences are just as valid as anyone else’s. The pills just treat the chemical imbalance.

  3. tranquilamama May 8, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    I call my pills my “patience” pills. Otherwise I go into that anxiety-fueled rage that you describe. It is not pretty. I need the medication, the therapy and my own coping skills to manage.


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