A reader’s story about taking meds has spurred me to address a topic I’ve been mulling about for some time now: the ways in which people do or don’t discuss their medications with their significant others.
The reader, a 21-year-old who wanted to go only by “CJ” was plagued by several concerns about taking medication long-term. Among them was the possibility of “meeting someone” and then needing to disclose having a psychiatric diagnosis and a regimen of psychopharmaceuticals, without which, CJ, said “I’m a different person, a scary person.”
I found it sad and poignant that this was among this young person’s top concerns concerning medication. But for better or worse, taking psychiatric medication is a very private act, something we must decide whether or not to disclose to others.
The decision to do so or not to do so takes on outsize importance as young people navigate their first serious relationships.
Of course, no matter how old you are when you begin taking psychiatric medication, at some point you will probably face the decision of when and if to tell friends and loved ones about your pills.
But when you have a history of psychotropic use from a young age, it’s likely that your relationship with the medication preceded your relationship with the boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse in whom your are looking to confide. To keep the medication a secret can feel furtive, even dishonest, like hiding a past affair or any other major fact about your life.
Or, perhaps it doesn’t feel this way to you, the person taking the medication, because you have so thoroughly integrated the medication into your routine. But it may well feel this way to the person you are dating, especially if psychotropics constitute unfamiliar territory for them.
Consider what happened when, at age 22, I first confessed to my boyfriend of several months that I had been taking Prozac for the past five years.
I don’t remember what prompted the disclosure in the first place. Probably, I had to take my pills one morning and when he asked what I was taking, I answered him. In any case, he was hurt and slightly angry that I hadn’t told him before about “these pills.” He saw me as a confident, competent, older (17 months older, to be exact), woman. The idea that I could ever have suffered from depression and anxiety baffled him, challenged his idea of who he thought I was.
I hadn’t told him about “these pills” because, at the time my depression and anxiety had been under control for years and I considered the fact that I was taking Prozac a minor detail in my life.
I also hadn’t told him about the antidepressants because I knew some people disapproved of psychopharmaceuticals, viewed them as something of a chemical crutch, and I hadn’t felt like explaining myself. And, frankly, I was a little ruffled when he was so taken aback by the news, as though only someone damaged and dysfunctional would be taking antidepressants, not someone as cheerful and productive as I was at the time.
Seven years later, I’m married to this same guy, and I think I understand a little better where he was coming from. In those first months of dating, he just wanted to know me better, and he felt that my taking a medication that changed my moods and behavior was a significant biographical fact that I had omitted.
I’d like to discuss in a future post how couples discuss the actual experience of medication – what it feels like to take it – and whether members of a couple who begin taking medication at different stages in their lives have different kinds of experiences, and how they talk about it.
But in the meantime, I’m curious to know your thoughts about that initial disclosure about taking meds. What do we owe our significant others when it comes to telling them about the psychiatric medications we take and why we take them? And does it change anything when the drugs come into the picture before they do, and at a formative age?