When I was six months pregnant, I attended a birthing preparation class with my husband and about twelve other expectant parents. During the fifth session, the instructor asked the mothers whether or not they were going to use medication to get through the pain of childbirth labor.
“Everyone who wants to try for a natural birth, stand over here,” she said. “And everyone who plans on having an epidural or taking other pain medication, stand over here.”
I looked at the two groups, which held about the same number of people. My head went from one to the other much like a puppet with a tic. Like most decisions in my life (including which dressing I want on my salad), I had analyzed the hell out of this one—done all the research on both sides—and still couldn’t commit.
“What a feeling of triumph to be able to do it without drugs,” I thought to myself. “I could wear a t-shirt for the rest of my life that said, WOMAN WARRIOR–I GAVE BIRTH NATURALLY.” But I also knew that acute pain—just like severe depression– has devastating effects on the body, that white-knuckling it isn’t always the heroic thing to do. Plus I’m not a huge fan of pain. I try not to bring it on when I don’t have to. I could myself wearing the other t-shirt: PAIN IS NOT MY FRIEND: I CAVED TO THE EPIDURAL.
I walked up to the two groups and stood in the middle of them.
“I’m undecided,” I explained to both camps who glared at each other with disdain.
I have tried my best to stayed in that spot–in the middle, gazing at the opposing sides from my peripheral vision–for most of my life as a mental-health blogger. I believe that the center is by far the most interesting place to be because you get to read the memos from each group and decide whether or not you agree.
But it also gets lonely.
Because the world of medication is so divisive–especially when it comes to using antidepressants or any kind of psychotropic medication to treat depression and anxiety. There is the camp that believes anyone who uses them are avoiding the hard work that has to be done to move beyond sadness–that they are agents of evil, poisoning our systems with harmful toxins. And there is the camp that believes that medication is the one and only way of treating depression, that mood disorders are strictly biological and can’t benefit from any introspective work, that they are in no way influenced by one’s diet or life-style habits.