By Susan H., 15
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Illustration by Brian Lopez-Santos, 15, Marshall HS

I was assigned a therapist when I was 12 years old. Because I was in foster care, the system thought I needed someone to talk to. My therapist saw that I wasn’t talking and playing as much as I used to, so I started seeing a psychiatrist. My siblings and I would see him once a month in an office in a big building. The sessions were boring. He’d ask me the same question over and over, “How do you feel?” I’d just say OK.

I had a lot of reasons to be sad. My mom was in jail. I never met my father. I liked my foster parents but it wasn’t the same as being with my real parents.

On the fourth visit to the psychiatrist, my therapist and my psychiatrist asked me if I was sad. I said I was. My psychiatrist asked, “Do you feel more sad sometimes than you do other times?” Yes. Then he drew a roller coaster on the paper and said “You’re on this part” and pointed at the lowest part. He said, “If you’re on medication it’s going to go like this” and he drew smaller curves. They said I was depressed and that they had something that would help me feel less sad. I didn’t know what “depressed” meant. I went home and looked it up in the dictionary. It said “extreme sadness.” I thought, I’m sad, but I’m not extremely sad.

My therapist said she’d give me a day to think about taking Prozac, which is an antidepressant medication. I wasn’t sure what to do. I thought that if I took it, the emotion of sadness would be gone. But I was concerned about whether it would change me, whether I would act different. My foster mom said to take advantage of what the county was giving me because not all children get to take medication for free. I still wasn’t sure. Then later that day, I was listening to the radio and I heard The Offspring sing, “Prozac can make it better.” I decided to take it because people were saying it was good.

I withdrew from life

My therapist and psychiatrist never told me the side effects. It made me cranky, I got headaches and it took me a long time to fall asleep. Life seemed dull and gray. I started thinking everything was a routine and what’s the point if you do the same thing over and over again? I would go to school but I wouldn’t go to all my classes. I would go to the bathroom or ride the bus to a fast-food restaurant and buy chili cheese fries. When I got home after school I’d grab a bag of Hot Cheetos and go to my room. I’d turn on the radio and look at the ceiling. I didn’t do my homework. I’d be somewhere else in my mind, in an imaginary world. Sometimes I’d think about my future. I figured I would end up in the streets because I’d always be depressed.
Every day at school my teacher would announce in front of everyone, “Susan, you have to go take your medication now.” I felt embarrassed. The other kids asked me why I was taking medication. I’d say that my teacher was kidding or she wanted me out of class or my foster mom wanted to talk to me. I felt different from everyone else, like Edward Scissorhands when he was all alone in his house.

Therapy didn’t help either. I didn’t like talking about myself. We would play games or my therapist would take me to the batting cage and ask me questions about myself. I’d change the subject. I’d ask, “How fast do the balls go?” or bring up my homework.

Then on top of that, I had to deal with more changes. My foster mom started getting headaches and her back hurt a lot. My foster parents blamed it on me and told me I put too much stress on her. So my sister and I moved and my brother moved to another house. I felt it was my fault, that my depression made everything miserable.

At my new foster home, my foster mom and I were always at each other’s throats. Another thing that was difficult was that my other brother was getting adopted. I felt sad because we were really close.

I tried to keep my mind off the pile of things to be sad about, so I started going to school but still wasn’t doing my work. I kept busy reading books and doing other people’s stuff, like my friends’ homework.

Eventually, because I wasn’t getting along with my foster mom, I went to yet another foster home with my little sister. Everything was going downhill. My grades had slipped to Cs and Ds. I’ve always been an optimist. But on the medication, I couldn’t look at the bright side of things.

All I’d wear was black. I started hanging out with the goths because I felt at home with them. I found out that they cut and I started cutting too. Whenever I got mad I’d go to the restroom and cut myself. No one knew because I always wore sweaters.

I didn’t want to admit I was depressed

I wanted to talk to someone but at the same time I didn’t want to say I had a problem because I didn’t want to admit it to myself. My social worker and therapist asked me what was bothering me. I didn’t talk to them because I thought they would blame me. But I didn’t have anyone else to talk to because my siblings all had their own problems. And I moved around so much that I didn’t have close friends.

One day I overheard my social worker and my foster mom talking. My social worker asked my foster mom if I was getting any better. My foster mom said she thought I was getting worse. She said there might not be any hope for me, that I was going to end up in a mental hospital or end up killing myself.

I saw all of my dreams floating away, my dreams of growing up, being happily married, having kids, being a veterinarian, making life better for my siblings. I thought that since she’d lost hope, maybe I should too.

I thought about killing myself. No wait, I thought, I can’t do it. All of a sudden there was a voice in my head that said, “It’s better for everyone. There’s no hope anyway. What’s the point?” That side of me made sense so I just gave in.

I tried to strangle myself, but my sister walked into our bedroom and stopped me. She looked startled, like she was afraid of me. She kept on saying my name over and over. I told her “nothing happened” to calm her down. I made her promise not to tell my foster mom because then I would have to move or be sent to a mental hospital.

A week later I tried again. They had to take the bathroom door down to get me out. A few days later, after the third time when my foster mom walked in and saw me cutting myself, they called my social worker. She came to my house when I was doing my homework on the patio. She said I was a good student and I had a lot to work for. I thought I was letting her down so I didn’t want to talk to her and admit that I was unhappy.

She asked me, “Why do you look so sad?” I said “I’m not sad.” I was smiling but my eyes gave it away. She asked me again and told me not to lie to her. I said I felt like I was worthless, like I didn’t have a reason to live. She asked if I was going to do anything again. I said I did have thoughts of suicide. She said she had to call the cops. I said no. She said then I’d have to sign a contract. I refused so she called the cops.

The cops tried to take me to a mental hospital, but my social worker wouldn’t let them. I signed the contract and then my social worker signed it and the cops signed it as witnesses. It said I wouldn’t try to kill myself for a year and that if I did, I would go to a mental hospital for my own good.

I went to my room and cried. I was mad. I felt they were interfering in my life. But a couple days later I realized that if my social worker went through the trouble of calling the cops and got me out of going to a mental hospital, then she did believe in me. It made me think there was hope left and that I could get better.

Looking back, it’s strange to remember all that stuff. I feel like that wasn’t me. It feels like I am telling a stranger’s story. Back then, I felt so alone. Now I know that people care for me. Now I’m glad they stepped in.

My foster parents said I needed more help than they could provide. I went to a new foster home without my sister. I was starting over again. My new foster mom threw out my black clothes and bought me new clothes. I started high school at La Puente High. At first I felt like an outcast because I didn’t know anyone, but then I started getting a little better because I made friends. Plus I had a contract to keep.

Around the same time they switched my medication to Zoloft, another antidepressant. Zoloft was better. It made me less sad, but I still didn’t like it. I felt like it was controlling my emotions, like I would get mad over anything.

Then one day one of my friends gave me a newspaper article that said that a study showed that some medications for depression could cause thoughts of suicide in children. For the first time, I realized my depression wasn’t my fault. I was happy because I understood that I didn’t really want to die, that it was the  medication talking. I was also mad that they had prescribed me something without knowing what it would do to me.

As soon as I got home I called my social worker and read the article to her. She said I should stop taking the medication and that I should tell my psychiatrist. I said I didn’t want to because they’ll think I’m in denial about my “illness.” In the end, she talked to my psychiatrist for me.

She also argued with my foster agency when the agency said I needed to stay on the meds. She and my pastor were the only people listening to me. He talked to my foster parents and finally convinced them I didn’t need to be on medication.

Back to my old self

A month later, they took me off the medication slowly by decreasing the milligrams. My head would hurt. But a few weeks later, I could be myself again. I felt like I was coming out of a dark tunnel and seeing the sun for the first time.

While taking the medication, a part of me had been lost. My friends would want to do something and I would say no because I would be too bored or tired. Now I’m like, “Let’s go.” I’m happy and I’m bubbly. Like before tests, I make up songs and rap in class about what we’re being tested on.

That wasn’t the only good thing. I had to leave my foster home because they didn’t have space for me anymore. My new foster mother is supportive.

But I was still feeling like that sad person was a part of me. A few months later, a speaker came to our school and talked about how he had partied and used alcohol when he was in school but he grew out of it. He said “the past is history, the present a victory and the future a mystery.” He had a point. I felt like I wasn’t tied down anymore. There wasn’t anything holding me back from making my dreams come true.

I believe I didn’t need the medication. I needed someone to talk to. If I hadn’t been on the medication, it would have been easier for me to talk to people because I wouldn’t have felt there was something wrong with me. Talking to someone helps you get things off your chest, which makes you feel better. After I saw how much my social worker battled for me to be off the medication, I felt like she would listen to me. Now whenever I need to talk, I call my social worker. I also have opened up to my new therapist.

Still, I can’t blame them. None of us knew that I would get so bad. I believe everything happens for a reason. The reason I went through this is to tell others not to believe what people say if you don’t feel it’s true. Even though it may look like you are in a dump, it will be OK. You should never give up hope. Sooner or later it’s going to get better.

Editor’s note: Some people are helped by antidepressant medication. If you are taking antidepressants or any other medication, do not stop taking your medication without a doctor’s supervision.