“If you’re on meds, you’re not ‘The Real You’”: A Vacuous Perspective On Antidepressants and the Nature of the Human Condition

This post brought to you by people who say things like, “If you’re on mental health meds, you’re not The Real You.”

This is just a for the record, for everyone, whether you’re talking about antidepressants or any other form of medication or life circumstances: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS THE “REAL YOU”.

You know why? Because HUMAN BEINGS ARE CONTEXT-DEPENDENT CREATURES.

You are the real you when you’re being flirty and charming and totally hitting it off with someone adorable. You are the real you when you’re crying on the floor of your room and wishing the world would end. You are the real you when you’re living it up on vacation and you are the real you when you’re just getting through the day at a boring job. You’re the real you when you’re on vacation and hate everything about it, and you’re the real you when you’re flying through the day at an amazing job. You are the real you when you’re at a party, and you’re the real you when you’re staying in with your cat. You are the real you when you’re drinking, when you’re high, when you’re reading, when you’re fucking, when you’re lonely, when you’re surrounded by friends, when you feel absolutely worthless, when you’re brimming with confidence, when you wish the universe would leave you alone, and when you love everything about it. You’re the real you when you’re unspeakably angry and hate everyone, and you’re the real you when you’re ecstatically in love and feeling on top of the world.

“THE REAL YOU” IS A MEANINGLESS TERM USED BY PEOPLE WHO DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW HUMAN BEINGS WORK.

It’s like saying liquid water is real water, and ice and water vapor are not real water. The reality is: water acts in completely different, utterly incompatible ways in different contexts, just like we do.

Me on medication isn’t “not the real me”, it is “me in a different context”. In this case, a different chemical context. I am different with different brain chemistry, the same as I am different in different social contexts, living environments, relationships, etc., etc. If I want to rearrange the context in which I live my life chemically in the same manner that I try to arrange my life socially, environmentally, etc., I may end up different, but I will not end up “less real”.

There are contexts in which I am a shitty human being. I am still me in those contexts. I am still real – just as real as the contexts in which I am an amazing, thoughtful, loving human being. I strive to avoid the contexts that engender my being a shitty human being, because I don’t like being a shitty human being. If I were a better human being in the context of using antidepressants than I am in the context of not using them, then I would make the decision to use them, and anyone who thinks that would be a bad decision because it would make me somehow “less real” can fuck the hell off.

Just for the record.


Side note: see the comments for some fleshing out of the operational definition of “the real you” being used in this post.

10 comments on ““If you’re on meds, you’re not ‘The Real You’”: A Vacuous Perspective On Antidepressants and the Nature of the Human Condition

  1. Pingback: Having Dynamic Emotional States Feels Weird | Research to be Done

  2. Even if I accept, arguendo, that me on mental health meds is not the ‘real me’…so what?

    Me on mental health meds is a better person – she is kinder and more capable, she has better control over her temper, and she does more for herself, those she cares about, and the world at large. She does better under pressure and is generally more of a good citizen and a productive person. Also, the experience of being me is vastly better.

    So…even if that is less authentically me, I’m okay with that. Because if authentic me is un-medicated me, I prefer this ‘fake’ me hands down. I’m pretty sure everyone does.

  3. I’m sort of one of the “real you” people and can’t help but to throw in my two cents.

    People form a mental image of you in a context. Say, you’re always happy with some people but not at eg. work. You take meds to survive work better and now as a side effect you’re more tired after work, not being able to be happy with the other people. Therefore you are no longer the real you.

    Something like amphetamine (in the sense of street crank) works wonders in changing your personality, at least for a short while. I know from experience it really sucks when you can’t know in advance what kind of “mood” someone is going to be in. I hear at least cocaine can be the same, but amphetamine is widely used for prescriptions.

    Sure, people can probably re-wire their brains through hard work and experience to learn to enjoy new things, but I’m not qualified to say if that works permanently. Like would the brain plasticity eventually revert to its former state if not trained all the time. Still, for an outsider who didn’t see the change process, the person would not be “the same” anymore.

    I think drugs make the changes faster and less predictable and that’s what people are talking about.

    Also with huge bouts of medication going about, not to mention for example women using birth control to steer their hormones (affecting not only moods but mate selection) you may get to know “someone” but if s/he has to get off the meds or change their types, you don’t really know who you’ll get it return. So it’s safer to hang out with people who are “themselves.”

    • I agree in principle that drugs, perhaps more dramatically than some other types of contextual change, can create differences in personality rapidly, and at times unpredictably. I also agree that, often, having a personality that is relatively reliably predictable can be a desirable thing. I just don’t like the idea of conflating that with the ideas of “real” and “not real”.

  4. I liked this post, but when I showed it to a friend she initially very confused, because she had a very different understanding of what’s meant by “the real you”.

    In her experience, the term “real you” is a value-neutral term that designates a person’s subjective experience of what they’d like to be. When you said that “there’s no such thing as the real you”, it came off to her as saying that any and all changes caused by meds were fine and acceptable no matter what they did, and as denying the experience of people who feel that meds are making them into something that they don’t want to be. Then, when she came to the last part, where you said that “If I were a better human being in the context of using antidepressants…”, it seemed like the text was contradicting itself. Because to her, “better human being” = “what a person wants to be” = “a person’s ideal self” = “a person’s real self”. So it seemed like you were first saying that all possible selves are equally good, but then in the last paragraph you were saying that meds were fine because they got you closer to a self that you considered good.

    Then she called me to ask WTF, and I explained how I’d understood the text, and eventually she came to agree that the text had a good message, just phrased in a confusing way.

    It might be useful if you’d add in the very beginning a brief explanation of how you understand the term “real self”, or what the sense of the term is that you’re arguing against, since otherwise people with a different understanding of the term will come away with a very different sense of what exactly you’re saying. (Apparently the technical sense of ‘real self’ in some psychological theories is exactly ‘the person’s perceived ideal self’, or so she told me.)

    • That makes sense. Going to have to see if I can think of a way to define it as it’s being used here, because, frankly, I don’t think the definition I am attacking in this post makes a whole lot of sense. I see people use it, but I don’t think they’ve really thought it through, and I think the definition itself would be pretty weird and fuzzy. It’s sort of like saying juice with sugar added isn’t really juice, because it has extra ingredients. In the same sense, “the real you” is apparently defined by some people as not adding ingredients that people see as “artificial”, like meds.

      • Another way of doing it would be to add in the beginning a clarification that your article is specifically targeting the people who say that others shouldn’t use meds, as opposed to the people who’ve tried them and decided to discontinue their use because the meds make them feel like not-themselves.

  5. Thank you for this. I’ve been struggling with finding “the real me”, and failing because it seems to keep changing. This perspective honestly never occurred to me.

    • You’re welcome, thanks for saying so :-)

      The analogy with water (which was the “Aha!” moment for me) was something that originally occurred to me for similar reasons. I did and do act very different around different types of people, and, having been a chemistry student, it finally one day hit me that there was an analogy there. Chemicals with precisely the same molecular structure act in wildly different ways depending on context, and yet, when you get right down to their scale, they are still exactly the same atoms in exactly the same configuration in every single one of those contexts.

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