“The loneliness, sadness, and melancholic hum of my life all validated by 10,000 antidepressants. I don’t think about them when they get delivered to my door or when they slide down my throat. No doctor ever questions their use. No pharmacist refuses a refill.”
In Reno, Nevada in 2001, Brooke Siem emerged from a child psychiatrist’s office with a prescription for antidepressants at age 15. Her father had just died, and her struggle with depression began down a medicated path.
She was among the first wave of adolescents given these drugs. Years later, nearing her 30th birthday and plagued with suicidal thoughts, Siem came to the realization that she had never been an unmedicated adult. Yet she still struggled with the very depression that she was medicated for every day.
A decision was made. Rather than end her life, she would end her prescribed medications. “May Cause Side Effects” is Siem’s memoir on withdrawal from antidepressants over the course of a year. It is a painful and profound journey that many readers will relate to, and in its pages of recovery, many more might find hope.
Siem’s decision to start her de-prescribing journey began while she was filming in the Food Network’s cooking competition “Chopped.” Her days were long and brutal, made even more so by her determination to win. In the end, she did!
She shows us how she tried to avoid revealing her struggles with the side of effects of deprescribing, while also being unable to show it publicly. After she wins, Siem departs on another journey, this time internationally. It is an opportunity for a remote year of work, and the memoir follows her to far flung countries, her discoveries and mishaps, while never losing sight of her hardest journey of all: recovery.
Siem is both a lively and circumspect storyteller, and her candid self-reflection on a lifelong struggle with depression and its impact on her own journey is something that will resonate strongly with readers. She has a sharp eye for her past, and the memoir reflects on connections between past and present traumas. We also read about her reliance on a support system that, like her, is not perfect. This is not a feel-good memoir, per se; it is an honest look at what it means to recover from the withdrawal of antidepressants, but also what it meant for her.
Prescribed medication does not magically appear in your bathroom cabinet. “May Cause Side Effects” isn’t afraid to explain side effects of both medications and the process of deprescribing. Siem explains that reality isn’t always what big pharma and the healthcare industry makes it out to be. Siem has a quantifiable relationship with her antidepressants. At one point, she literally adds up the pills taken during her lifetime, totaling over 10,000. There are moments when she questions the doctors who prescribed medicine that, in the end, did more harm than good.
With scenes ranging from Siem as a teenager dealing with depression and the loss of her father while sitting in a child psychiatrist’s office, to working in a professional kitchen and living under the bright lights in Manhattan, to the international travel to find herself, it all makes for a page-turning memoir.
The suicidal thoughts, the descriptions of antidepressants and other traumas, are also told with ironic humor and honesty. Though many may be able to relate to her struggle, any reader will root for this talented writer.
In the end, as she concludes, repeatedly, her story does not end here. For anyone on a similar journey, “May Cause Side Effects” is definitely a worthy companion.