not so anti-antidepressants

*Pre-curser: Before publishing this post, I was hesitant. Do I really want to publicize this aspect of myself? To refrain would be dishonest. This is who I am, and therefore there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Growing up, I was always a happy and cheerful child. Jubilant, energetic, positive, and lively. Making friends was easy, and keeping them was even easier. Most things just seemed simple.

As I got older, I started to notice a gradual decline in my mental well-being. In college, I experienced a typical amount of work-load stress, roommate tiffs, and boy drama. Normally I was resilient to minor drawbacks. However, at the age of 20, I experienced my first bout of depression.

Kick started by rejection and cheating from my supposed boyfriend at the time, suddenly I was not myself. My personality changed. I could not find happiness in the things that would normally give me so much. I could not wholeheartedly laugh at jokes that normally I’d find funny. I was overwhelmed by the start of every day, and could barely find the will to get out of bed in the morning. When I’d return from school in the afternoon, I’d crawl back into bed, throw the blankets over my head, and wish that the day would hurry up and end so that I could fall into a deep sleep and forget about my responsibilities.  I started to avoid people. People that I cared about and loved. Mostly because I could not find the strength to carry out conversations with them, but also because I could not handle the stress and guilt of bringing my sadness around other happy, unaffected individuals. I would cry a few times a day, lost my appetite, and also any motivation that I was ever lucky enough to have in the first place. This lasted a good 6-8 weeks. Slowly, things got better and I was cured. I returned to my normal self.

Again I was afflicted by depression at the age of 22. I had just graduated from college, a time of my life that I was expecting to be incredibly fulfilling. Instead, I had never felt so lost and empty in my life. Like many, I had a post-college crisis. Suddenly I knew nothing…about who I was, who I wanted to be, and what I wanted to do with my life. I delve into a state of depression yet again. I started to avoid people, snap at them, cry more frequently, and spiral into what seemed like a never-ending pit of negativity. Although this episode lasted for less time than the last, it was still bad enough to have thoughts of slamming my car into walls and trees on my way to and from work. Again, this passed and I returned to my normal self.

Most recently, I experienced depression for the third time (at the age of 23). Unlike the prior times, there were no breakups or crazy life transitions to account for my sudden onset of depression. In fact, everything in my life was seamless. I had a loving, caring boyfriend. A good job with friendly co-workers, a supportive family, and amazing friends. I had everything I wanted. Before I knew it, depression crept in. Suddenly every day seemed like a marathon. Every morning I would cry before going in to work. I just didn’t want to go, and couldn’t handle the overwhelming feelings that it entailed. On Fridays, I was already worried about the anxiety I would inevitably feel on Sundays, for the Monday that would ensue shortly thereafter. I enjoyed Sundays less than Mondays, because at least when Monday was over then Tuesday would come and we’d be one step closer to another weekend. The crying continued, and the irritability was almost intolerable. I would feel myself getting angry any time someone tried to speak to me, or reach me on the phone. Not just angry, but enraged. I took routes that would mean avoiding others. I would take everything personally, and could not, for the life of me, find an inkling of positivity in anything. I lost my appetite entirely, causing me to lose almost 20 pounds in the span of only a few months. I hit a low. I felt dangerous to myself and all of those around me. When I finally had the opportunity to see my general doctor, it was in just the nick of time. He prescribed me a low dose of Lexapro (5mg), an SSRI that is intended to help with anxiety and depression.

Up until this point, I had always been anti-medication. If I had a headache, I’d let it pass. If I had cramps, those could pass too. A cold? Flu? Nothing was too impossible for my good ol’ body to fight off. This time was different though. Try as I might, I did not have any control over the depression. When it gets you, it gets you good. You succumb to all that it is. Begrudgingly, I accepted the medication. I figured I did not have much to lose, but I could potentially have everything to gain. I could have my life back. If I didn’t like it, I promised myself that I could simply stop taking it. I wondered how it might alter my brain. I wondered if I would feel like myself, or if I would feel like a prisoner to the substance. I wondered if my reactions to everyday events would feel unnatural, and un-me. I was fearful. Had it really come to this? Was I really going to be someone on anti-depressants? Was I psychotic? Why couldn’t I just shake it all off, and be stronger than the ‘sickness’?—for lack of a better term.

Taking antidepressants was even more difficult to me, as I aspire to be a counseling psychologist and wondered if this drawback meant that the field of psychology was not for me. Since I need medication, do I really have the right to counsel others on how to be happy and live a fulfilling life? What would make me an expert if I can’t even be medication-free?

It was at this point in my life that I had to make a choice. I could continue to feel lifeless and depressed, or give the antidepressants a chance to help me. Pushing all of my pride aside, I allowed the medication to work its magic.

Initial Symptoms

The first 2-3 days felt odd. I experienced a dream-like, hazy state for most of the day. I felt drugged, and even a little emotionless. I was extremely tired, and lackadaisical.  However, I did not feel angry, sad, or even irritable. I was too busy being tired.

As the days went on, the sleepiness wore off. I started to feel normal throughout the day. I avoided people less, had an increased level of patience for things, developed an appetite again, gained motivation to do the things I enjoy, and felt a great deal less anxiety. Negative thoughts vanished. It was amazing. Suddenly all of the negativity was just gone. Positivity came into the picture for the first time in forever. I started to actually look forward to work! Everything was easier, and I was able to enjoy things again. I cannot say enough how truly magnificent this little pill worked for me. I am myself again, and I’ve never felt better.

Aside from vivid, mostly bad dreams and night sweats, I have no more symptoms from the pill. It’s been five months now, and I’ve gained less than 5 pounds since being on the pill, which was to be expected since I was eating next to nothing while depressed.

For the level of improvement I’ve experience, the side effects feel almost non-existent.

Self-Work

Although I don’t doubt that the antidepressants aided in my recovery immensely, I have also done a lot of self-work that coincided with the effects of the medication. I have been seeing a therapist regularly, which has been a major help to me. The therapist helps me to see things in different ways, and gives me strategies for dealing with things that are troubling. It feels extremely comforting to have a contact that I know is on my ‘team’, so to speak. She is someone who is here to help me find strength within myself. She has been facilitating my personal transformation.

I have also been reading a number of self-help books. I believe that the more you immerse yourself in positivity, the more your mind will naturally tend to think in those ways. Soon, the habits that I am trying to create for myself will be effortless and natural.

Here is my reading list:

Codependent No More by Melody Beattie

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay

Love is Letting Go of Fear by Gerald G. Jampolsky

Next on the list:

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge

You are a Badass by Jen Sincero

The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and in business by Charles Duhigg

The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein

Lastly, I have done a great deal of self-reflection and journaling in the last few months. I have been very mindful of my personal setbacks, weaknesses, and habits. When I catch myself being a certain way that I no longer endorse, I try my best to reset my thinking and behave accordingly. Through writing and reflection, I have gained a great deal of insight. I am not the same person that I was 6 months ago. I am mentally stronger. I have a greater love for myself. I have a greater appreciation for what I’ve been through and how far I’ve come.

I am the happiest I’ve ever been right now, antidepressants and all. Sometimes, whether we like it or not, we need a little outside help. I am no less of a person now because I am on medication. In fact, I’m the greatest version of myself up to date. I do not feel that I’ve taken the easy way out, because I’ve been doing my fair share of self-work…more than a lot of people might ever do in their lifetime. And that’s a lot to be proud of.

If you’re experiencing depression and aren’t quite sure where to turn, you are welcome to contact me or someone you trust and can confide in. Medication (and therapy) might be the key to your recovery. Remember to be gentle with yourself. You are human, and feelings are a part of being alive. In spite of all you might be feeling right now, one thing is for sure, you are not alone. Happiness is right around the corner.

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2 thoughts on “not so anti-antidepressants

  1. Allie,

    This was such a great read as it really spoke to my personal transformation journey. I too have struggled with depression in the past, mostly throughout college and have been seeing a clinical psychologist for years. We are stronger for it, and I love that you are speaking out about the positive effects of seeking help for mental issues. You have always been a bright spot in the a crazy world!

    All the best,
    Morgan Layne

    Like

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