I don’t usually talk about my mental health online, partly because of the stigma, but I want to share my experiences with you in an honest, open way. Trigger warning for depression, anxiety, and other health issues.
When I realized my depression was worsening with the start of my last year of grad school, I knew I had to try something different. I’ve known about my depression and anxiety since I was 15 or 16, and I’ve tried it all – therapy, exercise, meditation, you name it. While I feel like I can usually adequately manage my symptoms, I realized that any large amount of stress could set it off. I don’t want to feel like I could go back back into a depressive period at any moment. I went through a really rough time last year due to the stresses of grad school, and I definitely didn’t want to do that again. So I decided to look into other alternatives, including medication.
My main frustration with looking into anti-depressants is that almost anywhere you search for information, you’ll get post after post about Big Pharma, overmedication, or dangerous side effects. I simply wanted stories, first-hand accounts, unbiased opinions, to see whether or not anti-depressants could be an option. I educated myself to make sure that anti-depressants were the right choice for me – I realized that an SSRI simply fixes brain chemistry in a depressed person, and that risks were low for me since I have depression. (A lot of the negative side effects seem to occur in people who are not depressed, but are taking anti-depressants.)
Finally, after asking around and a lot of research, I booked an appointment with a general practitioner. My doctor was awesome – I had a really great experience. Since she had gone through similar experiences, she was really understanding and seemed genuine. I did blood tests to see if I had any deficiencies (mainly because I’m vegan, probably) or other conditions that could be affecting my depression, and when those tests came back negative, she let me know my options.
I chose to try Lexapro, which my doctor said is prescribed to patients with ADD and anxiety as well, so it has a little bit of a stimulant effect. So far, it’s really been working for me. The first day was incredible – I had so much energy! My depression has been manifesting itself as endless exhaustion these days, so the burst in energy made all the difference in the world. Although it’s evened out since then, I’ve found that overall, the stimulant effect is really helping. The actual anti-depressant properties took a few more weeks to kick in. I love that my emotional range is stabilized; I rarely feel deeply sad or hopeless anymore. I’m lucky that the first one I tried seems to be working – sometimes, you have to troubleshoot several different medications to find the right one.
I was concerned that the side effects would be brutal, but mine were mostly mild – shaky hands, tingly fingers, lack of appetite, and nausea – and disappeared within a week after starting the medication. The worst symptom was the nausea.
I’ve been terrified of anti-depressants for years. Medication seemed like giving up on being able to solve my own problems, but honestly, having a chemical imbalance is a totally valid reason to take medication. It’s not giving up. It’s entirely likely that I won’t be on medication forever. It has taken me a long time to be okay with asking for this kind of help, but I’m so, so happy I finally did.
I wanted to write this post to try and remove some of the stigma around mental illness and provide a resource for those looking into trying medication. I hope my honest account of my experiences have helped. If you are struggling, please reach out to get the help you need. It could be seeing a doctor about medication, making an appointment with a therapist, or something totally different. If you need someone to talk to, check this list of hotlines or try an IM crisis service like IMAlive. Above all, remember that you are not alone and it’s okay to ask for help.