Antidepressants 101: What I’ve Learned + What I Want You to Know
I’m not going to lie — I’ve had so much anxiety writing this post + I’ve continued to put it off [I’m now 1 day past the deadline I gave myself… oops]! I feel like there is always such a debate around any medication — let alone antidepressants. I hid that I took antidepressants for years due to so much shame of taking *happy pills* as some people would call them. As I’ve began to share my story + journey more though, I realize how big of a role taking this medication has played + I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without having chosen to take this medication consistently.
I strongly feel that anyone looking for mental health resources should also be aware of all their options – including medication! I am by no means a medical professional or doctor + ultimately, the choice to take medication is exactly that — a CHOICE. I want to share my experience with antidepressant medication in the hopes that it helps you either #A] not feel ashamed if you also take medication + #B] helps you find the right route for your body + feel educated while speaking with your doctor!
I was prescribed antidepressants by my general practitioner when I was at rock bottom. My mom had taken me to the doctor while I was home on Thanksgiving Break from my freshman year at college + he saw me — emaciated, crying, + incredibly depressed. He also knew my family history + knew that depression ran in my family. Without hesitation, he recommended therapy + trying medication, as well as taking time off from school. I said I’d try two of those things — medication + therapy. The next day, I started the medication + I have been on it for 9 years now.
I believe that if I hadn’t started medication, I wouldn’t be here today. I even told myself when starting medication, “Give yourself 4 weeks. If it doesn’t get better, you can give up.” Thankfully. it DID get better. The crying became less frequent, I started to get my appetite back, + my energy levels started to come back up. I also didn’t have any severe side effects – so there was essentially no huge *down-side* for me on this medication. This is NOT the case for everyone + not everyone finds a medication that works well for them right off the bat.
Throughout the years, we’ve adjusted my medication — it’s gone up in dosage + back down. I’ve tried [unsuccessfully] to stop taking it several times. I don’t believe I’ll *always* be on medication — but I also accept that right now, it’s something I do take. Here are a few things I believe you should know when starting medication…
If you’re trying to decide whether or not to take medication for depression, you might also want to try some lifestyle changes that could help. 90% of our serotonin is made in our gut — so our guts + brains or highly connected! Studies have also found that exercise can help with mood as well. Check out our other posts on the benefits of healthy eating + exercise habits:
- Mental Health + Exercise
- Mental Health, The Gut-Brain Connection, + Nutrition
- Mental Health + Sleep
- 6 Tips to Alleviate Depression Naturally
Currently, I work with a psychiatrist + I value her opinion. When I first started seeing her, I told her, “I really want to stop taking this” — she immediately got to know me. Why did I want to stop taking this? Was I having side effects from it? How was it affecting my life? She was able to point out that maybe *right now* wasn’t the best time to stop taking medication + that I had some other goals I wanted to achieve through therapy before I worked to that.
Don’t be afraid to do your research + ask questions! Some questions I would bring to a doctor’s visit include:
- What are potential side effects of this medicine?
- Will it interact with any other medication?
- What are some other changes I should make in addition to taking this medication?
- How long until I should see noticeable improvements with this medication?
- What if I start to feel worse on this medication?
- What other alternatives would you recommend?
- Will my insurance cover this medication?
If you’re uncomfortable with your doctor — find a new one or one that you feel is listening to your needs! Lastly, make sure you’re committed to seeing your doctor + checking in with them especially during the first couple of months with starting on something. Even though I haven’t made changes to my medication or dosage in over a year, I still see my psychiatrist every 3 months.
I look back + realize how incredibly lucky I was that I had success with my first medication + dosage. Know that this isn’t always the case + before starting any medication — be aware of potential side effects + drug interactions. Voice any reservations or concerns you have to your doctor! Medication also takes time to work — you might find it helpful to create a *Mood Journal* where you can track your mood over a few weeks or months + see any consistent changes. You might not even notice the positive changes until a couple months of taking them consistently!
If you decide you want to stop taking medicine for some reason — it is vital that you discuss this decision with your doctor + you will have to wean yourself off of it.
I firmly believe that any *illness* can use multiple forms of treatment to be most effective. Just look at the common cold – when you get a cold, you don’t just take a Dayquil + call it good, right? No! You take Dayquil, you try to go to bed early + get more sleep, you drink hot tea + eat warm soup, + you take it easy. I see Mental Health [or Illness] in a similar way – I am not able to just *take a pill* + feel better. You have to do the hard work of taking care of yourself + loving yourself to! I don’t think I would be where I am today without:
#1] Therapy. I’ve worked with counselors for as long as I’ve taken medication — I think they are essential pieces of the puzzle + have really helped me with healthy coping skills. Check out this post on 5 Pieces of Advice For Finding A Counselor.
#2] Meditation + Mindfulness Practice. This has been truly life-changing [although it’s taken me A LONG TIME to see those *life changes* ; ) — so don’t give up on it yet!].
#3] Cultivating A Support System. My family, my best friends, my boyfriend, + all of Team CHAARG — I have an epic support system that allow me to ask for help.
. . .
As I said in the beginning — I’m not a doctor + this is a choice. What I’ve shared above is my own story + my own thoughts. Do your research + talk to your doctor before deciding for or against anything!
Always here for you!
— Mental Health Resource Guide
— 6 Tips To Alleviate Depression Naturally
— Tracking Your Mental Health Through Journaling