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 and 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:
1] Lifestyle Changes Help
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
2] Make Sure You Trust + Respect Your Doctor
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.
- If you’re uncomfortable with your doctor – find a new one or one that you feel is listening to your needs
- 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?
- Also – 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.
3] Side Effects Are Possible + The First Medication You Try Might Not Be The *Right* One
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!
4] You Cannot Just Stop Taking It
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.
5] Hard Work Is Still Ahead
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:
- 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
- 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!]. Check out the 4 Reasons to Meditate Today!
- 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!