What No One Told Me About Depression Medications

I’ve lived with depression since the fall of 2011 and it’s been an experience that sometimes I can’t believe I’ve survived, but five years later, here we are.

My depression diagnosis came as no surprise, I had been dealing with intense feelings of sadness since I was a kid. I’ve been in a wheelchair my whole life and from the time I was a kid, I’d always been extremely upset about being “different.” As I got older, no matter how many guidance counselors I talked to throughout middle and high school, I never felt better but I hid it and pretended I was fine. Everything came to the surface when I failed out of college, for what would be the first time.

The first medication I took for depression, Celexa looked a lot like a birth control pill. It was small and I would often forget to take it. However, when I did remember to take it, I hated it. I had known that there were side effects to SSRI medications and black box warnings, but I was totally unprepared for one side effect in particular. My ability to orgasm no longer existed and I was horrified. I immediately ran to the internet to figure how many other folks had experienced what I did. It turned out to be pretty common and many people had suggested a different medication called Wellbutrin that didn’t have these effects so at my one month check-in, I practically begged my doctor to change the prescription and he did. I thought it’d be smooth sailing from then on, but I thought wrong! When I swapped medications, I somehow didn’t realize that there would be new side effects: I got a dizzy and I forgot things— common things I did everyday. I’d get in an elevator and just stare at the buttons, not being able to press anything even though I went to the same floor everyday. It was scary, but I never said anything because I was afraid of having to shop from medication to medication until I got to one whose side effects I could withstand and fortunately those side effects disappeared. In addition to the scarier things, Wellbutrin was also tougher to take because it was chalky and I had to take it more than once a day.

As grateful as I was for both those medications, I still had one problem – it felt as if wasn’t working. In reality, I treated the treatments as if they were magical and I’d be right back to “normal.” I had set up these unrealistic expectations for how these meds would help me, I didn’t think it involved work and though I saw a therapist, I was frustrated and felt unfixable, and it didn’t help that people around me also held this “magic pill” ideal. Anytime I mentioned I felt sad, just regular sadness, I’d get asked “Did you take your pill today?” and that made me feel like I wasn’t “acceptable” unless I took this medicine that was supposed to make think of only sunshine and rainbows.

I felt shame because I didn’t want the stigma of taking pills and being called “crazy” because of needing medication – the stigma of the illness was enough. At the same time, I noticed that how on social media people would judge others based on what course of actions they took in terms of treatments. I’d look on Tumblr and there’d be a two panel picture and in the top panel is a forest and the words over it that read, “THIS IS AN ANTIDEPRESSANT” and the bottom panel would have a picture of antidepressants with an overlay of white words that read, “THIS IS SHIT.” I wondered why are we shaming people for treating their ailments? It wasn’t helping anyone to feel better about whatever treatment they chose.

Through, I’m still taking medication for the treatment of depression. I wish  someone had given me the scoop on medications – a primer, if you will. Just so I knew exactly what I was getting into. I walked into this thinking, “I’m going to be fine as soon as I take this medicine,” when really your emotions are going to be all over the place until you become acclimated to the new substance you’re introducing to your system. I know medications don’t work for everyone, but in all honesty, I’m not sure I’d be here without them.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

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