#MentalHealthMonday is a (sometimes) weekly discussion series I discovered through Wendy @ what the log had to say. You can read more of my #MentalHealthMonday posts here.
Today I want to talk about something pretty personal: my relationship with anti-depressant meds.
I first started taking medication for depression when I was not-quite-18.
I was a senior in high school, and my inexplicable depression had finally reached the point where I couldn’t—and didn’t want to—handle it on my own. I was prescribed a low dose of Lexapro by my family’s general practitioner. This was also around the time I started therapy.
I honestly don’t remember how well the meds worked. I do remember getting some relief, but at the same time, it was a pretty tumultuous time for me in general. I graduated high school and started college; I was also involved in a pretty toxic relationship with an older guy that definitely took a toll on my mental health. It’s hard to say if the meds stopped working, or if life just got really hard.
Somewhere in my college years, I switched from Lexapro to Cymbalta—which I would not recommend. Cymbalta is designed to work differently from other anti-depressants; instead of a traditional SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), Cymbalta also acts on Norepinephrine, another neurotransmitter that affects your mood. Cymbalta did work for me, but it also has a really short half life. What that means is that it passes through the body quickly. When I would miss even one dose I would get terrible withdrawal symptoms like headaches and mood swings.
After Cymbalta, I took Prozac, perhaps the most famous anti-depressant in America at least. Prozac has an extremely long half life…which means that after a while your body often gets used to it…which makes it feel like it’s stopped working. This is a vicious cycle that I don’t think people talk about often enough: you start taking the drugs to feel better, but then you become dependent on them to not feel like total trash.
After the Prozac stopped working, I switched back to Lexapro, which made me so nauseous in the first two weeks that I almost threw in the towel. I kept taking Lexapro, then quit abruptly in the fall of 2014. I then entered the actual worst depressive episode of my life. I’d just moved to New York City and was making some pretty poor choices when it comes to my overall health. It was only through many long months of therapy and the act of separating myself from people who weren’t good for me that I managed to pull through.
Finally, in the fall of 2017, I couldn’t take it anymore and went back on meds: this time, on a low dose of Zoloft. Due to lack of health insurance, I weened myself off Zoloft last summer, but began taking it again in the fall of 2018. I am currently still taking medication, although I admittedly sometimes forget a day here and there.
Are my meds working?
When I go back to see my doctor, he always asks questions about how the medication is working. I never seem to be able to answer. I’ve stopped crying every day, which is something. Now that I no longer work in the coffee industry, I’m actually getting decent sleep. And while I do experience nerves leading up to important events, I don’t feel constantly on edge about the state of my life. In general, I go about my day feeling like I can do whatever it is that I need to do—as opposed to feeling overwhelmed and completely incapable of managing.
There’s a part of me that weirdly hates feeling so even-keeled though. Growing up and living with depression for most of my life, feeling okay about being alive is a weird feeling for me. It doesn’t feel like me. I’ve always been the kind of person who cries regularly as a form of catharsis, but I don’t really cry anymore. I don’t even journal the way I used to, pouring out pages and pages about how I’m feeling. If anyone asked me how I’m feeling, I don’t even know how to answer that.
At the same time, I know I still have so many depressive thought patterns to work through. I can’t afford therapy (again) even though I know that’s what would truly help me. Part of me wonders if I’ll ever have the time to truly work through all my cognitive distortions.
Does this mean my meds are working? Hell, for all I know, “just okay” is how non-depressed people feel. Maybe this is what being alive is supposed to feel like. And then I feel guilty, because I know I should be grateful that medication still works for me, when so many people have reached the point where nothing really helps them.
I guess I just wish I didn’t need medication to feel like I’m capable of managing my life.
If you feel comfortable sharing, I’d love to hear your experiences with medication. Do meds work for you, or not really? Have you experienced the on-again-off-again situation like I have? Let me know in the comments.