5 Things I Learned About The Reality Of Taking Antidepressants & How It Saved My Relationship
The stigma is real.
This Opinion article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.
I first started taking antidepressants, specifically sertraline, in July of 2020 after months of being, well, unmanageably sad. I wish I could tell you getting on them was my idea, but it was my girlfriend's. Just one of her many annoyingly great calls that have vastly improved my life.
Turns out, my family's well-documented history of mental health issues had done little to motivate me to look after my own. I mean, I was less surprised about falling into a pit of sadness than the average person, but I still had no idea how to get myself out.
I did eventually manage to climb my way back up to the land of emotional stability. Although, there were plenty of setbacks along the way. Looking back, I'd say I came to five core realizations about antidepressants during my journey to recovery, all of which I have outlined below.
But before we get into it, I do feel obligated to tell you that I am not a doctor. So, if you've come here to have your self-diagnosis validated, you're out of luck. This article merely aims to illuminate the realities of living with a mental illness through a thoughtful, if not slightly silly, retelling of personal experiences.
So, without further ado, here's the tea!
Taking antidepressants gave me hope
Patrick, his siblings, niece and his partner.
Becoming depressed drastically changed my personality. It transformed me from a happy-go-lucky jokester who welcomed social interactions to a disaster-thinker who was always one comment or text away from a downward spiral.
During the summer of 2020, there was so much imaginary danger swirling around in my head that the only peace I could find was in isolation. Ironic, I know. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that I had just entered into a new relationship and was trying to navigate the social obligations that come along with such a life event.
I would force myself to meet up with friends, only to spend long chunks of every hangout hiding, breathless, in a bathroom or aimlessly walking around the block to avoid interacting with anyone.
After growing tired of wallowing in public washrooms, I decided to look into what was wrong with me by doing what any other millennial my age would do: feverishly googling solutions. Amongst the most frequently featured suggestions were meditation and exercise. I tried both extensively, and they worked — to a degree.
The only problem was that I would fall back into the well anytime I wasn't physically engaged in either. It was like I could create a positive state of mind but couldn't sustain it. That is until I started taking antidepressants.
The end. Just kidding.
My first few months on sertraline weren't that great either. My grey days didn't turn into technicolour, and I wasn't happy. But taking them did make me more hopeful, which at the time might as well have been euphoria.
You can't white-knuckle your way through depression
"The signs of depression should never be ignored," says the Canadian Mental Health Association.
This sentiment is so obvious that it seems more appropriate to react to it with an eye-roll than a thoughtful nod these days.
In fact, I almost scrapped this point entirely for that exact reason. However, I then remembered how my own delicate but mighty ego kept me hopeless for months while trying to prove this foolish hypothesis that "you just have to try harder not to be sad."
So, I figured maybe there's a "do as I say, not as I do" moment to preach about after all.
When I finally decided to seek professional help, I not only immediately received a prescription for the medication I needed, but I was also put in contact with a Cognitive-Behavioural Therapist (CBT), who guided me through the whole process.
For these reasons and more, I recommend that you heed my blunder and seek counsel or professional help as quickly as possible when you start to feel distraught.
If you don't have a family doctor, you can call the Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600, which offers free, confidential support and information on mental health services.
In my opinion, depression is not something everyone can overcome with willpower alone. I think it can be done, but I don't believe you should feel ashamed if going to the pharmacy, as opposed to the gym, is what helps you see clearer.
Sure, one is sexier, but what's the point of having big biceps if you can't even look at yourself in the mirror?
Antidepressants don't work for everyone
Antidepressants helped alleviate my suffering, but for some people, they don't work — like at all. So, outright advocating for them can be tricky. The last thing I would want to do is lead someone down a path that could leave them feeling just as devastated but with an added gut-punch of disappointment.
But there isn't just one way to treat depression. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) reports that talk therapy, sufficient sleep, exercise, and a nutritious diet have all been proven to help people overcome the illness, especially when combined.
Other commonly used treatments include:
- Psychoeducation (education about mental health)
- Talk therapy or psychological therapy
- Brain stimulation therapies, such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), and magnetic seizure therapy (MST)
It's also worth pointing out, for those of you who may have just started on antidepressants, that they take a while to work.
"Antidepressants can take up to several weeks to be fully effective. Early signs that the medication is working include improved sleep, appetite and energy. Improvement in mood usually comes later," an excerpt from CAMH's website reads.
My first few weeks of being on antidepressants sucked. Taking them caused me to experience everything from headaches to fatigue, and it took a month for those side effects to disappear. However, when they did, I felt like I'd gained a new lease on life. My mood stabilized, my energy returned, and pretty much everything I wanted out of the drug came true.
I got lucky and stuck the landing on my first attempt, but many people have to try several different kinds of antidepressants and dosages to find out what works best for them. If you're unsure about your progress, don't be afraid to contact your healthcare provider and explore your other options.
Your partner is not responsible for your happiness
Patrick and his partner.
I'm a big believer in balance. When something good happens to me, I know something challenging isn't far behind. Case in point, I found the love of my life in May of 2020, and one month later, I was crippled by the worst bout of depression I had experienced in my adult life.
The two were difficult to reconcile. My new relationship may not have been exacerbating my illness — one of the only joys I got out of life at that point was being with her. But, it turned me into a different person, which, when you've only been dating for a few weeks, can be a tough transition to survive.
My psyche was actively sabotaging what was supposed to be our honeymoon phase, all my happiness was coming from a single overburdened source, and there was no way to hide it.
We decided the only hope for us to maintain our connection would be for me to take responsibility for my mental health and seek professional help.
I needed to get myself back to normal, back to a state where, with the proper care and routines, I could start feeling like myself again. Thankfully, I was fortunate to be with someone who had experienced their own journey with depression and understood the steps I needed to take.
Things did get better in the coming weeks, but they wouldn't have if I continued to place the burden on her of constantly uplifting me. I had to do that for myself so that we could create new spontaneous happiness together.
Overcoming the stigma is still difficult
A prescription bottle.
I consider myself fortunate to belong to a generation that takes mental health seriously. I have witnessed great strides in raising awareness during my lifetime, which undoubtedly influenced my decision to seek help when I needed it. However, that doesn't mean the stigma is dead.
Despite seeing some of my closest friends deal with their own mental health issues for years with treatment and being supportive, when it was time for me to seek help for myself, I rejected it.
I was prideful and arrogant — everything I had never imagined becoming as a man facing that situation. I didn't want to address my problem. Worse yet, I convinced myself that it would make me a failure. That's a slippery slope to go down, and many people struggle to find their footing on it.
Dismissing a stigma is easy when you're healthy and happy. It isn't until you're actually in the thick of it, battling false narratives daily, when you truly begin to understand how deep-seated certain prejudices go.
I hope this article brings a human element to a subject that can sometimes be filled with daunting medical jargon. I also want to send out as many positive vibes as possible to anyone embarking on their personal journey to better mental health.
I can assure you that based on my experience, regardless of the treatment you choose, things will improve. Give it time.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or mental health concerns, please reach out to a trusted peer, parent or health care professional. You can also contact the Crisis Services Canada helpline, which is available 24 hours a day, or consult these additional resources. If you need immediate assistance, please call 911 or go to your nearest hospital. Support is available.