When Your Depression Medication Stops Working

Editor’s note: The following is based on an individual’s experience and shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before going on or off medication.

Glennon Doyle Melton, one of my favorite writers and mental health advocates, recently shared this about the return of her depression, “You guys. I got a little jacked up again. And I’m in the middle of the mess now.”

We often wait to share a story until there’s a clear beginning, middle and end. Our lives become fodder for fables and parables, tied up nicely by the time our story is finished. Sometimes, we drag out the middle because that’s where the exciting stuff happens. Yet, sometimes we’d rather fast forward to the end because the middle can leave us scared, uncertain and feeling powerless. It hurts.

When you’re in the middle of the mess, you hope the ending is a happy one. More than anything, you need to know someone else is in the trenches with you. Right now, I’m in the middle of the mess, and I’m scared.

I’ve battled depression on and off for 18 years, half of my life. I’ve taken various antidepressants (when needed). One year ago this month, I started taking antidepressants again. My mind no longer felt like my own, and the darkness was too much for someone who usually tries to look on the bright side. I needed a chemical force to help my brain remember being alive is, in fact, a beautiful thing. I, quite frankly, needed it to stay alive.

As an optimist, my depression tends to blindside me. So when it rears its head, I’ve typically approached my doctor and therapist with open arms saying, “Heal me! I’ll do whatever you tell me to!” I admittedly didn’t research the chemicals I was inviting into my body. I just trusted the system. Since I’d taken it for a few years during college, shortly after it came onto the market, it felt safe enough.

So when my doctor listed a few options. I was the one who requested a certain medication for my depression. I credited my medication for helping save and rewire me, and I’ve been an advocate for antidepressants as a sometimes necessary component to healing. However, for the past few months, I’ve been a shell of myself. The rewiring now feels faulty. I can’t shake the feeling the chemicals that helped save my life are now slowly ruining it.

Daily headaches. Extreme fatigue. Weight gain. Brain fog. Memory lapse. Social isolation and anxiety.

I’ve done the sleep studies and blood work, taken the Vitamin D and re-evaluated my diet. Still, something is just off. Very off. The only constant is these side effects all started after I went back on my antidepressant. When you think you’re near the end of one chapter, only to find the next page takes you back to the beginning, it’s disorienting. It’s easy to feel embarrassed and fear others watching you unravel, but there’s no shame in it.

After finally doing the research I wish I’d done initially, I’m now about to begin a new phase in my mental health journey, tapering off my antidepressant. I’ve read the withdrawal horror stories. I’ve experienced the “brain zaps” when I inadvertently miss a dose. I’m terrified. Yet, I also remember a time when every day wasn’t such a physical struggle to get out of bed and stay awake, pain free, all day. I want to get back to that place, and I’ll do it under medical supervision.

For the first time, I’m in a position where I have to trust my instincts and be my own patient advocate. As an ENFP “people pleaser” personality type, choosing not to just “go with the flow” and “trust everything will work out,” is a new experience for me. I like being easy going. Yet, as a result, I’ve allowed myself to be a passive participant in my own health, not questioning the advice and medication that’s been handed to me. It’s time to be empowered and engaged and to raise a little hell.

If you’re in the middle of the mess, too, then you’re in good company. This life gets awfully lonely when we’re trapped in our heads, feeling like we’ve failed in our recovery. However, when we ask around, we quickly discover we’re surrounded with others stumbling on the same path. If your mental health journey is just beginning, I send you love and encourage you to be your own advocate. It’s not easy to trust our brains when so many of us feel betrayed by them.

So just keep fighting and listening to more than one voice who thinks they know the right way to “fix” you.  It’s your life, your brain, your body, but you don’t have to shoulder the fear alone. If you’re on the other side, then help us remember there’s a light and it’s got enough wattage for everyone.

Image via Thinkstock.

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