The Depression Symptom We Don't Talk About

You can ask just about anyone taking antidepressants or medications for anxiety and other mental illnesses and they will likely tell you a common side effect of these medications is loss of libido. Sometimes it can be a sort of fog that makes someone disinterested in a number of activities in life — sex being only one of them.

But I think what often gets overlooked is how mental illness itself can impact your sexuality even before medications. I want you to know if you’ve ever experienced this feeling, you are not alone. It has only been about 20 months now that I’ve been taking antidepressants, but my sexuality was impacted long before that. From a young age, when my friends were very interested in exploring their sexuality and beginning to experience that, I had no interest. I had severe anxiety about my body, and changing just in front of other girls for marching band, musicals or competition twirling events was difficult for me to face, because it could set off an anxiety attack if too many people even glanced my way or looked too long. I was petrified of any and all sexual experiences because of that.

Fast forward into college when there was a bit more of a hookup culture and I had friends who were easily outgoing and attending parties where those events ran rampant. And although a part of me had overcome most of the anxious thoughts I had about my body that would make me freeze in place, I was impacted in a different way when my depression took a turn for the worse. I think part of me always fought that side before — I had family at home and teachers or friends at school I hid it from.

But once I was away from those people, I didn’t try to hide it any longer, and although I made it to most of my classes, I spent almost all other hours of the day overeating, under-sleeping and ignoring social activities. So again, there was a part of me that wanted to experience that hookup culture — it seems a part of my generation’s growing up experience — and learn to accept and embrace and express myself. My depression won out over those desires, and I still had yet to explore that.

It wasn’t until my final year of college that I sought medication treatment for depression. The counseling I had been through before did little to help and I knew that was the next step for me.  And although I didn’t notice a huge reduction in my libido because I had little interest due to depression before, that may be a reason why even today I struggle with my sexuality. The rare times I find myself attracted to people — both men and women — I get trapped in my head and do not make any moves or signals, which leads to a lack of experience to identify what those feelings actually mean. Depression, anxiety and honestly basic emotions like fear and uncertainty have been a block in my ability to experience that part of life. Ironically, it is an activity that is often self-serving and improves people struggling with their moods. But how we do we get there — find and make that change in ourselves where the interest is greater than our inner demon? If you have gone through a similar struggle, please know you’re not alone and feel free to share how mental illness has affected you in this way.

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Thinkstock photo via Rively

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