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What It Really Means to Have 'Treatment-Resistant' Depression


It was about a year ago now that my doctor uttered the words that have been following me around ever since: ”You have treatment-resistant major depressive disorder.”

Wikipedia defines treatment-resistant depression as, “a term used in clinical psychiatry to describe a condition that affects people with major depressive disorder (MDD) who do not respond adequately to a course of appropriate antidepressant medication within a certain time.”

Sounds simple enough, right? Depression is present, but it doesn’t respond to “appropriate antidepressant medication” the way a doctor would expect it to.

The reality, though, is a lot more complicated.

Treatment-resistant depression is trying over 20 medications and combinations of medications in a year and a half: a never-ending cycle of side effects, withdrawals, side effects and withdrawals as you hop from pill to pill, hoping the next one will work.

Treatment-resistant depression is a constant feeling of hopelessness with no relief.

Treatment-resistant depression is the feeling of constantly letting people down because you say you’ll do something for them, and then just… not doing it. Every time they follow up to see if it’s done and you have to say no, it makes you feel worse.

Treatment-resistant depression is going to your medical appointments every time, knowing you have to go there, but also feeling like it’s pointless because no matter how often you go, nothing seems to change.

Treatment-resistant depression is having to give up your work because you just… can’t anymore. It’s hard enough to get up in the morning and take basic care of yourself. Sometimes that doesn’t even happen.

Treatment-resistant depression is struggling to find joy in something… anything. It is like the color has been sucked out of your life.

Treatment-resistant depression is going through the motions, day after day, hoping that someday something works. It’s wanting to give up every day, but keeping on fighting just in case there is hope somewhere. Because if you don’t have hope, some days you don’t have anything.

A version of this article was originally published on the author’s blog.

Photo by Gregory Pappas on Unsplash