The Advice No One Tells You After You Start Antidepressants
Someone recently asked me about antidepressants and my views on them. This person had just commenced a course of treatment and was feeling worse after two weeks. It really saddens me that people are not given adequate support and advice about how you might feel after starting antidepressants. You do not instantly feel better. The period after talking to your doctor is when you need so much tender loving care and support, but sadly some are not told this.
I realized maybe more people needed to know this, so I wrote out my advice.
This is a post about the things that should be said when you first start antidepressants, yet never are. There are far too many people in the world who find themselves knee deep in depression or anxiety. One of the hardest steps is to accept you are not feeling right, and then opening up to the doctor and asking for help. If you’ve done this, massive well done. Unless you’ve been there, you never fully appreciate how much strength it takes to book an appointment with your doctor and openly discuss how you’re feeling. This is the first step, and you’ve done that.
People should be given extra support during this time. Every aspect of care should be explained, and the person should be given all this information in written format, so they can take it home and digest it. Also, this way they can let family or friends read it. Spouses, friends and other people in your life need support, too. They need to know what’s happening to their loved one and how they can help.
Some doctors are super and some are rubbish — this is with every illness, not just illness in the mind. So if you got an unsympathetic one who simply handed out the medication with no empathy at all, it is more a reflection of their lack of education — do not take it personally.
You may find family, friends and people at work think, “Oh, they’ve been to the doctors and were given medication, so now they’re fine.” It doesn’t work this way at all. Holding the box of tablets in your hand for the first time does not instantly make you cured.
When you’re on antidepressants, you might find everyone suddenly becomes mental health experts, telling you about how bad antidepressants are. This isn’t always the case. This medication has helped so many people reclaim happiness. You are not alone!
The best advise I could offer anyone with depression that has just started medication would be accept you are unwell and allow yourself the time to heal. This is not going to be a fast process, so accept you are in it for a long haul. During this time it might be best to put any major decision on hold — you need to focus on you.
When will I be well enough for work? When will the cloud lift? Will I ever feel “normal” again? In my opinion, you shouldn’t worry about these questions when you first start. You simply must focus on recovery and rest.
If you had the flu would you get up each day, get dressed and function like you would? We hardly ever push ourselves to unrealistic expectations with “real” illness, but depression and anxiety we are expected to jump out of bed, brush ourselves down and get on with life.
For the first few weeks set yourself mini goals and targets, like taking a bath and getting some sleep. Remember, you need to give your body time to heal.
When starting medication you may feel sick for the first few weeks. This is normal and you just have to allow your body to adjust to the new balance of the medication. Give it time. It’s not like taking a pain killer. It can affect your sleep patterns, can make you feel lethargic or nauseous. In those first few days, it might be helpful to have meal replacement shakes to help you eat.
The first few months, think of yourself as a caterpillar in a cocoon, resting and getting ready to emerge. It is so important you keep on telling yourself this will pass and you will have happier days again. Hold that thought in your mind and never allow it to slip, as it is during this time your mind plays tricks on you and makes you feel like if you’re not instantly better so you must be a failure.
Communication at this stage is so important. Loved ones feel left out and want to help, they want to talk, but if talking drains you, write little notes to each other. Use any method to express yourself and make sure they know that sometimes when you’re quiet, you are just healing and need that quietness.
You may also find you want to talk over and over, and that’s fine.
Accept that tasks and hobbies might be hindered, so trying to relax by reading may become a massive stress. It is OK. Read small passages and take notes about it so you do not forget the story plot.
Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for further support during this time, that is what they are there for. But also don’t feel the only care is through a single tablet — as it is not. Medication can be just one part of the jigsaw to becoming well again.
But for now, it’s OK to just allow yourself to breathe and allow yourself to heal.
Go back to your doctor as many times as needed, that is what they are there for. Make an appointment with the nurse to discuss medication further, or even ask to be referred to a dietitian to discuss nutrition. Ask if there are any support groups in your area — it’s good to talk to others in the same situation. Never feel you are alone, there are millions of people just like you and there are so many pathways of care that are there to support and help you.
Love and gentle hugs.
Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.
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