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The 5 Most Challenging Side Effects of My Depression Medication

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Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

I live with depression and chronic suicide ideation. Over the years I have tried many different medications and I have experienced many different side effects, everything from dry mouth to a brain fog. It took a while and a lot of faith in my doctor’s intentions to continue following a path of trial and error. All along I insisted that the positive effects of any medication had to greatly outweighed any negative reactions. I was not going to take medication strictly for the sake of taking medication. It had to work.

The following are the five worst side effects I experienced on my mental health medication journey.

1. Vivid dreams and brain sparks

Any time I laid down I would instantly be caught up in an all-consuming, vibrant colored, hyper-realistic dream. And when I wasn’t asleep there were random lighting flashes behind my eyes or, as I called them, brain sparks. While I found these side effects fascinating, I was worried they were a symptom of some hyper brain activity that over time might cause permanent damage.

2. Deep sleep

This one was more of a nuisance than anything. I would sleep so deeply that I would frequently wet the bed. I also drooled on my pillows, experienced night sweats and snored. A real treat for my wife. I ended up sleeping in my own bedroom in the basement separate from the rest of the family. It was embarrassing and depressing. My self-esteem plummeted. For a time I wore adult diapers to bed and washed my bedding every morning. My drool would soak straight through my pillows and would leave a musky odor. For me, living this way was not an option.

3. Loss of sexual desire

This was not a performance issue that could be addressed by Viagra or Cialis. Believe me, I tried. Rather it was one of desire, or worse. Intimacy never even crossed my mind. Interest in physical contact vanished. I was chemically castrated. Provocative images, words or sounds no longer inspired me. It was as if desire had never existed. What made it even worse was that I didn’t even realize what I had forgotten until I purposely stepped back and thought about it. I felt cheated.

4. Overeating and rapid weight gain

For my entire life weight has never been a problem. I was very lucky. If I gained weight over Christmas from all the treats and chocolates and nuts, I could easily
lose it all by mid-January by simple eating sensibly. I had never had to diet. But when I went on one particular med I gained a lot of weight, seemingly over night. I suddenly had a middle age “beer belly” distending over my waistband. I hated what I saw in the mirror and felt embarrassed to go swimming. This side effect was devastating. It took me a very long time just to claw back half of what I gained. My body image still suffers.

5. Lethargy

The worst side effect I experienced was when I was left sluggish and apathetic. Everything was heavy. Lead courses through my veins. When I tried to speak, oftentimes I could not find the words. My brain was filled with cotton batting. My short and long-term memory struggled. This side effect was worse than the disease. Sure, it stopped my emotional swings, my anxiety and suicide ideation, but all it left was a shell. It was not a side effect. It was replacing one disease with another. What was the point? I did not stay on this med for long.

Mental health medications have the potential to produce a wide range of
side effects. But they can also provide real relief. If you want to try medication, understand it will take time to determine the dosage and drug combinations that work best for you. Be patient. Tell your doctor any side effects you experience and work together to improve your mental health.

I still live with some side effects in varying degrees, but none of them are severe. Am I cured? No. I am still in therapy, I still take my meds, but at least now a somewhat “normal” life seems possible.

Getty image by nadia bormotova

Originally published: November 17, 2021
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