I Was Afraid Of Starting An Antidepressant — Here's How It Went
It took me years to finally give in and try an antidepressant. My doctors, my therapist, my partner, and my sister had all been encouraging me to try it. I knew I wasn’t myself, but I resisted the idea of medication. I kept waiting for “things to get better.”
When I finally started an antidepressant in March of this year, it really did help. It took a few weeks and an adjustment of the hour during the day when I took it, but once my chemistry settled, the changes were significant enough that I kicked myself for not trying medication sooner.
So … why did I wait so long? Why hadn’t I just tried what my healthcare providers and loved ones had been suggesting? Clearly they had my best interests at heart. Clearly I did not feel good. I didn’t feel like myself. But still, I was reluctant to start an antidepressant. In that last appointment when my doctor said, definitively, that she recommended we start a low-dose SSRI, I started crying.
What was I so afraid of?
Because I was afraid. It was more than simple hesitancy. Even though I knew psychiatric medications can save lives — had saved my partner’s life, in fact — I was still afraid.
I Was Afraid Of The Potential Side Effects.
With Fluoxetine, the SSRI my doctor prescribed me, the list of potential side effects is scary:
- impaired judgment, thinking, or motor skills. (You’re supposed to “use caution when operating large machinery” at first.)
- sleep issues, like insomnia or strange dreams
- headache, dizziness, drowsiness
- increased anxiety
- pain, weakness, yawning, feeling tired
- loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- dry mouth, sweating, hot flashes
- change in weight
- stuffy nose, sinus pain, sore throat, flu symptoms
- tremors or shaking
- decreased sex drive or difficulty having an orgasm
Some of the rarer and more worrisome potential side effects include mood or behavior changes, panic attacks, worsening depression or thoughts of suicide or self-harm, or feeling impulsive, irritable, agitated, hostile, aggressive, restless, or hyperactive.
So, yeah. I was scared. What if, after going on medication, I started being mean to my kids? What if I seemed different to them — almost like I wasn’t myself anymore? What if my personality changed?
What if my feelings for my partner changed? Would my sex drive be affected? After a lifetime of thinking I was broken because I had no sex drive but really I was just a queer person attempting to live a straight life, I didn’t want to lose that piece of myself I’d only just discovered.
And what if I got worse? What if I became irrational or manic and didn’t realize it? What if I hurt myself before anyone could step in and realize I needed help?
And, on a superficial level, I worried I would gain weight. I had already gained 20 pounds in a year and a half, already was unable to wear most of the clothes in my closet, already felt like I was inhabiting a body different than my own. Would that feeling become even more pronounced?
My First Few Weeks Of Being On An Antidepressant
Here’s what happened though: At first, I took my pill at night, right before bed. Within the first few days, I noticed I was either not dreaming or simply could not remember my dreams. That’s extremely odd for me. I’ve always had vivid dreams that I remember in detail, and I didn’t like not remembering them anymore. I was also waking up before my alarm went off. I didn’t mind that though, because I was waking up feeling refreshed.
Also, in the middle of the morning, I started feeling like I might claw my way out of my own skin. I was trembling and my jaw was clenching, the same way it would when I was very anxious. But usually my anxiety would be accompanied by thoughts — the thing I was anxious about. This was just free-floating, not-attached-to-any-particular-worry, wild anxiety. It was physically uncomfortable. The feeling seemed to be exacerbated by a cup of coffee.
So I changed the hour that I took my pill from before bed to mid-morning, after my coffee, which I started brewing with half decaf.
The mid-morning anxiety disappeared right away, and I began remembering my dreams again. After another few weeks, I started noticing that I was having random impulses to engage in the kinds of activities I used to enjoy — cooking, exercising, talking to other humans, etc.
I never noticed any changes or oddities in my mood nor any irritability that was out of the ordinary.
Looking Back On My Fears
Looking back, I realize my fears were more than just an objective examination of potential outcomes paired with rational hesitancy.
I wasn’t just afraid of what might happen if I started an antidepressant. I was afraid because I was anxious and depressed. As in, the very thing I needed help for was the thing that was preventing me from seeking treatment.
Fear is a huge component of anxiety and depression. It’s hard to overcome it to make a move to get help, even when you’ve already decided you need help.
But all of my fears proved unfounded, and instead of feeling like a different person, I now feel more like myself than I have in a long time.
Of course, everyone’s body and brain chemistry is different. Not everyone will experience the same positive outcome that I have in such a short period of time. But please also know that there is help out there. Your experience may not look like mine, but there is likely some treatment that can help you. If you have a nagging feeling that you’re just not yourself these days, listen to that feeling. Talk to your healthcare provider. The odds are better that a treatment will help you feel more like yourself than that your depression will suddenly disappear. And you deserve to feel like yourself. Ask for help.
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