What no one tells you about starting medication for depression

This is one writer’s story. We recognize that not everyone with depression or anxiety has the same experience.

The first time I finally admitted to myself that I needed help with my depression, I didn’t fully understand it. A sophomore in college, I could tell that my habits were bad – I skipped meals, slept too much, and avoided people — but I didn’t totally understand how my depression really affected my psyche.

Fast forward a few years and I am sitting in a psychiatrist’s office. She tells me she’s surprised I haven’t taken medication before. As she hands me the slip for my new prescribed medication, it all feels so surreal.

When I started taking Lexapro, I felt really scared. I had no idea what to expect and I felt overwhelmed. I was about to start taking something daily that could possible change things for the better. But I also wondered if it would just make things worse. Now, it’s been more than six months since my doctor prescribed the medication — and I’m glad I started the journey to improve my mental health. Everyone’s experience is different but these are some of the major lessons I learned:

Everyone will have an opinion about medication — and they might try to offer alternatives.

I really only shared my decision to start medication with my family and friends who I trust or feel comfortable with. But there were a range of reactions, with some people expressing their concern over me starting the medication. Was I sure that I needed it? What if I got addicted to it? Had I tried yoga? Meditation?

When it comes down to it, I decided to trust my doctor and my own instincts. Only you really know how you feel so it should be your decision to take the medication or not. Yoga and meditation are great — and I know these people were well-meaning in their suggestions — but I knew deep down that I didn’t need to just unwind for an hour or so a day. I needed more guidance — like medication and counseling.

You’re not as alone as you think.

This seems really obvious to me now but at the time I felt like I was the ONLY ONE out of my friend group and larger network taking medication. I’d forgotten about stories I heard from other people. Also, I never really asked for details (like what kind of medication they took). When I started telling friends and close ones, they either told me they’d taken Lexapro previously or knew someone that did. This was huge: it normalized what I was afraid would make me a total outcast. I started reading more about other people’s experiences and I felt calmer and less self-aware.

Everyone has totally different symptoms to the same medication.

Again, this might seem like a totally conspicuous detail but it wasn’t at first. I talked to other people who took Lexapro and wanted to know all there was to know about the experience of taking it. But I soon found out that every body is different. I take mine in the morning, some people take it at night. I had friends who reacted REALLY badly to it, while I’ve been lucky to experience mild symptoms.

It’s ultimately up to you to decide if the medication is helping or not.

At first, I was so scared about what people would think. Now, I realize that this journey is mine alone. While I am open to talking to close ones about my progress, I want the decision of whether to stay on the medication or not to come from my discussions with my doctor. The most important part of this all has been listening to my own feelings and paying attention to my physical symptoms as well. Those are things only I can really read.

Even when it doesn’t seem like it, taking it every day makes a difference.

A few months after Lexapro, I got overly confident.  I was really good about taking it every morning but once I started to feel better (because of a combination of life events, the medication, counseling, etc.), I started to forget to take it. I thought this was fine until I skipped it for almost a week straight and experienced a huge dip in my mood. For me, taking it every day is necessary — and it’s what I was recommended to do, after all. I make sure to remind myself that keeping up with my medication and counseling is necessary and will help me in the long run — even when I’m feeling totally fine in the moment.

This process is mine alone to maintain, cultivate and tweak when I see fit. I remember feeling so scared at first but I’m so glad I took that first step.

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