The discourse around mental health has picked up speed, but it remains an underserved topic. If you’re curious about SSRIs, or know someone who is, we’re resharing the below meditation and guide on antidepressants, originally published in 2016, in case it’s what you need to read today.


W

hen I was 12 my grandmother died, and suddenly I saw death everywhere. I’d been an anxious kid before that, with baby-sized panic attacks that had me hallucinating slow, booming voices and strange objects that ballooned into my frame of vision.

Later, I’d sit up at night to guard against what felt inevitable: our house burning down, a murderer crawling in a window. Imperceptible rejections could propel week-long crying jags, gentle self-harmings (digging my nails into my palms, slamming my head into the side of a bathroom stall) felt better than living inside my brain. One thought became eight thoughts became an endless, tangled river of possibilities, inadequacies, shortcomings, failures. In bad times, I would go weeks without eating a real meal, feeding myself on the crumbs of my dramas and the odd croissant.

Despite this, I believed myself to be generally fine. I didn’t consider therapy until the age of 27, when my partner of eight years left me; I continued sporadically once I moved to New York, a city that both blurs and amplifies feelings. Then I got a bully of a boss, and then I got fired, and then I tried to get a dear, damaged friend to love me back, and then I stopped being able to climb stairs without pausing for breath, or sleep for more than a few fitful hours at a time, or eat without wanting to vomit. It was a true angel of a nurse practitioner who finally suggested — after thyroid and dietary and allergy tests — that I might consider medication.

In 2015, 11% of Americans reported taking a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI. They are the second-most prescribed class of meds in the U.S., used to treat conditions ranging from depression to premature ejaculation. My prescription (Lexapro, 10mg, nice to meet you) is for generalized anxiety disorder; which, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), “is characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things.” Anxiety can cause insomnia, muscle tension and headaches. It affects 3.1% of the U.S. population, and women are twice as likely to be diagnosed. On the other side of this fun coin is depression, or “a feeling of disinterest or discouragement lasting more than two weeks” that makes daily activities — the work of living — feel impossible, or pointless. It is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S., with 6.7% of Americans having experienced a major depressive episode.

Gemma, 32, had her first encounter with depression in seventh grade. “At my school, seventh grade was high school. I was just so, so anxious and upset. Just devastated about growing up. I went the first day and then stayed in bed the rest of that week.”

Despite periods of “fineness,” her depression became debilitating in her third year of college. “I’d leave my bed to go to class, and then crawl right back to it. As I walked around campus, I envisioned myself collapsing and laying down on the sidewalk. I was crying all the time. I don’t remember what the impetus was, but I finally went to student health. Through that, I met with a therapist and a psychiatrist who prescribed me my first SSRI. It changed everything.”

This slow slump into treatment is a common narrative for many suffering from anxiety or depression. There is a wide spectrum of how we, as human beings, interact with the world. As women, we are told our feelings make us female: our anxieties about our bodies and sexuality are part and parcel of our womanhood, and our willingness and ability to ride the tide of our emotions (many hormone-driven) is one of the trophies of the female experience. I spent many years convinced my anxiety was merely a sign that I was (lol) an “artist.” I assumed that not being suicidal meant I wasn’t really ill: there’s a wild gulf between fearing death and wishing it on yourself.

That’s why anxiety is particularly nefarious, even more so when it rears up in response to circumstance (a breakup; a move; the election of a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic president). In being hard to name, it becomes hard to take seriously. And mental illness is still stigmatized, especially in lower income and rural areas. Therapy can be prohibitively expensive: I pay $10 for a month of generic escitalopram, whereas the therapist I was seeing at the time of my diagnosis charged $250 an hour, and didn’t accept insurance. The idea of medication only became normalized to me after years of talk therapy, and luckily coincided with an uptick in friends willing to share their experiences and an increase in cultural consciousness.

“There’s more awareness that there’s something wrong with being anxious or depressed,” says D.C.-based psychotherapist Dr. Beth Salcedo of the increase in the use of SSRIs. She always recommends her patients first try therapy or other lifestyle changes to address anxiety or depression: “If the stressor is fixable, fix the stressor; if not, treat the person. Even just the act of entering into therapy can be helpful. And then things like exercise, good sleep, quality nutrition — meditation is one of the easiest things to implement, and it’s so highly effective for anxiety. I recommend relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, or apps like Calm and Headspace.”

But sometimes, still, medication is the best course of action. “I see a lot of young associates in law firms,” Salcedo says, “working 16 hour days, who would love to get better by way of psychotherapy but they don’t have the resources or energy to put into that. Some people have depression because they stay in a terrible relationship, or can’t get the sleep or nutrition they need. If they can’t make changes, medication should be an option. We have to treat [anxiety and depression] the same as any medical illness.”

For Nina, 32, the breaking point was medical school. “I’d gone through a terrible breakup. I was waking up in the middle of the night, early morning — I wasn’t able to sleep through the night. I was taking my first board, and I was panicked that I wouldn’t be able to study if I couldn’t sleep through the night.”

“I think I’ve always had anxiety that I didn’t even recognize, starting in my early teens,” she says. “I managed it pretty well, so I didn’t feel like I needed help. Then the combo of the emotional impact of the situation, as well as having to perform for school, made me look for new options. I remember talking to other women who had gone through these kinds of devastating breakups and they said that being on an SSRI in those initial months had really helped. I was in therapy for managing anxiety, but we didn’t really connect and I needed something that would work quickly. Within three weeks, I was sleeping so much better and able to focus.”

Therapy can take years before you learn how to address the underlying causes of anxiety or depression; medication can be effective in a matter of weeks. Says Gemma of starting Prozac: “It really did just like, part the clouds. I started laughing again. Getting out of bed. Going to the gym. I was still me, and still self-deprecating and felt sad sometimes, but I could function.”

I started with 5mg of Lexapro in the summer of 2013, and increased to 10mg after one month. The first few days I felt nauseous and tired. Following that, the main side effects were a complete eradication of my sex drive for about eight months (helpful, as I was single and nurturing an impressive kernel of dude-facing rage), night sweats, muscle spasms and wild, vivid dreams. None of these are uncommon. Nina, too, struggled with jumpy muscles and stomach pain. Does that sound like a lot? It kinda does, when I write it out, and yet: I would take all of those, all at once, over and over again, to feel this alive and at peace with my thoughts.

“The media has demonized psychiatric medications,” says Dr. Salcedo. “No one thinks about being on birth control for 30 years, but they worry that Zoloft is going to kill them. Mental illness is so abstract because the symptoms are in your brain. It’s not like a blood pressure reading. People feel that they need to do it themselves, that it’s a weakness, that they’re flawed in some way. I’ve seen amazing things with all of the medication I’ve prescribed. There are side effects, and it’s not for everybody, but I wouldn’t want to keep that life-changing experience away from anyone.”

I clearly remember my own quickening. I was eating pasta on my couch, living alone for the first time, a few months after starting medication, watching my cat race around my apartment and a thought suddenly crystallized: I like spending time with myself now. It was such a simple thing, and it brought me to tears.

For 30 years, I believed middling self-loathing was my natural state. Now, I’m able to write without self-censoring; I’m able to be a good partner since I’m not perpetually convinced my boyfriend is about to see my inadequacies and run. Being less consumed with my own inner life means I’m generally a better person — a kinder, more attentive friend, sister, and daughter, with far more time to devote to the well-being of people who are NOT ME. It’s impossible to see when you are in the throes of depression or anxiety, but what feels self-centered — giving yourself the kindness and treatment you deserve — is actually the thing that will allow you to crawl out of your myopic mud cave.

I don’t know if or when I will stop taking my SSRI. Nina, now in a new relationship (“my boyfriend calls my medication my ‘USSR’”), wants to get off before she tries to get pregnant (the risks of taking an SSRI during pregnancy are considered low, but are not entirely known); Gemma tried to replace medication with acupuncture and exercise, but found her depression intensifying, and went back on. Lexapro has also eradicated my vicious migraines. At this point, any thoughts I have about tapering or quitting boil down to a bullish desire to prove I don’t need it.

We currently inhabit what is a very shitty time to be a woman, let alone a person of color, queer, Muslim or gender non-conforming (the list goes on). Our safe spaces are being eroded, and we need to protect our bodies and brains how we can. If you live in a body that no longer feels safe to you, part of defending it is accepting that it is okay to be sick inside it, and to ask for help. Sometimes that help comes in the form of an AirBnB in the woods with good friends; sometimes a paid professional; sometimes a small white pill you dry-swallow each morning, watching your own tired, scared face above the sink. Now, more than ever, we all need our armor.

Photos via iStock.

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  • I still remember the chill, turning my head slowly and catching a glimpse of my sister slugging down the hall of the psych ward. She looked crumpled, broken sad. I brought her burritos, Girl Scout cookies and sat in the communal TV room watching movies with her. I wanted desperately to fix her myself. My father had been medicated for depression since I can remember. And so this episode, while scary was not debilitating for our family. They found the right medication, she went to therapy, married and now has two beautiful girls. Thank you for this smart piece, the more we normalize mental health the more connected we can become. And being connected now seems more important than ever.

    • I’m so happy to hear your sister is doing well. <3

      • randy cushman

        I’m happy your sister is doing well also. It’s very hard to watch a loved one suffer in anyway.

  • I can’t say I’ve ever suffered with depression but people close to me have. This was a really interesting and powerful post and a topic I think needing awareness. Thank you x

    http://www.wonkylauren.com

  • belle

    Been suffering from depression and anxiety since I was a small child, I too thought it was my “natural state” or some indication of my personal flaws. Before starting a new job my parents shoved me into therapy and paid for it because they’d seen me struggling. I don’t have the resources or time to continue with regular therapy but medication has really helped me. I’ve been taking an SSRI for about three months now. I felt sick the first week, I have strange dreams nonstop, and I have no sex drive whatsoever. I’m hoping the side effects will dissipate over time because finally being able to enjoy my life is so, so worth it. It’s a shame people don’t talk about it more openly.

    • Every experience is different, of course, but I evened out after about 6ish months – no noticeable side-effects now. I hope the same for you! <3

  • PCE

    I needed this today.

  • Mariana

    I have been particularly anxious since september and the doc prescribed a pill, but I didn’t want to take that road again. Because of irrational fears (even if I already take that pill and that did me no bad), because I would like to have a more “holistic” approach (functional nutrition, supplements, sleeping…). But I know that is not enough for me and until I make peace with that, that I need that extra kick (being extra kick meds+therapy) I won’t be able to enjoy and live and plan life at its fullest. But the commitment is hard, both emotionally and economically.
    Thanks for this!

    • I was in the same boat – wanting to take a holistic approach that I would not become reliant on, but once you start feeling like yourself again, you will wonder why it took you so long to take the medication. Take care of yourself and make your mental health a priority.

      • pennyjenny

        Same… Would prefer natural/holistic, but I have come to terms with the fact that I have a real chemical imbalance, so I don’t see anything wrong with taking SSRIs to help balance my brain out. I prob wouldn’t be here without Prozac and talk therapy.

  • Thank you for this post!
    As I struggled to figure out what was “wrong” with me for years, the fear of being depressed was always in the back of my mind. Once I finally realized and admitted to myself that I was suffering from depression, I tried to do what I could to manage it, but it was getting worse and my efforts were dwindling along with my desire to get out of bed in the morning. I finally talked to my Dr. and after months of holding on to that prescription, I decided to start taking medication.
    These lines specifically spoke to me, “I started laughing again.” “I
    would take all of those (side affects), all at once, over and over
    again, to feel this alive and at peace with my thoughts.” Though the side affects of starting and coming off of the medication were tough, I was so thankful to feel like myself again after so many years. SSRI meds have such a strong stigma that made me fearful to take them, but there really is no shame in taking care of yourself and doing what you can to be able to enjoy the mental stability that so many take for granted.
    Hope are you doing well!

  • I’ve dealt with anxiety and OCD (and depression some years ago, too) for as long as I can remember, and I’ve become so used to it I sometimes forget not everyone deals with anxiety and the like.

    Thank you, Meghan, for sharing and writing about your experience so beautifully. Thanks MR for publishing pieces like this; they help normalize discussions about mental health and that in itself is so important.

  • Inês

    I was first diagnosed with depression and severe anxiety at 14 and started medication at 15. Six years still haven’t been enough to perfect the cocktail of pills that I have to take during the day. The science is flawed and sometimes, when I gain 11 kg or lose 20kg, when my hair falls and my night sweats make me feels like I wet the bed, it all seems too much. I am now 20, still trying to find the best concealer for deaspair (urban decay has a really good one) and still wearing that iconic eau of depression. The main thing that I have learned is that in a world that is not very nice we must never undermine our pain. It’s so easy to dismiss it justifying it with the old ‘other people have it worse’ that we end up being cruel to ourselves. Self-care is the hardest thing I’ve learned. Your experience is your own. Your pain is your own. And hell, when you go in your next downward spiral of self-destruction remember I’m right there with you.

    • Mallory Braun

      “concealer for despair (urban decay has a really good one)” lollll yes you’re amazing

  • Samantha McKay

    Mixed feelings about this article. While it’s great to talk about mental health and how we can support mental health I think it’s pretty irresponsible to be spruiking the benefits of medication when there is so much science coming out now questioning the effectiveness of anti depressants and warning about their side effects. I was put on SSRIs a few years ago for anxiety and depression. I was taking the birth control pill at the time. I recently came off birth control and surprise! My anxiety disappeared. It also turned out I was suffering from adrenal fatigue and was low in a lot of vitamins and minerals. None of this was investigated prior to putting me on SSRIs it was just ‘take this one tablet, feel better’. I’ve since had to take time off work just to withdraw from the SSRIs because the withdrawal symptoms are so severe people compare them to withdrawing from illicits.
    I highly recommend reading Kelly Brogan’s book ‘A mind of your own’. She’s an NYC based MD doing great work in this field.

    • Jules

      I rec this book as well. I’ve battled depression since my 20s (now 40) without medication and knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t take them unless I really needed them (if I were bipolar or schizophrenic for example). People also don’t realize how these drugs permanently change the neuropathways in your brain. My male friend had been on meds for anxiety for 20 years and decided he didn’t need them anymore and the process to wean him off them, under supervision, took almost two years. At the start he suffered some serious seizures as a result and couldn’t drive for a year.

      • Thank you guys for the recommendation! I’m definitely curious to learn more, so I really appreciate it.

    • belle

      That’s a bit of a red flag that your doctor didn’t do any kind of investigation into your existing conditions and medication. My doctor ordered full bloodwork and went over my entire medical history just to rule out any hormone/B12/etc issue that might be causing my symptoms. Good thing to mention to a doc for anyone starting out at their first visit!

      • Filipa Geraldes

        its also very important to check your thyroid! and all the tests should be done before taking any meds, to get accurate results. then, if everything is ok, ssris are usually the best choice.
        weaning off needs to be done very slowly and only when the person no longer has symptoms. in that case, withdrawal symptoms should be minimal to not at all.

    • Micha

      I don’t know, I think it’s just very personal. I took medication, it helped, and then I went off of it because I didn’t want to put “toxic” things in my body. I then avoided taking medication for so long because I thought there was a “healthier” way. I had different holistic docs tell me I had adrenal fatigue and low in vitamins and minerals, ended up shelling out so much money for supplements, and even when my blood tests improved there was still so much anxiety there. I ended up thinking at it like, okay, I am still anxious, and the long term effects of anxiety are also terrible for your body. I ended up going to a psychiatrist that I trusted, and worked out the feelings of shame with my therapist, and am in a really good place now. But I 100% believe that not enough psychiatrists actually look at the big picture, and because of our broken healthcare system, they are too concerned with quickly getting a patient in and out.

    • Liz Smith

      I agree with you. So little research done into the long term effects. I do understand why people opt for medication though – alternative care like what Brogan preaches is unaffordable for a lot of people. This is completely wrong and elitist and it needs to change. People need choices – real choices – about whether to put this stuff in their bodies.

  • Marion A.

    “As women, we are told our feelings make us female: our anxieties about our bodies and sexuality are part and parcel of our womanhood, and our willingness and ability to ride the tide of our emotions (many hormone-driven) is one of the trophies of the female experience. ”

    I love this, it is said so eloquently and accurately!

    Thank you for this article! It’s 2016 and it’s time we are not stigmatized for engaging in our own self care!

  • This post means everything to me, I’m currently seeing a psychiatrist twice a week & on two forms of antidepressants (one to bring me up in the morning & one to calm me down at bedtime) it’s been almost a year now where I haven’t been able to work & have been undergoing treatment.
    Just to read the words that make me think “me too” are wonderful, the way you’re able to destigmatize mental illness in this article is so beautiful!
    Thank-you

    • Mariana

      You’re on your way and you’re not alone :). Do you know the serie My Mad Fat Diary, is a-we-so-me!!! “Set in 1996 in Lincolnshire, the show tells the tragic and humorous story of a very troubled young girl, Rae, who spent four months in a psychiatric hospital for attempted suicide. After finally leaving the hospital, Rae reconnects with her best friend Chloe and her group, all who are unaware of Rae’s mental health and body image problems and her four month stay in the hospital” it has that english humor, amazing soundtrack and is very relatable. I mean, my mind is more anxious than depressed, but I can relate with it and the critics about the show are great. It’s worth a try, I hope you like it.

  • Abbey H

    Lexapro squad! Taking medication for my severe anxiety after I was sexually assaulted completely changed my life in ways that diet, exercise, acupuncture, meditation, talk therapy, and crystal healing (really) never came close to doing. I’m evangelical about SSRIs now. They aren’t for everyone, I know, but boy howdy they’re worth a shot. Thank you for talking about meds and for doing it so well.

    • Fezzers

      #squad
      It’s kicking my OCD’s ass for real

      • Jenny

        Oh I wish I could say the same. Tried both Prozac and Escitalopram but none of those work on my OCD 🙁

        • Filipa Geraldes

          Fluvoxamine has very good results in OCD. talk to your doctor about it.
          if you have the chance try CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) it usually helps a lot too, its very effective.
          good luck!

    • pennyjenny

      Same here, only with Prozac. When I stop taking it, the scary debilitating overwhelming feelings of depression and anxiety come back after a few months. It doesn’t give me side effects really, so I am fine with sticking with it in the long-term. No shame! And I prob wouldn’t be here today w/o it.

  • Célia

    Hello, i was wondering, what do you mean by “strange objects that ballooned into my frame of vision” ? English is not my mother tongue and i can’t quite get that. Thanks !

    • kayla sweeney

      It means she saw strange things suddenly get large, almost like how a balloon gets bigger as you add more air.

      • CÉLIA

        Oh ok ! Thanks for the translation !
        I thought it was metaphoric !

        Question to the author (or anyone who knows, haha) : Is this type of vision “change” an effect of anxiety ?

  • Fezzers

    Hi! Neuroscientist here with a vested interest in psychiatry. Studies have shown that the most effective treatment of depression is to combine medicine with therapy – the medicine is the most effective starting ~3-4 months after you start taking it and continues to be very effective for about a year, after which progress slows (for medicine-only patients). If talk therapy is not an option the apps mentioned in the article are a great way to learn behavioral coping techniques. I have OCD, general anxiety and bipolar disorder (to varying degrees) and I take a low dose of Lamictal, Lexapro, and Xanax – but learning to deal with unruly thoughts via therapist is probably the most helpful thing!!

    • belle

      My doctor has always recommended doing both, at least to start out with. It’s kind of sad that talking to another human for an hour costs as much as a year’s worth of generic SSRI pills!

      • Mariana

        I’m always amazed at the price of therapy in the United States. 250 dolars/hr? My God. I used to pay 60€/hour and I know it was one of the most expensive therapist in the area (normal price in 40/50€).

        • Lena Dicken

          Hi Mariana, I know it seems like a lot. But, if you go see a therapist with a PhD or PsyD, that therapist likely went to school for 5-6 years after college, amassed over a hundred thousand dollars of debt, and likely worked for peanuts as an intern for 4-6 years before becoming licensed. It’s certainly not a perfect system but the real issue is that insurance doesn’t cover enough mental health costs. Medical doctors go through a similar amount of education and training and charge far more for their time. The difference is what’s covered.

          • Mariana

            Hi Lena! Yes, I know, and I am not saying that the therapist does’t deserve to earn well, but the american medical system is a totally different concept that what it is in europe, at least my country, where we have universal health system covered by the state/our taxes (at least the greeeeat majority) so I’m always amazed by the $$$.
            For example, I have an insurance but I am me only one in my family that has one because 1) Specialized consultations are more quicker in the private sector and 2) I am an hypochondriac and I like all the options lol; and I “only” paid 27€/month, but for serious stuff (big illnesses) the state is much more well served than the private sector. My grandma was operated to a brain tumor and she paid nothing because oncological diseases are exempt from payment, not even her medicines. I know is good to have options and freedom to choose where you want to take your health, but gives great comfort knowing that, even if we are unemployed, retired, rich, poor, we are not denied the right to be treated. It is not a perfect system, of course, but it is a fair one if well managed. SORRY FOR THE ESSAY, is just a topic that I like to discuss 🙂

          • CMT

            Tbh, this “wow the American medical system sucks so much” kind of comment is just not helpful or interesting on articles and posts that aren’t specifically about that problem. Like, we know it’s better in other places. It gets old to see those comments over and over again.

          • Mariana

            The point was not to criticize but to start a conversation.
            I understand that the majority of MR followers are from US, but I am European and I think my opinion/voice is also valid and I didn’t criticize anyone, I just presented facts.
            Believe me, our system has maaaaany flaws, just like American. It’s just different.

          • CMT

            Yeah, and this isn’t the place for it. And like I said, it’s a boring and repetitive conversation.

          • Filipa Geraldes

            Im from Europe too and the problem begins with the american tuition prices. if we had the same prices here no one could afford to go to college and getting a loan for such amount would also be very very difficult. in my country tuition is a bit expensive (taking into account minimum wage..) but in some european countries with much higher minimum wages, education is free! I really dont understand why studying in the US is so expensive.. to give you an example, psychology master degree takes 5 years and it costs about 1000 euros per year. so its possible to become a psychologist for 5000 euros. additional training in a specific the school of therapy is recommended but not mandatory. thats only if you want to become a certified psychoterapist.
            by the way, medical school takes a bit longer than psychology but it has the same cost: 1000 euros per year.

    • Sascia Reibel

      Hi!
      For this upfront way of trying to get in touch with you I want to apologize.
      And please excuse any English mistakes, as it is not my first language.

      I am currently searching for neuroscientist that would like to share their knowledge and be a part of a project that connects scientists, people with an unusual memory and artists.

      My name is Sascia Reibel, I am a graphic designer from Germany and I am currently conducting a research project on exceptional memory.
      I want to give a voice to people, that suffer from something that is not there, something that the rest of us all take for granted–their memories.
      I am also interested in how written language plays a role (maybe a more important one than usually) in grasping events that have happened, or re-reading events or emotions one does not have any memory of.

      As I am currently in the first stages of this research, I can only roughly outline its course.
      But as I am very much interested for you to be part of it, and wanted to write you as soon as possible.
      I would very much appreciate if you would allow me to get in contact with you
      –and further explain and talk about this project, which should result in a small, independent publication on exceptional memory.

      Please feel free to write me an email, I would be very happy to hear from you!

      Info@sreibel.com

      (Ps: i know it is a strange way to get contacted, but I might as well just try!)

  • Laura

    Thank you for this exceptionally well written and honest essay about your experience. I agree with you that we need more information and more stories like this so we can all make informed decisions about what is right for us.

  • Amelia Davies

    I love you guys. Please take me as your next intern ❤️

    • Amelia Diamond

      THERE’S ONLY ROOM FOR ONE AMELIA IN THIS TOWN. Jk. Email info@manrepeller.com with your resume and put “summer intern” in the subject line!

      • Amelia Davies

        OH WOW WILL DO! I do get pretty competitive if there’s another Amelia in the room

  • samhallie

    yes. beautiful. thank you.

  • Amanda Baker

    Great article but your title needs some work. The title makes it seem like people shouldn’t be hesitant to take SSRIs, or like there’s something wrong with them, and only contributes to more stigma

  • Amanda Baker

    Great article but your title needs some work. The title makes it seem like people should be hesitant to take SSRIs, or like there’s somethingwrong with them, and only contributes to more stigma

    • Leslie Price

      Well I wrote the title, so blame me for that one.

  • Ciccollina

    I absolutely loved this article but please, let’s have some perspective on this point:
    “We currently inhabit what is a very shitty time to be a woman.”

    No, it’s not the very best it could be, but it’s a hell of a lot better than almost any other time. We can, legally, do anything we want (although I am writing this from Australia so it may be different in the US) and the things we can’t do are illegal for men also. “Very shitty” is a gross misrepresentation in my eyes.

    Let’s keep our chins up and be grateful for the women that came before us 🙂

    • elpug

      thank you for saying this! I wanted to point it out but didn’t know how to do so kindly. Sure, in some places and for some, every day can be very scary and unpredictable but now more than ever it seems that LGBTQ+, females, Muslim, immigrants, people of color, etc. have more SUPPORTERS than ever despite the hate that continues to persist in the world.

      Nonetheless, it is important to practice self-care and support one another.

      • ValiantlyVarnished

        Do not minimize the very real experiences of WOC and women of the LGBTQ community. I am a black Muslim woman. Hate crimes against Muslim women are UP. Hate crimes against transgender women are UP. What we face on a daily basis is VERY real. And it has played a DIRECT role in my anxiety and depression.

        • elpug

          My apologies that I came off that way. I did not intend to minimize your experiences or that of others. You are correct. I was trying to angle the conversation in a more positive light and by doing so I did minimize the current and real experiences of you and other women whom I cannot speak for. Thank you for bringing this to my attention no matter how long ago I wrote it.

          • ValiantlyVarnished

            Thank you for responding.

    • Anni

      I’m from NZ – which is closer in government and education than the US. Now I’m a US immigrant and things are definitively worse for “1st world” women here than back home. In NZ there is universal healthcare that is not controversial, teenagers are taught fairly comprehensive sex ed in school (what kinds of protection there is / relative consent), women are able to obtain abortions without seeing people protest outside a clinic and they have up to 52 weeks of maternity leave while the US has 12. With the Trump presidency and a republican majority coming in, none of the things I mentioned above are likely to improve for the US as the official republican stance is anti government intervention in the health care area (which affects the ability to afford birth control), they lean towards abstinence-only intervention, they are holistically anti-abortion and do not rank extending maternity and paternity leave to be a important issue.

      To be clear being a woman in the US is not worse than being a refugee woman in the middle east right now, nor is it as bad as any of the decades and centuries before us where women did not have access to health care, did not have legal protection against rape and were basically chattel. That said, with the current political climate here is not the greatest time to be a woman, particularly if you are poor, visibly queer or a ethnic minority.

      • Ciccollina

        I totally get that but the point I’m making is more tied to the comment that it’s a bad time to be a woman etc. I was assuming that it would have been worse 10, 20, 30 years ago but maybe I’m wrong!

    • Allison Richman Craycraft

      I think the point you are missing is that things despite progress (suffrage, the ability to have your own credit card, the ability on the surface-level to get an education) is that for many women in the United States, particularly people of color, LGBT communities, immigrant communities do not have it better off, or have not experienced the “progress” that you are thinking of. No one is dissing those that came before us, but dont deny someone who has not been able to enjoy “progress” like you have their experience. Not everyone has it better. In fact, its gotten worse for some.

  • XZYM

    I just hate the word “safe space” at this point. But, this is a great article, so well written, and reading through the comments, so great that you posted it.

  • cloudy

    thank you for talking about a REALLY important topic.
    i love your article.
    i love that i felt a little more ‘powerful’ and ‘right’…

  • Amen, sister!

  • TheOracle

    I tried Lexapro for a short time but it made me feel disconnected from my body….in a surreal type of way. It was too uncomfortable for me. I recently started taking Wellbutrin XL, for depression and to quit smoking, and personally find Wellbutrin to be a better fit so far. Depression and or anxiety is painful, frustrating and isolating. It takes so much effort to change our mental routines, destructive habits and sometimes straight up predisposition/genetics. If you struggle with it, you are not alone, and it’s not easy.

    This was a great article! But I felt so bad! I agree, depression and or anxiety creates this self-centerdness, and selfish obsession with one’s own thoughts and fears, so much so, that it is extremely difficult to connect with other people and be with them fully.
    I do remember being able to do that and I desperately want it back!

    I feel so guilty for being so depressed and angry and continuing that cycle of self-loathing and hopelessness. It’s tough to let go of that selfishness, because I don’t want to let myself get away with not being who the depression or anxiety says I should be, yet the anger and disappointment I put on myself only perpetuates the cycle. It’s a terrible trap, and sometimes you really need to ask for help and exhaust all your options. It’s worth it to get your mental state where you need it be to live the life you want. Don’t give up.
    To reiterate, great article, I definitely cried a little.

  • Lana

    I love Man Repeller for many reasons, but this article is topping the list for me right now. Thank you!

  • Helena

    I’m not going to elaborate in this comment because it’s late where I am and your article made me cry a bit, but really, THANK YOU for being such an awesome blog and addressing all kinds of issues, both superficial and important ones. Really, thanks for that. Keep up the good work <3

  • Flauta

    This is so beautiful and important, it’s awesome to see the cultural stigmas around antidepressants dropping. Thanks a million, MR!

    I especially love that this piece differentiates SSRIs as a specific type of antidepressant, since the term lumps a lot of (actually very different) medications together. SSRIs are awesome for some, but I worry about people doing their own online research and pigeonholing their depressive/anxious symptoms to fit a specific solution — only to get turned off to the idea of medication entirely if they find it’s not a fit. My mom went through years of struggling with SSRIs before finding that NDRIs were really what worked for her…but on the bright side, she was able to pass that knowledge on to me and Wellbutrin has changed my life, whereas an SSRI like Lexapro or Prozac would have been totally wrong for me.

    Important to consider that as awesome as it is to share our stories, we all experience different struggles/imbalances! It’s one thing to spend gobs of money on La Mer because that’s what works for Lindsay Lohan (the first La Mer-slinging celeb who came to mind, I apparently base all my beauty knowledge on early 2000s magazines?) and another entirely to get fixated on an antidepressant solution that worked for someone with *similar* but not exactly the same mental health experiences.

  • Natasha

    Thank you for writing this. I have friends and family with anxiety and depression and it’s always so useful to hear from someone who can give a glimpse into their perspective when I don’t want to pester them with lots of intrusive questions that might make them feel worse. We need people to talk frankly about mental health and possible treatments if we’re going to help each other. This is such an eloquent explanation of your point of view. Best wishes for the future.

  • Thanks for the great article. I was feeling shit for years and was as comfortable as you can be with it, thinking it’s completely normal to have constantly question everything I do, get anxious about it, and then fall in downward spirals. Joining the Lexapro squad (lol!) helped a lot. I recently expressed worry to my doctor after taking Lexapro for over a year, and he simply said: Does it make you feel better? I said yes. And he said, well then don’t worry about it. Because life is too short, and it’s hard, and if you find something that makes you feel better, stick to it.

  • Abe Luther

    Thank you for writing this with such honesty. I’ve dealt with depression for years since my early teens and I’ve made too many excuses for the past 7-8 years to seek proper help. I think you just gave me my New Year’s Resolution for 2017.

  • Jackal

    Ugggghh, I’m so depressed… because my antidepressant which works great for my brain is killing my fucking stomach. It’s a very miserable feeling when you realize that the side effects have crept up to such an extent that you have to change when the main effect is still good, and yes, the pop culture demonization is no fucking help. I’m really tired of begging depressed and anxious people to seek medical help and having to convince them that pysch meds aren’t Soul-Removal Insta-Zombie Compliance Pills.

  • Frankie

    For everyone one person who makes me feel as though I’m completely mad and every feeling of inadequacy and anxiety is somehow something that I have fabricated or created as a crutch to cover up an inherent laziness, there are another dozen who entirely validate my mental state and my feelings around an inability to do things ‘normally’. It’s an illness, like any other – you have an infection, you take antibiotics; you have cancer, you seek treatment. You recover, or you learn to balance it in your life. So often I’m made to feel that this illness is not real, that it’s something I can just ‘get over’. It makes my heart sing when I read things like this, knowing that things that I think and feel are not just my own. Other people can’t get out of bed for days on end, shower, do their course work, go to work, all that shit that you should just be able to do without a second thought. I don’t want to feel like I’m ‘special’ or ‘different’ because I’m medicated for a sickness you can’t see, and writing like this makes me feel less alone and relieved to know that someone else got straight back into bed after only getting out for class. Thanks MR for continually validating me. ❤️❤️

  • Scott

    After 4 years of therapy following losing the love of my life and having no motivation or career interest I got a zplot prescription but am scared to take it. Currently I can have sex all night don’t want that to change or have memory loss.

  • HilarityBribo .

    “election of a racist”

    lol stopped reading there

  • Adrianna

    Note: this is my personal experience, not trying to debate medication

    I struggled with severe depression ages 9-24ish. I’m currently 29. I grew up in a Polish-American community in New Jersey, where mental illness was even more of a stigma. My mother’s first solution to confronting my depression when I was a teen was to tell me to bless myself with holy water. She thought “the devil” was responsible. (Ps my mother has since learned a lot of about mental illness because my old sister was diagnosed as Bipolar II)

    I was eventually hospitalized (for ideations, not attempt) and put on antidepressants at age 16. I found it odd that we drove 45 minutes to meet with a doctor who barely spoke to me but increased my dosage if I asked.

    I took summer college courses before my senior year of high school, and that’s when I realized that I lived with a lot of environmental triggers (domestic violence, abuse) in a rural part of Pennsylvania. I was stuck in a house in the middle of no where. Insomnia runs in my family, and I averaged about three hours of sleep. I stopped taking the medication cold turkey (unwise, I was in a dark place for 6 months). I then started taking over the counter sleeping pills for the next 12 years. I actually did feel better after a good night’s of sleep. I didn’t have any dramatic reason for stopping the antidepressants or sleeping pills – both felt like they would no longer work, which felt like another obstacle. I wanted to learn to live with this problem “sober” without adding unpredictable variables.

    I say that I struggled with depression until age 24 because it seems to have just disappeared. I finally understood what people mean when they say that your brain doesn’t stop growing until you’re 25. I wonder if I would have “grown out of it” if I had been on medication all that time. It’s been very surreal to meet my new sense of self and view of the world now that a significant part of me is gone.

  • Micha

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time, and have been in therapy since the beginning of it, but always thought that taking medication would make me “weak.” I was on it for a while in college, felt a lot better and then took myself off of it, because in my mind it was just a temporary fix. Something that I would be able to get off of once I was “better.” That was a mistake, to say the least. I tried to get better by going to a naturopath, acupuncture, spent god knows how much money on supplements. A therapist finally helped me realize that I actually did want to go back on medication, and there was no shame in that. I no longer look at the medication I take as something to eventually get off of, but as a reminder that each day I’m doing my best, and using the tools available to me, that I am lucky enough to have access to.

  • Emily M

    Anti-depressants are not for everyone. But they are for some people. Thanks for writing openly and honestly and hopefully there haven’t been too many medication-shamers/holistic-cures-solve-everything-people in the comments (I haven’t checked, but I assume.)

  • Kattigans

    “If you live in a body that no longer feels safe to you, part of defending it is accepting that it is okay to be sick inside it, and to ask for help.” This line.

  • “I’d leave my bed to go to class, and then crawl right back to it. As I walked around campus, I envisioned myself collapsing and laying down on the sidewalk.” Mannnn, if this wasn’t my life!! I always felt like at any given moment I would pass out, I still occassionally feel that way. Panic attacks are by far the worst thing I have ever felt and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone!! They are terrifying. I was skeptical about antidepressants for a while but they’re definitely helping me. I think it’s important to alos incorporate natural methods into your self-care routine though. Yoga and meditation can work wonders. Peace and love to you all

  • Saira

    SO GOOD! As a physician in the field of Psychiatry, I so appreciate this candid and refreshing post! Thank you for writing about this!

  • amelia

    As someone who has tried Wellbutrin, Zoloft and Prozac for extended periods, I have to say that good, strong, regular cardio exercise has helped me manage my depression more effectively than any medication. Those drugs came with too many side effects for me. Like, I physically couldn’t cry while on depression medication. And with Zoloft, the sweating, omg.

    I really, really recommend exercise. Trust me. There is a history of suicide in my family, and I have struggled with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. If you look at the literature, cardio exercise is proven to be as effective as SSRIs for mild-moderate depression.

    On a different note, to anyone currently taking SSRIs, DO NOT EVER stop taking them cold-turkey. You haaaave to taper your dosage down slowly and carefully, or else you’ll get CRAZY suicidal.

  • Cynthia Schoonover

    I’ve always been anxious and a worry wart all my life, and going on an anti-anxiety medicine 6 years ago has made a big difference.I got up the courage to ask my primary care doctor for something for anxiety as my brother had recently passed away and he was my only sibling, and my mom had been in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer, and I was a wreck. I’m on citalopram, the generic of Celexa. It has kept me on an even keel. I still have my feelings and emotions, but I’m not all over the place. I just think it’s the way I’m wired.

  • Sophia Cangelosi

    This is such an incredibly important topic. Thank you so much for putting this piece out into the world. I’ve been living with anxiety and depression in years-long bouts on and off since I was about 8 years old. Medication is something that I have been pretty scared of for a while. Not really because of existing stigmatization, but because unfortunately I had really only talked to a few people about their experiences and they had all been horrific stories. And I was pretty scared of “losing my authentic self” as if my anxiety and depression hasn’t done that for me already. I was also unwilling to help myself in any form for about 4 years. It was really difficult. Right now, I am in a moment where I am making a lot for myself, finally. I found myself a new talk therapist, who I adore, after being devastated about my old therapist leaving my insurance network. I’m seeking regular exercise, trying to learn how to meditate. Thankfully, I have heard about experiences of other friends recently that are positive. I’m running across pieces like this and the transcript to an episode of On Being with Krista Tippett that focuses on depression (“The Soul in Depression”, 3/22/18). The moment I really began to fully consider medication, was a quote from Jane Kenyon in this episode: “We try a new drug, a new combination / of drugs, and suddenly / I fall back into my life again.” And it made me cry. As this excerpt from this piece does:

    “For 30 years, I believed middling self-loathing was my natural state. Now, I’m able to write without self-censoring; I’m able to be a good partner since I’m not perpetually convinced my boyfriend is about to see my inadequacies and run. Being less consumed with my own inner life means I’m generally a better person — a kinder, more attentive friend, sister, and daughter, with far more time to devote to the well-being of people who are NOT ME. It’s impossible to see when you are in the throes of depression or anxiety, but what feels self-centered — giving yourself the kindness and treatment you deserve — is actually the thing that will allow you to crawl out of your myopic mud cave.”

    How beautiful.

    Best of luck to everyone on their journeys to a life with more vitality, vibrancy, acceptance, and happiness.

  • Elizabeth Beanland

    This hits so close to home. I suffer from panic attacks induced by CPTSD that I thought meant the end of everything. I could hardly go to class, I was so afraid of having another one. I started propranolol (beta blocker) along with CBT talk therapy with a mindfulness and self-compassion based approach and my life is so much better I could cry.

  • Ruthie

    Zoloft lover over here! I can’t say enough how glad I am to see people talking openly about the incredible benefits of taking a *needed* medication. Anxiety, depression and the other mental illness’s people chalk up to not being mentally strong enough are not given nearly enough attention.

    Thank goodness people are finally open about their struggles. I struggled with severe generalized anxiety for years after a brain injury and eventually was pushed into medication as a last resort. My only regret since has been not going on it sooner. I spent a lot of time trying to get better ~naturally~ with exercise, crazy diets, crazy expensive supplements, therapy, you name it I did it – and it still didn’t come close to the life improvement I experienced after going on meds.

    Obviously, medication shouldn’t be handed out from a freewheeling Pez dispenser, but there should be no stigma for getting treated for a medical issue as real as diabetes or high cholesterol. Thanks for writing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Liz Smith

    Before I say this, let me be very clear that I do not blame or shame any individual for seeking the best treatment options for their own mental health. I’m not a pill shamer and I took SSRIs for around seven years myself. But I am still, a year into coming off them, living with the effects. That includes sexual dysfunction, withdrawal related depression, stubborn weight gain which has affected my self esteem, low energy, and brain “zaps”. There is so little research into the safety and effectiveness of these medications long term – to suggest that we as women are “protecting our brains” against a world that’s too shitty for us to cope with is seriously irresponsible, you don’t know if these drugs protect or harm in the long run – nobody does, not even the pushers in the clinics. The white male institution of psychiatry has a vested interest in keeping women quiet – it always has. Hysteria and “wandering womb” 100 years ago, now it’s borderline personality disorder and anxiety disorder labels slapped on women who have experienced trauma. Psychiatry = systematic abuse and gaslighting of women, in no uncertain terms. Don’t talk about oppression and trauma, just take the pills and shut up.

    Again, my point of view is not based on the idea of shaming individuals for doing what they can to alleviate their symptoms. My beef is with the institutions that continue to deny women’s realities through labelling us with disorders and pushing drugs on us for years and years without effectively testing the long term effects. Just like with birth control, women are being used as guinea pigs, because the lives of women have less value. Who cares if she’s sick, numb, can’t enjoy sex, as long as she’s quiet. Don’t buy it. Resist.

    • Kiks

      I get what you’re saying in terms of women and trauma. I have often wondered about the correlation between higher rates of anxiety & depression in women and the seemingly endless assaults and abuses most of us endure starting at a young age.

      Obviously there is a spectrum of traumatic things that can happen to women and some are much worse than others; at the same time, some people are probably more resilient (due to support systems, family history, and simple physiology) than others.

      I’m not saying there is not a strong biological/neurological component as well. I don’t think we are even close to fully understanding it, though. I take an SNRI and cannot function without it (I’ve tried).

      But I am lucky I can also afford therapy.

      Handing someone a prescription and offering no follow-up is not a solution, it’s not treatment. It is just wanting them to get out of your office so you can deal with the next patient.

  • Daria Ed

    Hello, baby!
    I hope you are having the most amazing Wednesday.
    I am here to tell you that I am absolutely in love with your blog!
    You did an incredible job! x
    Every post is so interesting, entertaining and most importantly – useful.

    -Daria
    https://dariaed.com/inspiration-project-angelina-texier/
    https://www.bloglovin.com/blogs/daria-edu-19010657

  • Nyna Nickelson

    this was such a great article. I grew up very familiar with mental illness and the medications that accompany it. As a child of a schizophrenic and suffer of bipolar depression, I was no stranger to coaxing my mother into taking her medication and seeing the good and bad in prescription medications. However, when I realized that I was dealing with my own mental illness I felt inadequate and defeated. I was unaware how I had internalized these ridiculous social (and cultural) notions of what it means to need medication. Medication and therapy has done wonders for me.

  • Emily

    zoloft nation!!!!!

  • Meg McEvoy

    Beautifully written, thank you.

  • Barri Harris

    As someone trying to get off SSRIs after 8 years I want to urge caution. This shouldn’t be treated like a long term solution. It can make a huge difference to get you out of a bad place but 8 years in I realize I created a new normal where the SSRIs allowed me to gloss over (read ignore) real issues in my relationships with hubby and kids by taking the edge off with SSRI. Now I see that I need to deal with boundaries and the fact my brain is conditioned to getting seratonin/dopamine support and it’s not getting it now. I realize it’s going to take some time to get thru but am excited to figure it out without my crutch

  • Barbara

    There is nothing safe about Zoloft. Nothing whatsoever. My child died from a seizure due this drug. I will forever live with the knowledge that I allowed such a gross error of judgement to be made by her doctor. Even though I am red raw with grief, I would rather suffer an authentic pain and know that as long as there is a known source to my sorrow, there is the hope that I may one day heal it.

  • Cindy C

    Great article and so very true.

  • Cindy C

    Been on Venlafaxine for 10+ years and I honestly don’t care what it’s doing to my body. It’s worth getting rid of the constant, unreasonable feelings of impending doom and the paralyzing terror of failure. My life is wonderful now and I wouldn’t go back for anything.

  • stella

    This addresses an important topic that I’m glad has been re-shared, but there is a flaw in the thinking here that is hard not to find distracting. I’m a similarly aged woman who has taken the same antidepressant for years. My issue is: Is it really a “very shitty time to be a woman”? In the entire history of the world, there has been no better time to be a single 30-something woman than today (a time when we are constantly encouraged to feel entitled to respect, as we damn well should). Have some perspective.

  • John Miner

    Thank you for writing this searing description of your experience of depression/anxiety. As a psychologist, I’ll be sharing your writing with my clients.

  • pharmgirl1

    We are an over medicated society. SSRIs are appropriate for some, but are prescribed as a knee jerk reaction by many MDs to anyone feeling a bit blue, having a stressful life event, etc. Please don’t give the false impression that these meds are without side effects or consequence, or are a panacea to what is just “life”–there are downs along with the ups. Take it from a PharmD. And BTW–all the groups you mentioned–it is the BEST time for them. A lot of unhappiness comes from the perception of being a victim. A good therapist would help a person work on this negative world view.

  • Jessy

    Thank you so much for this. I realized 2 weeks ago that I’ve been severely depressed my entire life. I always blamed in on myself for not trying hard enough. I exhausted myself trying. When it dawned on me that this is depression, I felt so much freedom – even before getting the prescription, I already felt liberated. I don’t know which drug or treatment will work for me yet, but just knowing that this isn’t normal, and isn’t my fault, is 99% of the battle. Your article will be saved in my files so that any time I start to feel ashamed of leaning on meds to be a normal happy person, I can remind myself that my old way of living was not normal or necessary, and that there are plenty of options for lifting that heavy shroud.

  • Anida Omerbegovic

    I have a question: did anyone started and used SSRI and then eventually stopped using it? I’ve been told that this is the way it _should_ be used (you can know it after minimum 6 months); sure, for some people, you need to take it longer… but I’ve never read here or anywhere else that some people stop using it after some time and still feel better…

  • Abbi Mast

    Hey, I’m Abbi (Celexa, 40mg) and I LOVE MY MEDS! I’m so so thankful that I’ve found something that works for me and that I can feel like a functioning human person most days!

  • Esther Collins

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I suffer from anxiety and take Lexapro too. It makes me happy to see others being so open about it.

    http://thegirlswhobrunch.com

  • Jen

    There is still so much stigma around taking medication to help maintain mental health. I had been anxious for most of my life and as you so critically mention, it mostly goes hand in hand with depressive episodes. Trying to succeed in the world when your life is ruled by either/or one of these issues is so difficult if not impossible. The act of admitting to yourself that you have a serious problem and then taking action is also a process. Nobody wants to admit to themselves that they have a mental health issue. But until you do it keeps robbing you. There is no shame in using medication if it works for you. You have a right not to be burdened with a paralysing illness.