People often used to ask me if I was okay. Genuinely, I felt fine, but my face fell not unlike a young hound dog, so my friends and family approached me gently, with concern.
My enormous apathy was always a challenge.
I was able to get out of bed, but beyond that, daily tasks felt dreadful. I did what I had to do—went to classes, did work. I played the role, but I never felt quite present or excited.
I didn’t like it when people would ask if I was happy, but when asked if I felt depressed, I would shrug, because although I did feel depressed, I could laugh and I had moments of happiness that snuck out from a general, mild cloud of manageable depression. My ability to do necessary tasks did not match up to the debilitating way I had heard others describe depression, and therefore, I was fine.
Still, those in whom I confided on the matter would suggest trying antidepressants. I didn’t want to try antidepressants because I didn’t want to alter my brain chemistry, my body, and the way I work. To this, they would say that I would feel even more like myself—a concept that seemed silly to me. How could I feel more like the way I have been feeling my entire life?
But antidepressants work for many people, so they say. So I gave it a whirl.
Truth be told, I went into it with doubt. My family always enforced natural healing techniques, namely exercise and eating well. Somehow, that was not cutting it. Healthy eating and exercise did reveal slight mood boosts, but I wasn’t always able to keep them up. Maybe, I thought, if I had more mental power with the help of antidepressants, I would want to be exercising and eating well constantly.
My first two weeks on antidepressants were a nightmare. Instead of building up to my prescribed dosage level, I jumped right into the full amount, as recommended by my healthcare provider. I felt out of my mind. This SSRI treatment—which had antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties—only made me more depressed and anxious in the beginning.
My appetite was gone, and although I was constantly hungry, there was no food that I wanted to digest. My leg would not stop twitching and I could not sleep a night all the way through, consistently waking up at four in the morning. It was not easy and the stressors that led me to trying medications in the first place only amplified: trouble in a toxic relationship, the pressure of beginning a new job, wondering about the future, my brain, and my happiness. It was also the dead of winter.
Nothing seemed to be working, but the side effects were apparently normal. I was told to wait it out and that, eventually, it would all subside. While my anxiety did settle from after some time, the other symptoms remained, and I did not feel particularly better than I did before I started. I could not sleep well. My appetite was unusual. I was still anxious, unhappy, or fine. Except I was not making art.
I wanted to be making art and I wasn’t. I couldn’t, when I usually would be. Whether it was the antidepressants or the weather or the lack of a muse, none of it was working for me.
Going off antidepressants was no fun, either. At that point, I had settled into my job, but I was going through a breakup and winter was winding down but still very much present. My psychiatrist recommended another antidepressant, but I asked for an herbal supplement instead. The next day, I stopped the meds and picked up St. John’s Wort—an herbal supplement commonly used to treat mild to moderate depression.
Leaving antidepressants meant experiencing “brain zaps”—a feeling of having my brain jolted any time my head moved or my eyes shifted. After a few weeks, this too faded, and so began my true journey to self-care and self-listening.
Antidepressants have worked well for many friends of mine, and I do not mean to suggest that they do not work for anybody, but they do not work for me, at least right now. I believe that we are constantly changing organisms and that what we take into our bodies (certainly the chemicals) change us too. I am glad that I tried them out, and while some would say that I have just not found the right fit, herbal supplements seem like a safer and more appropriate approach for me, for now.
I did not try antidepressants for myself. I tried them for the people in my life who wanted me to be happy: my parents, my boyfriend, my friends. I wanted to be happy for them, but in the end, I was fine, until I was not—after the antidepressants, after an unhealthy relationship, after not listening to myself.
I have not had any side effects with St. John’s Wort. While before, my head would fall like an unmanaged puppet, I now feel I can hold myself up a bit more and be my own puppeteer. I find myself surprised at how comfortable I feel in social situations. Most importantly, I am making art.
Listening to my body has also meant working with my body: eating properly, exercising, getting enough sleep, taking baths, doing art, engaging in meditative practices, and whatever else may be necessary in the moment. Recently, I have ventured into yoga, bought myself a magic weighted blanket, made myself a self-care box, cleaned my room, gone on bike rides, and worked in therapy to explore my practices.
Some days, it is a challenge still to keep my head up. It is easy to sink and slouch, but eventually, I get around to taking care of myself for myself.
(Photo by Paul Stainthorp)