Friend, I’ve been there.
Forget all the taboo discussing mental health! Do you want to know the plain and simple truth?
It’s all a bunch of chemicals.
People usually maintain homeostasis, but sometimes stuff goes awry. Depression and anxiety are just words to label a chemical imbalance. It’s not because of something you did or didn’t do.
Sometimes it’s triggered by a stressful, negative event (loss, death, divorce, trauma, etc.). Sometimes it’s triggered by an overwhelming life change or even a positive event (pregnancy, job change, move, etc.). Sometimes it’s random and no one knows why there are only grey skies in your world. Identifiable trigger or not, it’s just a bunch of chemicals – it’s NOT you. Imbalances can be fixed, like blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
Talk it Out
For some people, therapy alone is enough. To have someone in your corner to help you sort through your racing mind or burdensome guilt is life-changing. It takes immense courage to put yourself first, step in the door, and seek mental health support. Kudos to you for speaking up. Therapy is never selfish. The short amount of time it takes out of your day will be paid back to you twice over when you’re able to be calm, centered, and present with those around you.
If therapy alone works, know this: it wasn’t all in your head. When you’re stuck in the anxiety and depression spirals, your brain keeps the chemical imbalance going. When you learn about healthy thought patterns and activities, you’re tricking your body into correcting the imbalance! Trust me, it’s more than “think happy thoughts” (which is why that plan wasn’t working so well on your own).
Finding the right therapist is a bit like dating, and until there’s an app for therapeutic match-making, be strong. You may not find the right social worker, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist right away. You may feel drained at the end of an appointment, but you should never feel dismissed or more conflicted. That’s a sign that you need to try another provider.
The Medication Stigma
Therapy is one thing, but agreeing to take anti-depressants is a HUGE mental hurdle for many people. When verbal re-framing and re-processing doesn’t change the chemical balance, you owe it to yourself to give it a chance (with your doctor’s guidance, of course.) You’ve done all the work of getting in the door and in front of someone you trust, now push through the homestretch.
This isn’t to say that anti-depressants are a walk in the park. You may get lucky and respond well to the first one… or there may be some trial and error until your unique chemical imbalance is corrected. If you don’t respond, it doesn’t mean that all medications are wrong for you. One doctor gave me this great analogy: “It’s like flavors of cola. You’ve got Pepsi, Coke, store brand, diet, zero calorie… and you’ll find the best flavor.”
Anti-depressants can also be used for non-mental health related conditions – that’s actually how I was introduced to them. I felt the stigma of being labeled as “depressed” when I wasn’t. Sure, my chronic medical condition made me feel terrible about myself and my situation, but I wasn’t depressed at the time. Years of wear and tear, however, took their toll and the medications now do double duty.
I’ll openly admit that I’ve been on a dozen or so (frankly I’ve lost count) anti-depressants over the past six years. I have two VERY important tips from lessons I’ve learned the hard way.
ALWAYS TAPER YOUR DOSE. No cold turkey, ever. This is serious and life-threatening at times. If your doctor doesn’t mention it, then ASK THEM!!
- Always give yourself space and time to adjust. Give yourself a “pass” for a least two weeks (ideally more like 4-6 weeks) where it’s COMPLETELY OK to not be OK. Know that this is a phase and it WILL pass. You might want to let someone close to you know that you’re in this transition period. They can help keep you going and help watch for signs that you’re not OK.
If you’re not the one in this situation, understanding this struggle can mean the world to someone else.
This is probably the hardest battle of a person’s life. You wouldn’t expect anyone to “walk off” a broken femur just like you wouldn’t expect them to “think happy thoughts” to rid their diabetes. It’s a medically and professionally treatable chemical imbalance. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that. Mental health care is health care.
If everyone knew how hard it was to walk into your first therapy session or how unsettled you felt between dose changes… the kindness and understanding would make so much difference. There would be no more stigma.
End the stigma.