My Experience With Depression and Different Treatment Options
My Experience with Depression and Seeking Treatment
I kept debating whether I actually wanted to write this article, due to the stigma that still surrounds mental health problems, but I think this information is valuable enough that it should be shared. The only way to break the stigma is for people to speak openly about their experiences.
After suffering from symptoms of depression and anxiety for most of my life, I finally got up the courage to discuss these symptoms with my doctor in early 2018. Between the stigma surrounding mental health issues, and the horror stories I’ve heard about the possible side effects of antidepressants, I put off seeking treatment for over a decade.
I have Persistent Depressive Disorder (also called dysthymia) and have had episodes of Major Depression. I also have Social Anxiety Disorder and possibly Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Clinical depression and anxiety disorders often occur together.
Here are some of the treatment options I’ve tried, and what worked and didn’t work for me. Different treatments have different effects on different people, so your experiences may differ if you chose to try any of these.
Antidepressants – Fluoxetine (Prozac)
While it is generally best to go to an actual psychiatric doctor for mental health concerns, I chose to visit a primary care doctor about my depression symptoms (it can be difficult to get past the stigma of admitting to having a mental health problem). He prescribed fluoxetine (the generic version of Prozac). Though many people don’t respond to the first antidepressant they try, it seems to be working quite well for me.
I started out with 10mg for the first week, then went up to 20mg. After several weeks, I was switched to 40mg a week at my next follow-up appointment. The 40mg seemed to be working well for me so, so I’ve since declined an additional dosage increase and have been on the 40mg dosage since.
I still have times where I feel a bit more depressed, but I think that the antidepressants are helping a lot. After several weeks on fluoxetine, I started feeling less depressed and more motivated. I am able to wake up earlier (most days) now, whereas before I had a lot of trouble getting out of bed and making it to work on time in the morning. Now I am sometimes even able to get myself up and going early enough to do some yoga before leaving for work! I still do have some trouble falling asleep often (I use melatonin for my insomnia).
I do also have anxiety (Social Anxiety Disorder, and maybe Generalized Anxiety Disorder, though I’m not sure if I agree with that diagnosis), and fluoxetine didn’t really do much to help with that. The same doctor later prescribed propranolol for my anxiety symptoms and panic attacks after the fluoxetine didn’t help with that, and that is helping quite a bit.
In addition to antidepressants, the doctor recommended therapy. I was reluctant to go at first and was hoping to just be able to get by on only medication. He insisted that most people do better if they do meds and therapy together, rather than just one or the other. I eventually found a therapist and made an appointment.
I started with weekly sessions and am now going every two weeks (sometimes three weeks). Therapy has helped a lot with both my depression and anxiety. I don’t think I would have been able to get into the mindset to begin therapy to begin with, or to continue with it, if I hadn’t been on the antidepressant meds first.
Therapy is helping me to identify triggers to my anxiety and depression episodes so that I can manage them, and to find strategies to lessen the symptoms when I noticed them starting. My therapist has helped me to learn strategies for dealing with anxiety and reframing negative thoughts I have while depressed to help to alleviate the symptoms.
One of the most helpful things I’ve learned to do in therapy is to keep a journal to help me keep track of symptoms and destructive thoughts. I’ve learned how to reframe negative thoughts I have, which helps me to change my thinking patterns. It helps me a lot to get my thoughts out on paper to be able to sort through them and really see what’s going on in my head. Journaling is also great for looking back and seeing how much progress I’ve made over time, especially on days when I might feel like I haven’t progressed much.
Keeping a journal also helps me to remember what thoughts I had between therapy sessions so that I can more easily remember what I wanted to talk about and work on. Without writing things down, I forget what I wanted to talk about, and don’t remember until after the session is over. It also helps me to actually bring up topics that are uncomfortable or difficult for me to begin talking about in the first place.
St. John’s Wort
Before trying actual medication and therapy, I tried St. John’s Wort a few different times over the years. I know there are many people on the internet who claim that natural remedies like this are safer and more effective than prescription medication, but I never saw any results with this herbal supplement.
Now, I admit, the only reason I tried St. John’s Wort before other treatments was because it is available over the counter, so I didn’t need to admit my problems to a doctor to get it. The first time I tried it, I took it as recommended for a couple months and saw no improvement in my symptoms, so I eventually just stopped bothering with it.
Later on, I read that some herbal supplements sold at Target (where I bought mine) and other retailers were found to be fakes filled with inactive ingredients, so I thought maybe that was why it didn’t work. I didn’t remember the exact brand name I tried, so I don’t know if mine were fake or not, but I ordered some more online that had decent reviews and tried again.
It didn’t work this time either. I tried a couple other brands over the years, hoping one would eventually work, since other people on the internet claimed that was the best option as far as over-the-counter treatments go. It never worked. I wasn’t a very good idea to try to treat my own depression without help from an actual medical professional anyway.
Light Box Therapy for SAD
I was starting to feel more depressed again and figured out that it might be related to the weather, so my therapist recommended I try a light box for seasonal depression. I’m not as bad now as I was before I started therapy and antidepressants, but I could be better. I bought an inexpensive light box on Amazon to try out.
So far, I have only been using it for a few weeks. I haven’t really noticed any effects yet, to be honest. I’m going to try different amounts of time and positioning it in different places to see if that has any effect before, I decide if it just isn’t effective for me. This kind of treatment might only be effective if you mainly just have Seasonal Affective Disorder rather than other types of depression, but since my symptoms have been worsening over the winter, it was worth a try.
Yoga and Meditation
I feel like I need to mention these since they are the first things a lot of “experts” on internet forums like to suggest when people mention depression or anxiety. I like yoga and meditation as much as the next stereotypical white girl, but they aren’t a magical cure to your mental health problems.
Since starting actual treatments, I have had enough energy and motivation to practice yoga regularly, however. But I needed to start getting my mental health struggles under control before I could even get myself to start exercising regularly again. Stop telling people they just need to do yoga or other exercise to fix all of their mental health issues. When you are super deep in your depression, you don’t have the energy to work out, and it seems pointless anyway. Telling someone who is depressed that they need to exercise just makes them feel more ashamed and guilty and about their illness and inability to do normal things that everyone else does and makes the problem worse.
The same thing applies to meditation. If someone is severely depressed, they probably won’t be able to meditate effectively. Meditation could even have a negative effect, by causing them to dwell more on negative situations in their lives.
Meditation does help me to alleviate some anxiety when I’m feeling particularly anxious, but it might not work for everyone. It certainly isn’t a magical cure to anxiety by itself, but it does help me to calm down when I feel myself becoming anxious.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2019 Jennifer Wilber