I was diagnosed with depression two years ago. My youngest daughter had just turned one, and I was expecting to feel better, or more like myself, because surely this was just “baby blues” that I’d been feeling. But, I didn’t feel better. I would RSVP yes to events and skip them; I stopped calling my mom even though I called her daily; the thought of getting off the couch to perform simple daily tasks was debilitating; and I was mean and irritable toward loved ones. My slump hit me during one of the most trying times of my adult life: a period in which I was running a Stay-at-Home Moms Club and needed to present myself as strong. As an empath, I often shoulder the weight of others’ grief and hurts, so my mental capacity had maxed out. I’m writing this, five weeks detoxed of anti-depressants, and I am sobbing. This time, however, they are happy tears.
I went to my first therapy appointment in October of 2016. While I can’t recall the specific questions the therapist asked, I can assure you that I cried through our entire meeting as well as the drive home. One week later, I followed up with my PCP who emphasized his concerns for my mental state. All the feelings surface when you see a therapist for the first time; I think I even admitted to hating Cheerios. I confided in her about my deepest pains– inadequacy, grief from loss, and insecurities. It was a dark place. I’ll never forget my husband telling me, “I just don’t know what I am going to come home to each day” when I was curled up on the couch, kids in front of the TV, and dishes piled in the sink. I was sick. My poor little brain had tapped out; I had nothing left to give anyone. My doctor prescribed 20mg of Citalopram, the generic of Celexa, in November of 2016. I filled the prescription and waited two months before opening the bottle, still believing that I could beat depression on my own.
On January 1, 2017, I took my first pill.
Things were becoming a bit rosier three weeks later. I started making phone calls again. After four weeks, I was cooking dinners and loading the dishwasher. Six weeks later, I gave Cheerios another shot (I still hate them). I continued to follow up with my PCP every three months. While he predicted 3-6 months on Citalopram, I wasn’t sure I’d ever give up my new-found happiness from the medication. 22 months later though, I was ready. In 22 months, I had released toxic relationships, started a business that brought me joy, carved out weekly self-care appointments, cultivated deep and meaningful friendships, and began writing. I went back to church and grew in my faith. The medication was evening out my serotonin levels, but I had to meet it halfway. Citalopram wasn’t going to be my crutch; I was taking necessary steps to create therapeutic fulfillment in my life.
There was a pivotal moment in my recovery. October 1 marked 15 years since the passing of my grandmother. I was on my way to a styling party and a song that reminded me of the day she passed came on the radio. There was a heaviness in my heart as I began to cry. I thought of her voice and the way she laughed. Shortly after, I was parking and unloading my car for the party. The sadness passed as quickly as it came on. I picked up the pieces and laughed my way through the evening. The next morning I realized what had happened– I was able to grieve and move on. Two years ago, a sudden strike of grief would have brought me down for weeks. At that moment, I knew I was ready to wean off of the medication. My doctor agreed.
The first week felt odd. My dosage was adjusted from 20mg to 10mg per day. I read about “brain zaps” and addressed my concerns with my physician. He assured me that the slow weaning process should ward off most side effects. Still, I felt occasional warm tingling sensations in the rear left quadrant of my brain come and go throughout the week. The second week went from 10mg per day to 10mg every other day and brought about a side effect that I can only describe as flicking the lights off and on. At times, it felt as if there was a light switch on my arm. If something triggered anxiety, the lights would start flickering, and my entire body felt subtle zaps of energy. By the third week, I was taking 10mg every three days, and the side effects dissolved. Within four weeks, I had stopped the medication entirely.
Today I am happy. Depression is part of who I am, but it is not going to define the rest of my life. If you are feeling out of sorts, please consult with your primary care doctor or consider speaking with a therapist. YOU are loved, wanted, and needed. Recovery will happen whether your path to mental wellness is two months, 22 months, or 22 years.