I’ve always felt too much. I’ve always cared too much —that’s just the way I was wired.
But no one really knew that. To most, it probably looked like I didn’t feel or care at all. I thought that was a good thing at the time.
It’s never a good idea to pretend. It’s just, I thought the real me wasn’t good enough. I mean, when it was good, it was good but when it was bad, it was really bad. I just never understood why I was the way I was.
Well, until now.
Today, I know the reason I self-medicated for as long as I did. I had a bunch of mental health issues I could never make sense of. I struggled but I thought everyone felt this way? I never understood how those around me could make white knuckling look so good. I never felt normal and I probably never will but at least I’m doing something about it. So what is it that I’m doing presently that’s different than yesterday?
Well, today, I take antidepressants. I used to be embarrassed to say that out loud —not anymore though. I’m well aware that these pills won’t cure me. They aren’t going to take away all of the pain I feel. But they will make it better or at least tolerable. Some days are better than others. There are times when I feel like they are working but then, there are moments when I don’t know why I’m taking them at all. I say this because there are a bunch of side effects no one really wants to talk about.
I get it though.
They are ugly and weird and who wants to discuss something that is well —ugly and weird? I do because it’s important. Because mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of and what you do to cope with them isn’t either. Except, society probably tells a different story. So I’m here to tell mine. But first, let’s take a step back because, in order to understand what I’m talking about, you need to see the bigger picture.
And it starts a little something like this.
Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, director of the Depression Center at the University of Texas, says, “Side effects from antidepressants depend on the specific class of medication you’re using, but in most cases, when we talk about side effects, we’re talking about SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which are a class of drugs typically used to treat depression and anxiety disorders).”
According to a report in the journal Psychiatry, about 40 percent of people who take antidepressants have side effects, and roughly 25 percent of those side effects are considered extremely disturbing. Sometimes they are serious enough that he or she may want to quit taking the drug altogether. Except, you don’t want to do that (trust me).
Why? Because like opioids, you will withdrawal.
Now, I’m not saying once you’re on these meds, you have to stay on them for the rest of your life because that’s simply not true. It’s just, you can’t up and stop on a whim. You need a personalized plan from your doctor to wean yourself off. Otherwise, your body will hurt —badly. You will feel sick —like really sick. And, I’m not saying this to scare you. I just want you to understand how powerful these pills are.
That said, the Mayo Clinic points out that having antidepressant withdrawal doesn’t mean you’re addicted. Addiction represents harmful, long-term chemical changes in the brain. And even though, antidepressants alter the matrix of your brain, it’s completely different than substance abuse. I will say, if you do, in fact, suddenly stop taking an antidepressant —within a day or two, you can expect to feel the following:
- Insomnia or vivid dreams
- Flu-like symptoms, including achy muscles and chills
- Electric shock sensations
- Return of depression symptoms
There’s actually a name for all of this (antidepressant withdrawal) and it’s called antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, which typically lasts a few weeks. Regardless though, don’t let this frighten you. I will admit that —yeah, it makes me a little sad that my brain in some fashion still needs a substance to survive. But I’m also a type one diabetic. I’ll need to buy insulin from the pharmacy every day for the rest of my life. So what makes taking a pill for my mental health any different?
Nothing. There is no difference.
Secondly, certain SSRI’s are more likely to cause withdrawal symptoms than others. If you’re taking one and the negative physical side effects trump any positive mental headway, there’s always the option to change your medication but you need to talk to your doctor first. In some cases, he or she can prescribe you a different antidepressant or another type of medication on a short-term basis to help ease those symptoms as your body adjusts.
Sometimes though, it’s difficult to tell the difference between withdrawal and returning depressive symptoms if you suddenly stop taking an antidepressant —so please make sure you keep your medical team informed. I should also say, two of the more common side effects include sexual dysfunction and weight gain. Out of all of them, those are two I don’t particularly deal with, which is pretty ironic when you think about it.
I say it like that for a reason.
That reason being, I have super sensitive skin (in the physical sense and figuratively speaking) —just about anything causes a reaction either topically or internally. So why is it that I deal with more of the least common ones out there? Who knows. I’m always the odd girl out. Nevertheless, here are seven important antidepressant side effects that no one wants to talk about but you still need to be aware of.
1. I Sometimes Get Brain Zaps & No, I’m Not Crazy.
A brain zap feels like my body is being struck by lightning —that’s the easiest way to put it. Some describe it as if your head, brain, or both are trembling with some type of electronic surge. If you’ve ever taken an antidepressant, or altered your dosage, you may be familiar with this term. Basically, it’s recognized as a psychological symptom that feels as if your brain is filled, briefly, with electrical shock waves.
It’s a very bizarre, but normal, side effect of your body acclimating to the medication. I think it reveals some pretty fascinating shit about how these drugs work. As with most prescriptions, adjusting to an antidepressant will cause alterations in the body. The neurology of it has to do with neurotransmitters —a group of messenger chemicals that carry information between nerve cells. Antidepressants work on the basis that mood disorders seem to emerge from a depletion of neurotransmitters.
As a result, these pills work to increase those levels.
At the same time, your literally changing how those signals talk to your brain and the rest of your body. So if you’re not used to it, when those chemicals in your brain start signaling, somewhere along the way, that signal gets thrown out of whack —firing in odd physical ways that can manifest as a brain zap. It’s really weird. I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t live it. I didn’t even know it was a thing (it sure is).
When it happens, I have to lay down. I usually get in bed and apply some type of pressure to my head until it passes. When it first occurred, it felt like I was going crazy. I was scared that I was dying. I actually thought I was experiencing something called serotonin syndrome —which you can, in fact, die from. But that wasn’t it. I didn’t know then that what I was experiencing was a freaking side effect of my medication. Unfortunately, though, it’s one of many.
2. Which Brings Me To Something Called Brain Fog.
I know it gets mentioned, but I don’t think people understand just how annoying it actually is. I used to be such a smooth talker. I used to be quick on my feet. Back in the day, I loved learning. I mean, at that point, I had a brain that could remember anything. I loved to read and I was lauded for it, but once I started antidepressants, somedays, it feels like my brain is mush. I don’t say that lightly. I find myself mixing up words constantly. I mean, as I’m reading this back to myself, I’m tongue-tied.
Unhappily, this is now a fairly common thing.
It never used to be like this but now it is. Like if I get excited, read too fast or when I’m not paying attention —my words jumble together more frequently. I have to slow down and really articulate my thoughts. It’s frustrating because I know I have the tools inside but somewhere along the way, they get stuck. Scrambled. I don’t have the attention span I once had either. I can only read for a few minutes at a time before my mind goes somewhere else. I actually find it extremely difficult to focus on even menial tasks.
Which are supposed to be easy but they’re not —at least not anymore. It’s like I want to get into whatever it is I’m doing, but it’s hard. It’s rather discouraging when something that’s supposed to be helping my brain also shuts it down. So yeah, I have to take breaks. I have to pause and rest. It never used to be like this but once again, now it is. Oh, and if I want to remember something, I have to write it down. I think the worst part is —I put a lot of self-worth into my brain because that was what I was good at, and now?
Well, it’s kind of gone.
3. I Wish I Could Say the Same For My Pimples.
I don’t care who you are or what your story is, no one feels good about themselves with a face full of blemishes. For me, I never really had to deal with pimples —even when I went through puberty. Recently though, my face tells you a different story. For the last five months, I’ve been breaking out on my cheeks, chin, and jawline. I’ve tried everything, and I mean everything.
From over-the-counter spot treatments, old prescriptions, face masks, toothpaste to DIY anything —and still, nothing worked. In fact, it seemed to be getting worse. It made me sad. I literally cried and honestly, I still do. As anyone with acne will know, your skin has a real impact on your confidence and sense of self-worth. Long-term issues can massively lower your self-esteem, pushing you to the point where you don’t want to leave the house for fear of judgment.
That was me. That is me. I feel ugly, gross and disgusting.
When people look at me, I feel as if they only see my pimples, thinking the same. I’m not a dirty girl but these things make me feel like one. So after struggling for far too long, I finally went to the dermatologist. And guess what? I was diagnosed with hormonal acne. But that’s not all. I also found out that a particular antidepressant I just started taking is actually exacerbating the problem (along with multiple cysts found in my ovaries).
Let me explain. I’ve been on Zoloft for roughly five years. Zoloft can treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social anxiety. Although it was helping my OCD, PTSD and overall anxiety, it, unfortunately, wasn’t doing enough for my depression. So I went to my general physician who prescribed me Wellbutrin, a helping hands medication used to treat —well, depression.
Normally, Wellbutrin will not treat depressive symptoms alone.
Which is why it’s used in conjunction with another antidepressant (hence its helping hand’s name). Since adding Wellbutrin to my wellness regimen, I can’t even tell you how much better I feel, but I’ll sure try. Lately, I have more energy. I got my drive back. I can get shit done and unlike before —these days, I actually want too. Like I can do it, happily. Whereas a year ago, I was white knuckling my way through. In short, my quality of life has improved tremendously, which in return helped improved my relationships.
Needlesstosay, when I found out the only medication that has single-handedly helped me was actually making my acne worse —OMG. I was so upset. Honestly, I still am. Because before going on Wellbutrin, I wasn’t me. So I had to ask myself, do the benefits outweigh the side effects? After a shit ton of reflection, I had my answer. Frankly, in this case, the mental benefits override a few stinging pimples. I mean, do I want vanity or my freaking sanity?
I chose the ladder.
Luckily, I was given a prescription for this topical, Aczone, that has worked wonders thus far. They aren’t completely gone yet, but I can tell a noticeable difference. I’m still sad. I sometimes still feel gross and because of that, there are times where I still don’t want to leave the house, but I know it could be worse. So at least for me right now, I’ve made (or at least, I’m trying to make) peace with the fact that I’m going to have to deal with these side effects.
4. Even Though I’m Tired At All The Wrong Times.
Daytime fatigue is a real thing, people. I will say, if this reaction hits you at the right time, more power to you. But for me, that’s not the case —like at all. It seems as if I’m tired when I should be awake and I’m awake when I should be tired. It’s really fucking annoying. Let me tell you. I complained about it to my doctor. I’m really glad I did. Here’s why; as you know, I take Zoloft. I’ve been on 50 milligrams for the past few years.
Every morning, I’d take my pill as soon as I woke up —hoping that today would be the day I feel refreshed and happy. I mean, it’s supposed to help my PTSD, OCD, anxiety, and depression. So if those symptoms are relieved, it should be a good day, right? Wrong. Well, maybe it was helping a little bit but it was actually causing more harm than I knew. I say it like that for a reason. It hurt merely walking up the stairs. I didn’t realize that Zoloft was actually the driving factor to my drowsiness because it’s a freaking downer.
No wonder I was so tired at all the wrong times.
Basically, I thought it was coffee when really, it’s chamomile tea. That’s when and why my doctor recommended I switch. So instead of taking it first thing in the morning, I pop it right before bed. She said it may also help me fall asleep faster since she knows I struggle with that too. What do you know? She was right. She was right about a lot because this is the same doctor who suggested I add Wellbutrin to the mix —after I told her I was still depressed.
She figured she’d kill two birds with one stone. And let me just say, both birds are officially dead. Because like I said earlier, Wellbutrin makes Zoloft work better and with the two meds together, taking them at the correct times, I finally found my magic bullet. So I do 150 milligrams of Wellbutrin first thing in the morning, which acts as a stimulant and then 50 milligrams of Zoloft each night, which for the record does, in fact, help me sleep better.
5. When I Do Get To Bed Though, I Have Crazy Dreams.
I’ve always struggled with sleep. My issue isn’t so much staying asleep but rather falling asleep. It’s like I toss and turn trying to get comfortable and sometimes I can but my brain. My damn brain won’t ever shut the fuck up long enough to pass out like a normal person. Eventually, I do but it’s never easy. And these meds aren’t helping. Luckily, melatonin counteracts the insomniatic tendencies my antidepressants posses.
A bunch of medical studies found that antidepressants intensify dreams and increase how often people have nightmares. That’s true for me because almost every night I have the strangest, most vivid dreams —some good, some bad. But when I say vivid, I mean vivid. It’s almost as if they are real because that’s how it feels every morning.
But that’s not the only thing I feel when I wake up.
6. Two Words: Night Sweats
Now, I may be able to attribute part of it to PTSD (because sweating from intense dreams is a common thing in those with a diagnosis like mine). It’s just, these meds aren’t doing me any favors. Based on some research, I learned that between eight and 22 percent of antidepressant users experience this glory and yet, it’s not spoken about enough —probably because it’s sticky and uncomfortable. No one willingly wants to start their morning like this. I mean, it’s definitely not the wake-up call I ordered.
So yeah, I don’t like it. But it does, in fact, happen. I also learned that experts aren’t completely sure why. Supposedly, it has to do with the thermoregulatory center of the brain. In short, antidepressants disrupt your ability to maintain homeostasis. Consequently, they can alter your functional preferences regarding things like body-temperature, metabolism, memory, sleep as well as hormonal and emotional states. All of this can leave you feeling rather sweaty first thing in the morning.
Which is kind of ironic since other times, I can’t feel anything at all.
7. Because These Meds Make You Numb AF.
I went from feeling everything to nothing. And It’s not the opioid nothing but it’s something. It’s like I’m flat. I’m not depressed (most of the time). I’m not not happy, but I’m not unhappy either. It’s hard to explain but sometimes —like even when I should be sad, I’m not because I can’t feel anything. It’s the same thing for when I should be happy. In short, I’m neutral. Sometimes it’s a good thing but others, not so much. I want a happy medium, people (pun intended).
I guess I really am an all or nothing kind of gal. The thing is, there’s actually a name for all of this and it’s called emotional blunting, which happens when a person’s feelings or emotions are dulled down. Basically, when it’s appropriate to cry, you can’t and when you should be excited, you’re not. According to a study in the Journal of Affective Disorders, emotional blunting occurs in about half of those taking antidepressants.
So it’s relatively normal.
Director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, Dr. David. L. Katz says, “The good news is —if emotional blunting is problematic for you or a loved one, there are ways to treat it.” He explains that one strategy would be for your doctor to lower your dosage or change you from an SSRI to an SNRI. He or she may also consider adding another medication to offset the symptoms of emotional blunting. Just don’t beat yourself up if you can relate to any of this.
“Because there is a flip side,” Katz adds, “It’s worthy to note that some people actually view emotional blunting as helpful in terms of how they feel, which is OK too.” He shares that for some, it may be seen as a welcome relief from the extreme emotions he or she was feeling before. It all depends because each case is different. And hey, maybe you and I would have known all of this shit sooner —if people talked about it more.
But you know what? That’s why I’m here right now.
There’s no point in having regrets. I mean, we could all what-if ourselves to death. Let’s choose life, people. Let’s live. Because when a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows —not the flower. In this case, you and I —we’re the flower. So what if I take antidepressants. It’s more than OK if you do too. I mean, the struggle of being too emotional and too emotionless is real AF. But that’s true with anything. It’s all about balance. I get it though. It’s hard. It’s ugly and weird.
But it’s important. And so are you.
Unfortunately, though, we live in a society that profits from self-doubt. It’s almost as if liking yourself is a rebellious act. But I encourage you to get your opposition on. Because like wildflowers, you must allow yourself to grow in all the places people thought you never would. Because it’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not. And maybe you’re mad? Maybe you’re bonkers off your head?
But I’ll tell you a secret, the best people are.
If you or someone you love is clinically depressed and you don’t know what to do, there are resources you can take advantage of. They are here for a reason. So call the National Depression Hotline, 24.7 at 1-(800)-826-3632 or message me anytime. I’m here for a reason too.