How I finally found the right treatment for my depression

This is the post that I needed to read but never found. It’s likely that something similar exists, but we never crossed paths. So I’m writing it today, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, and I hope that it finds its way to someone who needs it.

I’ve lived with depression for most — if not all — of my adult life. Except for much of that time, I didn’t realize it was Depression with a capital D — I thought it was just Life with a capital L. It wasn’t until my sister started a new medication and was telling me about her “horrible side effects” that I realized the way I felt every single day wasn’t normal. What I had accepted as a typical — albeit imperfect — day was her worst nightmare. What I had attributed to just being a part of navigating my early 20s and figuring out my place in the world, was something she could barely tolerate for a short time.

A couple weeks later, I scheduled an appointment with my doctor and told her I thought I was depressed. To be honest, I didn’t really know if I was. The way I was feeling came on so gradually, over the course of months if not years, that I didn’t even realize how much my day-to-day reality had transformed until that conversation with my sister. My doctor agreed and sent me off with a prescription for Zoloft in hand.

I remember taking the pill each day and excitedly thinking about being one dose closer to “feeling normal”. What that meant, however, I wasn’t clear. I really didn’t know what I was hoping to feel at the end of this other than not the same as I already did. I literally couldn’t conjure what “not depressed” looked like or felt like. I had been living like this for so many years that I forgot what normal felt like.

Weeks went by. Then months went by. I didn’t notice much of a difference in my mood. My doctor had cautioned that the impact of the medication might be subtle, so I assumed the meds were working in the background. Depression slowly crept into my life, so why wouldn’t the opposite be true? But even with that in mind, I’d watch ads for Zoloft and Wellbutrin incredulously, chocking up the unrealistic transformation they promised to marketers being marketers, never once considering that maybe I had the wrong dosage or an incorrect medication.

Eventually, I lost faith in the meds and stopped taking them. The prospect of taking a pill everyday for the rest of my life didn’t seem worth it, especially since I wasn’t feeling a difference. So for the next five years, I DIY-ed my mental health with a sampling of strategies that worked for me: I went to therapy weekly, read self-help books, attended personal development workshops, and got a life coach. I invested a ton of time and money into my mental health, and still consider it to be one of the greatest investments I’ve made.

And those things worked really well for me until July 2020.

As a refresher, July 2020 was five months into the pandemic, a little over a month after George Floyd was murdered, about three months prior to the 2020 election, and three months after I gave birth to my daughter, Frankie. Though I had passed all my postpartum screenings back in June, I found myself experiencing a whole new level of depression and anxiety that I had never experienced before — one that not only included all the issues that had always been difficult for me, but now, also dealing with the compound effects of now looking at everything through the lens of my innocent child.

I spoke to my OBGYN about it, and was reassured that postpartum depression was very common. Once again, I was given Zoloft, and once again, I found myself right where I started months later: taking an antidepressant but feeling no different. By this time, however, I was also dealing with insomnia and trouble focusing at work. By all measures, things were getting worse, so as a last ditch effort, I decided to see a psychiatrist. And that’s when everything changed.

During our first session, he asked how my antidepressants were working so far. I said I wasn’t sure — that I didn’t have a solid understanding of what I should feel like, what “normal” even was. And I’ll never forget what he said in response… “There should be no doubt… when you’re taking the right dosage, you will feel significantly better. And speaking of dosage, I’m not surprised you’re not feeling anything. You’re taking the bare minimum amount.”

I’m not sure why this had never occurred to me — maybe because none of my other doctors had ever inquired about the amount I was taking — but I was blown away when he said I was taking the lowest dose available. No wonder I had never felt a difference. All those years I was taking too little to make a difference. It wasn’t that antidepressants didn’t work on me — I just wasn’t taking enough. I didn’t have a life sentence of living with depression — I just wasn’t taking enough. Relief washed over me. It was the first time I had spoken to a doctor about my mental health where I felt like we were partners, where he was as invested as I was in finding a solution that works.

For the next three months, we met biweekly and assessed how I was feeling. Eventually, I landed on a dosage that felt right, and guess what? It’s three times the dosage I started with, but I finally feel better. 15 years after that conversation with my sister. 15 years.

I learned the hard way. But I wrote this post so that others can skip the line and learn from my mistakes. For the person who may be feeling like I was — hopeful that they could feel different but confused, overwhelmed, and misinformed about the options to deal with it, here are my lessons learned:

  • Medication is not one size fits all — you need to work with your doctor (and I’d highly recommend seeing a psychiatrist — someone who is specifically trained in this) to find the type of medication and the amount that is right for you… keep tweaking until you actually feel better
  • Not all therapists are created equal — finding a therapist is kind of like dating… you have to find the right match for your personality and style. So don’t hesitate to “date around” a bit before deciding on which one you’re going to commit to
  • Mental health mixology — There are lots of “ingredients” in the mental health world you can experiment with — therapists, coaches, workshops, group programs, meditation, medications, mindfulness, psychiatrists, and so on… play around with the amount of each and different combinations to see what works best for you
  • Talk about it — whatever you choose to do, or not do, talk about it with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors… the more we remove the stigma, the more people will get the help they need

Stephanie Kelly is a certified life coach who is committed to helping people recover from burnout, reclaim their lives, and redesign their world so it never happens again. She helps her clients navigate the unknown, empowering them to move towards their goals with clarity, confidence, and conviction. As a former workaholic, Stephanie believes that with the right tools and support, harmony between work and life is possible. Interested in working together to create the life you want? Book a free Discovery Call today.

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