by HALLIE GOULD
An amazing thing happened when I began doing research for this story. I put a callout on my personal Facebook page and was immediately flooded with responses from close friends and relatives. These are women I’ve spent a lot of time with—explored the tiny dark corners of our insecurities, discussed politics, shared secrets, and offered catharsis in the wake of failed relationships or family troubles. And yet, I had no idea the majority of them were dealing with clinical depression. It’s that exact point—how we still feel like it’s relatively taboo to expose our experience with mental health issues even when we’re in open, honest, and liberal relationships—that makes sharing all the more crucial.
Still, it’s just one of the endless reasons to continue to solidify this platform as more of a helpful, thorough resource for mental health education and awareness. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over three million adults are directly affected by persistent depression. And the information regarding treatment and medication is still scarce. Below read six unique experiences from women who shared their symptoms, chosen medications, and thoughts regarding their own mental health journeys.
“It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that my mental health was something that should be a priority, something that should be addressed and nurtured. I am the only person in my immediate family who has ever sought therapy, even though my grandfather was a famed psychiatrist. There has always been a stigma. ‘Do you really need to spend that much to talk to someone?’ or ‘You should try exercise and diet’ were the things I heard most often. There’s nothing quite like feeling instantly invalidated by the people who raised you—this prevented me from seeking ‘help’ for most of my life.
I hate the word ‘help’ in this context, as it’s so often weaponized.
“I found myself exhausted and frustrated in university and knew something was up that I needed to figure out. Through a private psychiatrist, I was diagnosed with ADHD but didn’t remotely take it seriously. I figured, yeah, everyone has ADHD. It’s not ‘real.’ It’s also a disorder that the university refused to diagnose through their healthcare system, as Adderall was used ubiquitously to deal with insane deadlines and lengthy papers. It wasn’t until three years into my career that I sought therapy again and was pushed to actually learn about ADHD, specifically undiagnosed and untreated ADHD in women.
Understanding ADHD, especially how it manifests in young girls (through internalization, spaciness, disorganization, and underachieving despite intelligence) and how it goes largely ignored, was an emotional revelation. I felt seen.
“So much of my emotional frustration in life was due to what I call my ‘tangle’ of thoughts. The only thing that ever remotely untangled it was a small amount of stimulants and sometimes exercise (if I could bring myself to do it), but I was exhausted regardless and found it difficult to accomplish anything. With my level of professional success at the time, which I credit to tunnel-vision and hyper-focus (a trait of ADHD in women), I couldn’t afford to leave my ADHD untreated, but I hated the way stimulants made me feel.
I was simultaneously exhausted and angry all the time and channeled all my energy into work and none into my personal life, productive relationships, and constructing any kind of work/life balance or boundaries.
“I had read about the link between ADHD and depression, but I always assumed it didn’t apply to me. I had been recommended antidepressants before to address my apparent depression, but I both didn’t want to admit that I was depressed or that I needed a chemical to fix it. I love my emotional depth. I love the magnitude of what I’m capable of feeling with love and loss and passion. I also learned to love my ADHD in ways. Everything I knew about antidepressants pointed to the numbing of these things that were essential to my identity. I was also terrified of the presumed weight gain.
But when I left my toxic job, moved cities, and realized that my depression wasn’t just work-related and seasonal, I knew I needed to try it.
“Through insurance, I found a psychiatrist, a truly lovely man in his early 40s, who completely destigmatized this process for me. He started me on Wellbutrin, which I didn’t know treated both ADHD and depression. He himself had used it to quit smoking. It wasn’t a molecule exclusively for ‘helpless’ people. I was so relieved.
“After about a month of side effects (mostly awesome ones like increased energy and libido, desire for social interaction, and weight loss), I felt ‘normal.’ I was myself, but the basic daily things that used to feel completely unmanageable (writing, studying, lines, production delays, logistical problems, tech difficulties, traffic, etc.) just rolled off my back. The tangle was completely (or mostly) straightened, and my ideas were able to travel from point A to point B with little turbulence. Of course, there are exceptions, but on both an emotional/relationship level and a professional level, I felt even-keeled and chill.
“The single most debilitating part of my depression was the exhaustion and total lack of motivation—this was gone. I wanted to be social. I wanted to make new friends. It changed my life, and once I started taking it, I realize how many people around me have been through this very same experience and have taken medication. The stigma was gone. A fog was lifted.
“I still feel uncomfortable talking about mental health and my medication in professional contexts (mad respect to those who don’t), but I honestly wouldn’t be where I am without it. I don’t know if I’ll take it forever. Sometimes I wonder if my passion would be stronger without it. But ultimately recognizing my ADHD and its sister, depression, was the best thing I’ve done for myself in my adult life, and any supportive element (diet, exercise, medication, etc.) is forever welcome.”
“I recently just went off of Prozac (I have anxiety and go through periods of depression), and since moving out of New York to Florida, I’ve drastically changed my lifestyle—I still drink (not nearly as much as I once did) but cut out all drugs with the exception of smoking weed about once a month. I changed my diet, exercise, and the sun has really helped. But I still had panic attacks that sometimes turned into these really confusing and scary ‘anger attacks’ that I would experience once a month usually around my period.
“I started going back to therapy and seeing a psychiatrist. I was prescribed Klonopin (which I’ve taken off and on before) to help me ease my anxiety, but I just wanted to feel ‘normal,’ so I decided to try Prozac. The first few weeks were fine, and then I started to get really bad fatigue—I’d try to spend as much time in bed to rest before work, but then I’d still feel like a spacey zombie once I got there. It felt like being day-drunk without the alcohol (my head felt thick and cloudy and my memory was super off—I had to set a million reminders out of fear of messing up at work and in life).
It was exhausting. My doctor had me try taking the Prozac at night before bed, but that only slightly minimized the fatigue.
“Last week, I felt like I was going to pass out at work and ended up going to the ER because it was so bad. Nobody took me seriously and treated me like I was being dramatic, as all my blood work came back normal. I stopped taking it since, and though I can definitely feel my anxiety coming back, it’s almost comforting because the brain fog and fatigue had gotten so extreme. I don’t want to knock happy-brain meds, but it was pretty scary. There’s a lot of trial and error and ‘shopping around’ when it comes to mental health, so hopefully, I will find something that works for me.
I’m really careful about with who I discuss these things with (my current boss has no idea I have anxiety because I feel like she would lose trust in me, as I nanny for her children). But some people just ‘get it’ and really make an effort to help and understand.”
“The stigmas are real. It’s hardest when you tell someone you’re dating, I’ve had exes say all sorts of horrible things like, ‘you should stop taking them’ and ‘it doesn’t seem like there’s anything wrong with you.’ Antidepressants have literally saved my life, and just like a diabetic needs specific medication, so does someone with depression. Of course, lifestyle choices, a support system, and therapy are also important for mental health.
“It runs in my family, so I was aware that it might be an issue. I was diagnosed with ADD when I was a child but never was medicated for it. I started having major depressive episodes around 17 and had to be hospitalized for a suicide attempt at 18. I started researching what antidepressants might work for me, and I decided on Wellbutrin. After my first year of university, I felt I needed to treat my ADD as well and was sent to a new doctor who took me off my antidepressants. The doctor prescribed another medication that increased my depressive episodes, and I felt tired all the time.
I had to sleep 12 to 16 hours a day, and it made my behavior more erratic.
“After a bad breakup, I felt like I was worthless and broken and tried to overdose on pills. I ended up in the ICU for three days and a rehabilitation center for a month, which helped me to get my medication sorted and get some counseling and support. Dealing with depression requires ongoing monitoring and support. A pill every day is not going to fix your life, but it helps deal with the physical side effects of depression and the coping skills have to be learned.
“The main symptoms I felt consistently were fatigue, self-loathing, reckless behavior, disinterest in even the things I love, irregular sleeping patterns, and it definitely was the worse in the winter. But no one should feel a stigma because mental illness is so common and getting help is the only way forward. I would not be alive if I didn’t get help. I have a full life because I’m able to be the better version of myself. I’m a year away from graduating university next year with honors, I have a loving boyfriend, and I have great friendships with open communication that are supportive. Finding people you can be honest with about the struggles you are facing can really help. There is a lot of free counseling available for people who are feeling the symptoms or signs of depression.
You can call 1-800-273-8255 in the U.S. and 1-844-437-3247 in Canada.” or Lifeline in Australia 131114.
“I’ve had a long struggle with depression that wasn’t treated throughout college. Seeing the improvement in my mental capacity after graduation with consistent care and medication has filled me with regret for lost years spent indoors and locked away, terrified of anything but staticity. Care, for me, has been about consistent, reliable providers who understand the complexity of chemical changes. Ensuring that I didn’t jolt from one medication that wasn’t working to another was a long process, but with guidance, I was able to limit some of the most deleterious components of finding the right antidepressant. “I don’t know if it plays quite as nicely as a final straw, [but deciding to go on medication] felt more like an eventuality.
I’d be dancing around the idea for years and every day of my post-grad life was high-octane uncertainty and blistering fear in the face of transition.
“I’d never want to endorse one [medication] over another since we have such a limited understanding of their mechanism and the deeply individual nature of finding a good fit. That said, happy to name them here for clarity. Supplemental anxiety medications were failing to keep me from sweating and coiling myself into hot terror, so armed with a supportive partner, I started on a microdose of Zoloft. It was effective enough to indicate that it was a good choice but not the hard reset I needed. We fiddled around until landing on Cymbalta, after rifling through all the SSRIs and realizing SNRIs were more reliable [for me].
Another clinician has since added in Desipramine, a relatively archaic tricyclic antidepressant, for interstitial cystitis (IC) use. I have found the baseline of Cymbalta and the elevating aspect of Desipramine make functioning according to other people’s sense of timeliness far less stressful.
“I believe antidepressants serve a vital role in elevating the quality of life with those carrying a diagnosis and have found the intersection of care for those identifying as women and mental health to be fraught. Especially when combined with chronic illness, depression (and often the tools we use to treat it) is a constant struggle against gaslighting clinicians and gaslighting self-talk. Since I’ve had IC for nearly a decade, I spent most of my time as a teenager figuring out how to advocate for myself in the face of condescending, uneducated, or belligerently disbelieving clinicians.
It can be constructive and even kind of joyous to find a clinician who is an exception (my doctor pioneered the treatments I receive routinely) and sincerely believes in patient-centered care. Self-worth issues swirl around anyone with depression, so constantly pushing back to validate yourself is tiresome.
“Getting my depression under control has allowed me to push forward in improving the other aspects of my health and certainly has aided me in maintaining relationships. The most vital thing is learning your own voice; telling people when you’re too symptomatic to interact the way you both deserve and giving small reminders that you’re still in here when all those classic symptoms of disengagement and withdrawal present themselves. My symptoms included numbness, apathy, and a feeling of your anchor line being cut and floating freely without intention, which sounds blissful until you get to the point of doing absolutely anything to feel something authentic.
Most go through a nice self-destruction series; I fence now, instead.”
“I’m an incredibly late bloomer, so when my first serious relationship started and ended in a really unexpected, brutal way at age 23, I had no idea how to handle my inability to function, how compromised I felt, and how I simply couldn’t escape the sadness. I can distinctly remember how I felt it was so unfair that I had to go through my first major heartbreak while putting on the face of a real woman every day and walking into a workplace being expected to hold it together while half of me was missing, rather than cry in bed and have my mom bring me ice cream and pat my head like a forlorn teenager probably felt in high school.
It was such a dark and confusing time, and with my own motivation completely failing me, I knew I had to attack my chemistry to learn how to live again.
“I met a psychopharmacologist my insurance covered—I think she convinced herself she was my grandmother, and I kind of love her to this day—and was put on a low dose of Lexapro, which I have to give credit for truly turning my life around from a functional perspective. It brought a certain crucial undercurrent of ‘I can do this!’ back into my life when every little thing felt insurmountable. However, I could never fully buy in, as I became super fixated on the side effects. Already terribly self-conscious, it was hard to get past the side effect of weight gain—only adding to the anxiety and self-doubt I was trying to cure in the first place. I put that worry aside and let the meds take hold until I could feel improvements.
Once I hit that plateau, I realized that life felt dull, and to this day, I still don’t remember a true highlight of the six or so months I was treated with Lexapro. I couldn’t party, I couldn’t get off—but I was living again, and that basic functionality was essential to navigating the future of my own self-care.
“I definitely value the awakening that Lexapro brought to me, but ultimately weaned myself off of it and, believe it or not, traded it for [legal] weed once I decided I was in a position to really feel something again. I would say the best ‘cure’ for my depression is routine and exercise—committing yourself to personal meditative time that feels empowering and a physical agent of change. But I wouldn’t have even had the power to get that far without the antidepressant jump-start. I’m grateful for the exposure and the experience, but I’m not sure it’s a solution I would lean on again unless my circumstances were extreme.”
“I had resisted the idea of medication for a long time—even though I’d been in therapy for years. During one particularly bad period, I went to my psychiatrist (separate from my therapist) to get my prescription for a sleep aid renewed. I walked in and sat down and he just said, ‘you look absolutely miserable. It doesn’t have to be like this.’ I figured if it was that obvious, it must be really bad. I started on Zoloft that week. I just remember feeling flat. Never really happy, never content. I did so many amazing things before I went on medication that I don’t think I really appreciated; I wish I could go back and redo them as a healthier person. If I ever found myself feeling that way again, that’s what would prompt me to go back on the pills.
“Even though I don’t take medication anymore, it was absolutely essential for me then. It made my life so much better. My process for going off is not one that I think should be emulated, which is basically that I got lazy. I skipped one day, then two, etc. I noticed that my anxiety wasn’t coming back, and so I decided to go off them entirely. My life had changed a lot in the intervening years, and I think I’m just in a better place to manage my mental health without them at the moment.
“I can’t prove it, obviously, but I believe my depression and anxiety were part of why I stayed in a few relationships that only exacerbated those conditions much longer than I should have. And I met my current boyfriend after I had been on medication for about eight months—we’ve been together for more than five years and I don’t have any of the same issues I did in previous relationships. I can’t say for sure that any of that is because of medication or managing my mental health, but they definitely coincide.”
Medication isn’t for everyone. If you are feeling symptoms of depression, talk to your doctor to learn more about treatment options.