One of the most powerful moments in my life was when my antidepressant first started working. I was sitting next to a first-grade student I was tutoring, trying to figure out my next teaching move and waiting for depression to taunt me as usual- “You can’t help him. You’re incompetent. You’re worthless. Why are you even here?” But instead of hearing depression’s voice, I heard my own for the first time in years. “You can do this. You can figure this out. You’re right where you should be and you’re going to be okay.”
I was 26 years old when major depression overpowered me for the first time. It had been pushing me around for years, but now, I felt weakened to the point that I couldn’t push back. I had been in therapy for a year, but I could barely get myself out of bed in the morning and had to blow-dry my hair hunched over our bathroom rug because I felt so sick to my stomach. I cried relentlessly the moment I came home from work each day—the barrage of negative thoughts had to be released. I constantly beat myself up, felt terrified of being judged, and could no longer focus on improving. It kept getting worse. As much as medication scared me, it was now a risk I was willing to take.
The first psychiatrist I saw prescribed me Zoloft and recommended slowly building up to a therapeutic dose. Within a few days, it became clear that even a small amount of Zoloft made me much worse. I couldn’t eat or sleep and cycled through feelings of stability and extreme agitation every 12 hours. The doctor told me to stop taking the medicine immediately and that he no longer felt that antidepressants were right for me. “You should try things other than medication,” he said, as I stared at him in disbelief. I had finally taken the leap to help myself and lost every shard of wellbeing in the process. I didn’t think I could go on. Fortunately, over the course of the next six weeks my husband helped me switch doctors, try a different class of antidepressants (tricyclics), and start cognitive behavioral therapy twice a week until I began feeling better. It saved my life.
One of the most important realizations I made in therapy after this episode was that feelings aren’t facts. After letting depression run unchecked for 10 years, I felt my distorted thoughts were true—that I was inherently a miserable, unlovable, unintelligent, incapable person. Therapy helped me learn that what I thought were personality traits were actually symptoms of depression and social anxiety. Over time, the combination of medication and therapy changed my self-talk and allowed me to approach my thoughts more mindfully.
In the face of mental illness, I have earned my Master’s degree, specialized in early literacy, and challenged myself to keep improving in my career. I have adjusted to moves from Virginia to North Carolina and Pennsylvania with my husband of 10 years, and focused on building friendships—old and new. I’ve finished 3 marathons and I’m signed up for my 18th half marathon. I am immensely grateful I had the chance to plan a healthy pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby girl in April 2016. My illness is something I actively manage each day; it’s a marathon fraught with peaks and valleys. But I consider my recovery journey to be one of my greatest unsung achievements in life. I have braved major depression, social anxiety, and severe reactions to antidepressants, one step at a time. Hills inevitably loom in the distance, but I know I will rise to meet them.