Opening Up About Antidepressants

I have always been a crier. It’s how I cope when I’m upset. Some people are shouters. Others storm off in a huff. Shutting down and not dealing at all is another option. A good cry helps me let go of pent up emotions and move on. I have always found it to be a release. I feel better and stronger after I’ve cried my eyes out. I’ve cried in private, on the phone, with friends, while driving, at oncology, and in a public place or two. It doesn’t take much to open the flood gates.

Antidepressants have controlled the flood gates more effectively.

Antidepressants balance neurotransmitters in our brain that affect our emotions and mood. We cry less. They can improve our sleep, increase appetite, and promote better concentration. These are all improvements over being depressed. I’ve learned they also can be used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as physical pain like fibromyalgia.

I am all for less depression. Honestly though, I never thought crying was bad. I still don’t. I’m friends with my tears because I know how they work for me. I never have been in favor of stunting my emotions. I want to feel my feelings, happy or sad. After I cry, I feel better. Crying helps me work through feelings and gets me to where I need to be.

My first experience with antidepressants was seven or eight years ago. My initial treatment for metastatic breast cancer was finished. I was back teaching. My mother had died from MBC. There was other family stress. I was an emotional mess inside. Everything was just too much for me. My oncologist thought I had crossed the line from between okay and not. I had asked and I agreed. I don’t remember what the drug he prescribed was called because I only stayed on it two days. I remember sitting on my couch the entire weekend staring blankly into space. I didn’t move. All my thoughts were in slow motion. I’d tell myself I needed to get up to do such and such and it would take hours for me to move. I didn’t want the rest of my life to be like that weekend. I needed to enthusiastically teach and respond to twenty-something second graders the following Monday. Off the drug I went. It wasn’t for me. Reflecting back, I needed to give it more time or adjust the dose, but I wasn’t willing to try. I’d rather cry and feel what I needed to feel, thank you very much.

Timed passed. I learned how to manage. I knew where I could get support. I knew which friends I could lean on a bit more when feeling upset or out of control. Life felt normalish. I would cry because that’s what I did. If I cried every day, that was normal for me. It passed and I felt better. I thought it was normal to cry so much because that’s what I did.

It was suggested I return to Taxol when I needed to change treatments for metastatic breast cancer in December. I developed moderate neuropathy when on it back in 2012 for my initial treatment of Adriamycin Cytoxan+ Taxol. I regained some of the feeling in my feet over time, but that feeling of tiredness and numbness never left completely. I learned to ignore it and worked on my movement and balance. I wore comfortable shoes that pampered my feet. I loved foot massages to stimulate feeling. I had gotten to a good place with my feet when returning to Taxol was suggested. Neuropathy was of course one of the potential side effects I felt was almost certain I’d see as it had already happened once. I did not want that to happen again and didn’t know if I could endure it again. It would be worse than the chemo itself. I’d experience more loss as pain free movement would be greatly diminished.

Apparently, I have an oncological pharmacist at UW Carbone that I never knew I had. She is fantastic from all my conversations with her on the phone and through MyChart. She suggested Duloxetine, an antidepressant commonly known as Cymbalta. It has been found useful in preventing neuropathy. I was in. I didn’t want to do an antidepressant because of my previous experience with one, but avoiding neuropathy was a deal maker. I’d been looking for an answer to this permanent side effect for years.

I started in December with a low dose 30 mg for a week and then progressed to the regular dose of 60 mg. A Saturday came around that marked about two weeks of being on Duloxetine. I remember realizing I felt relaxed mid-morning or early afternoon. I was having a pleasant day. It took me most of the day even to settle that this foreign feeling was indeed relaxation. I could feel it especially in my shoulders. They weren’t tight or tense. It felt like I had taken a Lorazepam and I hadn’t. I decided it was me and I must be doing something right, be it sleep, exercise, nutrition, or a combination thereof. Good job, Me!

The next morning it hit me that it was the antidepressant when I went to take it along with all my other medications and supplements in my personal pharmacy. I felt disappointed that it was the drug causing the change and not my own doing after all. Sunday continued to be just as relaxed as Saturday. Relaxation and happiness was a foreign feeling. I checked the calendar and yes, I had been on Dulox for about two to three weeks. It had kicked in and its effects were obvious.

I didn’t expect I’d feel happier on Dulox. I did. I laughed more and did not get rattled at appointments. I didn’t feel doomed. It’s been an unexpected benefit.

It’s having the desired effect I wanted – neuropathy has been kept at bay. It’s the three-month mark and my feet feel pretty much the same if not slightly better. I will stay on this drug as long as I keep getting this desired result. I am very happy for my feet. Hand-foot syndrome had tortured them over summer. Not having moderate to severe neuropathy means just about everything to me. I need to move.

Dry mouth has been a less enjoyable side effect. Some days are worse than others. It has not helped my sleep. I also wonder if it’s removed a filter. I blurt out opinions too freely that I once only said in my head. Most aren’t awful or particularly hurtful. They are bluntly honest. It’s probably more due to freely offering reactionary opinions to the TV too much during a pandemic when I’ve gone without conversation.

A stigma of silence comes with taking an antidepressant. I had told only two people I was taking one before sharing it here. There’s an unspoken message that you must not be tough enough to manage life’s challenges without help, you have a mental problem, that you are somehow more fragile than you were a moment ago before this news was shared. I’m still pretty quiet about it, as I am with the other medications and supplements I take. It’s private information. I also feel embarrassed. I don’t feel embarrassed when I take Ondansetron if I feel nausea, or Metformin to regulate glucose levels. The difference is those are meds for physical needs. There is nothing for anyone to feel embarrassed about if they take medications for their mental health. Forget that I’m on it for neuropathy. I don’t think people will associate it with that need. It doesn’t matter. I know what I need. We all do. If we need an antidepressant for whatever reason, we need it.

It’s interesting though how many others I’ve learned take antidepressants. The teaching field has more teachers than I would have guessed who have a prescription for some type of support. Is that normal? How does it compare to other professions? I don’t know. What is harder about life today than when our grandparents lived? Is use more prevalent today simply because these drugs are available? The answer to that last question is undoubtedly yes.

What has happened to my tears? The first time I cried after starting Dulox was on January 26th. It was a good month after starting the drug. I was missing my mom. My cry didn’t last long and amounted to a few crocodile tears rolling down my face. It sounds strange but crying made me feel happy because I was still able to be sad. I had worried I’d never cry again or be able to experience normal emotions. I have cried a few times since then, but it isn’t the same. Now I worry there is something wrong with me because I worry about not crying enough. Feeling emotionally flat is another side effect many experience. I mentioned crying helped me work through feelings and took me to where I need to be. If I cry less, I still need to work through feelings and wind up at the right place emotionally.

I have a few issues and that’s okay.

Neuropathy isn’t one of them at the moment. I’m going to take that as a win.

Author: Kristie Konsoer

I've been living well with metastatic breast cancer since 2012. This blog is a place where I can share thoughts and ideas on cancer, how I feel perceptions of cancer must change, and how I am finding a way to live with strength, hope, meaning, resiliency, humor, and hopefully a little wisdom.

10 thoughts on “Opening Up About Antidepressants”

  1. Thank you for your candid post. I can identify with your first experience. I was prescribed an antidepressant when I was in my mid 20’s and although I can’t recall the name of the drug, I do recall the thought blocking and the feeling of being trapped in a slow-motion tunnel. I also stopped the med after a few days. Further investigation showed that I was suffering extreme hormone imbalance due to birth control pills, and once I stopped those, the severe depression stopped as well. It’s so true that we forget that our brains are as much a part of our anatomy as any other body part, yet we tend to stigmatize mental health treatment. Good for you for trying again and for experiencing good results!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kristie – I’ve been blessed with a steady state brain – I’ve got my issues but nothing medication can fix. I take even a tiny dose to humor a physician and I fall asleep drooling on my shirt for days. But it doesn’t mean I think there’s a stigma attached. Craigs on some pretty hard stuff for OCD anxiety and dysthymia (long term depression) I don’t let him wallow anymore because selfishly I can’t take care of him in bed all the time and myself well enough. It took over 3 1/2 years to find the right medication and he’s 75% himself but has sleep issues (can’t) and if he forgets his meds hooo boy! Look out. It’s a balancing act but one I wish I had no experience with. And you’re 100% correct in that it’s none of anyone’s bees wax what’s in your medication bag. I’ve a blog post about a woman from Walgreens who read off my entire list at the drive through so to prove I was not due for pain meds – I was there to get my synthroid. She put me in danger of getting robbed there were several not so good loiterers listening to her and I demanded her be gone and to get the pharmacist immediately. You know me well enough to probably guess the rest of that story.

    Be happy. We all need a little help – I’m on diazepam for low level anxiety and have been for years. I just feel less edgy like the other shoes are all going to come falling out of the sky and drop at once! Too many shoes.


    1. Feeling happy and less edgy is important. I love using humor as medication. Laughter is good medicine. My medication and supplement list is far too long, but I don’t see myself changing anything. I’ve thought about it, yet there are reasons why I take what I take. If it hasn’t affected me adversely yet, I doubt it will. You be happy, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m currently coming off meds after years of being on them. I hate how there is not enough information available. It was a long slow tapering process. My mind is good. Except now I’m having more physical issues than I have since… The last time I quit? And then I may have thought the reasons were from some other purpose.

    On one of my journeys through the deep web I did find a site say that in the event that one has been on antidepressants for a long duration it could take up 4 months for ones brain to get back to normal. Instead of the regular 3 weeks like a doctor will quote from their short studies paperwork.

    Well I’m a little over a month in. I’m free right now! But I’m also wondering if my extreme fatigue and lower body pains / weaknesses are a side effect. Or is it old age? Early arthritis? Or is it an undiagnosed physical ailment that began developing in my early 20’s that the meds just so happened to help with a bit… I told myself I’d wait 3 more months before starting up the doctor’s visits. I detest going there. My bloodwork is usually almost perfect and hospitals are so difficult when it’s not an easy fix.

    Ug. Doctors visits and medicines are such a long process. The ups and downs… Side effects… Just wait and see. It’s not like we can just put our lives on hold. I had started the process again last year but then covid hit and everything shut down for….ever…


    1. Doctor visits and medications are indeed a long process. Getting off some meds does take time. Tapering is the way to go. There is one medication I’ve been on since my diagnosis. I’ve thought about going off it, but now it can help with another side effect. I will stay on it. Good for you if you can take less.

      Liked by 1 person

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