The 1 Thing No One Told Me About Depression

People always told me how great I would feel once I started taking medication. However, no one told me how difficult it would be once I tried to quit.

It was March 2016 when I finally got diagnosed with depression. Truth be told, I had been struggling with it for many months prior (and off and on for years prior to that), but it wasn’t until that day in March that I spoke to my doctor and got official word that my symptoms resembled anxiety and depression.

Ironically, that was the day I started feeling better. Perhaps it was because I finally had hope that things would get better. Maybe the depression had finally run its course. I’m not sure. But I specifically remember walking out of the doctor’s office with a smile on my face…and a prescription in my hand.

Little did I know what that prescription for 10 mg of Lexapro would bring with it.

Before I continue on, let me make clear I am in no way anti-medicine, anti-antidepressants (is that a thing?), or about to discuss the overwhelming drug epidemic in our country. That’s a conversation for another time.

The truth is that small white pill worked–not immediately, but over the course of the next several weeks I gradually felt better. It was doing what it was supposed to do. It did carry some side effects, like weight gain and headaches early on, but I soon adjusted and felt better than I had in a long time. My mood was better, I was sleeping better, and life was better.

As we fast forward three years, I’m happy to say I’m doing great and depression seems far behind me (though many of us know it has a way of sneaking up when we least expect it). And because I’m doing better, my doctor has given me clearance to start tapering off of Lexapro. That’s a great thing…until it isn’t.

When it came to depression, people always told me how great I would feel once I started taking medication. However, no one told me how difficult it would be once I tried to quit and the withdrawal symptoms set in. 

Here I sit on January 21, 2019, six months into the withdrawal process, and it’s not too pretty. My dosage has dropped from 10 mg to 2.5 mg (I’m basically swallowing dust), and yet I haven’t been able to completely stop. Each time I’ve reduced my dosage, I’ve experienced headaches, lightheadedness, and increased irritability. On some occasions, anger and rage have accompanied the withdrawal process.

In doing some research, I found out I’m far from alone in this process. Many others experience these same symptoms, and even to higher degrees. Some described not being able to sleep. One described having rage so bad that he ripped off a paper towel dispenser in a public bathroom. Many others said they had changed from a calm person to Captain Road Rage in a short amount of time. I even found out that some people have had to enter 30 day rehabilitation centers just to deal with the withdrawal effects of Lexapro and other SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). I’m extremely thankful my effects haven’t been that severe, but I do have sympathy for those dealing with the aftereffects. There are a lot of factors in play, but withdrawal symptoms from Lexapro and other SSRIs can usually last 90 days and sometimes even up to a year. That’s a bit scary.

So what’s my point? It’s definitely not that you should avoid all doctors and medication when it comes to depression and anxiety. I’d preach the opposite of that. Talking to my doctor about the issue was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done, and right now I’m currently taking Wellbutrin, which doesn’t seem to have any side effects, and it’s also supposed to help me “stop smoking” (Mission accomplished! 34 years and counting… ).

Here’s what I want to get at: The world is starting to open up a bit more about depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. That’s huge. We need to remove the stigma surrounding these things. But we can’t just stop there. Once people seek help and treatment, we need to stay with them through the process and be active listeners and humble encouragers. Simply getting them to the doctor does not fix the problem. A single pill does not fix the problem. In fact, a lot of people feel worse after getting on medication, and it can take time to find the proper medication and dosage.

I’d like to encourage anyone reading this to go the extra mile when dealing with these issues. If you’re struggling with anxiety and depression and have seen a doctor and obtained medication, don’t feel like something is wrong if you don’t feel perfect. Don’t feel like you’re messed up if the medication is causing weird side effects or you just don’t feel like yourself. If your dosage changes or you’re tapering off, don’t be hard on yourself if you feel likes changes are happening that you can’t control.

And if you love someone who is dealing with these things, walk with them through it. Our culture is getting much better with encouraging people to be open about their mental illness and to seek treatment. But the conversation can’t stop there. Seeking help and treatment is only Step 1 of the journey. Be a person your friends can talk to honestly and openly. Listen more than you talk, and when you talk use your words to ask questions, facilitate honest conversation, and encourage.

I’m thankful for the effect medication had on me. I’m struggling with the way it affects me now as I try to kiss it goodbye.

No one ever told me about this part of the journey. If you’re on it, know you’re not alone and I’m walking it with you.

Never hesitate to reach out:

Depression & Anxiety: Why YOU Should Be the One to Reach Out

When people are deep in the pit of anxiety and depression, they don’t want to reach out to anyone.

“I can’t believe the news today,
Oh, I can’t close my eyes
And make it go away.”
– U2, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”

A news story came across Facebook yesterday that forced me to do a double take. A man who was a husband, father of two, and pastor took his own life after battling suicide and anxiety. He was only 30.

I didn’t know him, and despite fighting my own battles with anxiety and depression, I can’t pretend to know what he went through. Never once did I have thoughts of suicide or self-harm, but I’ve talked to so many others who have been there.

As this story has made the rounds, I’ve seen a key message being shared: “If you’re dealing with depression or anxiety, please reach out and tell someone!” This is good advice. There’s nothing wrong with this advice. But there’s one thing we often overlook when offering it…

When people are deep in the pit of anxiety and depression, they don’t want to reach out to anyone.

When the pain gets unbearable, we don’t want to talk to others about it, and the reasons run the gamut. We might be embarrassed, especially if we’re in a prominent position of leadership. We might feel shame. We might feel like no one cares. We might feel like no one understands. And frankly, we might just not feel like it.

So while it’s perfectly fine to encourage those in the pit to reach out and speak to someone, let me challenge you to do something: YOU make that first step and reach out. Chances are good you have multiple friends who are battling anxiety and depression right now. If your relationship has reached the level of trust where they’ve opened up to you about these issues, reach out and offer a word of encouragement. Let them know you’re praying for them and thinking about them. Ask how they’re doing. Ask how you can be a better friend. And if you suspect some of your friends are dealing with these things in secret, that should give you all the more reason to reach out and show love, care, concern, and compassion.

Let me also encourage you to reach out to your pastor today. He’s dealing with more than you know. Our pastors are conducting funerals, counseling people who are dealing with addiction and marital issues, hearing weekly complaints about all the things they’ve done wrong, trying to lead a congregation, and battling spiritual warfare on a daily basis. That’s heavy. That’s really heavy. Despite all the roles he plays, your pastor does not have super powers. He’s human just like you and me. He hurts. He cries. He gets depressed. He deals with anxiety. He struggles with self-worth. He questions why he’s doing what he’s doing.

As my heart grieves for the family who lost a husband and father and a church that lost a pastor, I’m reminded that none of us is immune to the effects of this broken world.

Don’t let today end with the regret that you should have reached out. Contact your pastor. Text your friend. Call a loved one. Send that email.

Someone needs it more than you will ever know.

6 Reasons Why I Talk About Depression

In early 2016 my doctor diagnosed me with depression. It was the least surprising thing my doctor could have told me because I was quite aware I had been dealing with it for some time. From the age of 16 on, I had encountered bouts here and there, but this was the first time I sought medical help.

Since that February day, I’ve found it very easy to be open with that diagnosis. For some reason, telling people about my struggles with depression rolls off the tongue just as easily as telling them about my struggles with Mike Matheny’s managing. It just feels a bit natural. But after talking to people and reading about the “black dog,” I’ve discovered it’s not that common to discuss. Regardless, there is something in me that tells me I need to be discussing the issue of depression with others. And here are 6 reasons I talk about depression.

1. It’s a big deal that’s not a big deal. 

I would never minimize the severity of depression. It’s an awful thing that attacks and destroys so many lives. It’s a big deal. Talking about it, however, is not. I wouldn’t hesitate to tell someone I had a migraine. I wouldn’t try to conceal a cast that shows I have a broken arm. For me, talking about the issue isn’t that big of a deal. It’s a part of life, and it’s a part of the road I’m walking down. There are plenty of other issues in my life that I’m not comfortable discussing with strangers, but this is one I’ve been able to talk about freely, and if talking about it openly can help someone else, I’ll gladly do it!

2. There is strength in numbers.

The more I talk about my battle with depression, the more people that open up to me about their battles with depression. And the more I realize I’m not alone, the more inclined I am to lean in, be authentic and transparent with others, and realize what I’m dealing with is completely normal. There is great strength in knowing we are not alone in our struggles. Knowing that someone else knows what we’re going through does us a lot of good. And I can say this with complete sincerity: every single person who has opened up to me about their battle with depression has been an encouragement to me in some way.

3a. Too many men are suffering in silence.

As men, we don’t like to talk about our feelings or emotions. We also have this idea that depression means we’re weak and it’s an indictment of our masculinity. Therefore, we stay quiet and suffer in silence. It doesn’t need to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way. Men, we need to talk about it. We need to discuss it. We need to offer each other hope and encouragement. We definitely don’t need to perpetuate the myth that depression is a sign of male weakness. Nothing could show strength like speaking up, being honest with ourselves and others, and admitting our struggles. We need to talk about it.

3b. Too many leaders (and especially ministry leaders) are suffering in silence.

Because of the corporate, survival-of-the-fittest attitude that exists today, people in high positions are afraid to speak up out of fear of losing their influence and position. Corporate leaders are afraid that an admission of mental illness will cause them to get replaced by someone who is more “stable.” Pastors are afraid that speaking up will cause their board to see them as weak or their congregation to see them as “lacking in faith.” And while I wish I could say that none of these things will happen, the truth is that they do happen sometimes. Our dog-eat-dog world can be cruel. Our ignorant world can be cruel. But there’s no need to suffer in silence. There are people out there who are going through the very same thing who want to help. Depression isn’t synonymous with ineptitude or lack of faith. Depression is no respecter of persons or professions. I’ve spoken up because I don’t want leaders to feel like they have to suffer in silence.

4. I’m not exactly qualified to talk about fitness so I might as well go with something I know!

5. I want to see us end the stigma.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 6.7% of US adults have been diagnosed with depression. That number jumps to over 10% when you examine 18-25 year olds. And that’s just those who have been diagnosed. Think about all of the people who are suffering who have yet to seek help because they’re afraid to seek help. They’re afraid to be labeled. They’re afraid to be seen as inferior. They’re afraid people will think there’s something wrong with them. I want to see this stigma disappear in my lifetime. Like I mentioned earlier, I would love for us to get to the point where we view depression as no different than a headache or broken arm.

6. People need to know help is available. 

It took me almost 14 years to get help. Thankfully, I wasn’t suffering 14 years straight, and thankfully my depression has been something that comes and goes and has been behind me for a couple years, but if hindsight is 20/20, I wish I had gotten help long before I did. Meeting with a doctor and getting on medication did wonders for me. Having trusted friends to talk to who have dealt with or are dealing with the same thing kept me feeling refreshed and normal. And I want all my friends to know that help is available and it’s a beautiful thing. Whether that looks like medication, counseling, etc., help is out there.

As long as depression still exists, I’ll keep talking about it. And I hope those who are dealing with it will find the strength to discuss it as well. You’re not alone. You’re not broken. You’re just like me and I’m just like you. Let’s talk about it.

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