Living with Depression: The Beginning of a Journey

One college student takes a first visit to doc's.

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How did I say her name? Sindhoveh? Sindhovah? Sindovill? She stared at me blankly. "Sorry, what did you say?" I asked. She replied, asking what I had been feeling these days.

"Why are you here?" she says.

I guess I wasn’t entirely sure. The only thing I really knew was I wanted this to stop.

This, meaning my constant feeling of depression.

Through a self-diagnosis (thank you, Web M.D.) I was able to deduce that I disqualified the positive, and that I tended to generalize. I could get an A on a paper, but in the back of my mind I would ask myself why I couldn’t manage to get an A+. And if someone didn’t like me, or I felt like they didn’t like me, I automatically assumed that meant everyone didn’t like me.

Prescription in hand, as I left my doctor’s office, three thoughts cycled through my mind: 1) Thank goodness: relief. 2) What am I getting myself into? And 3) Why couldn’t I solve this on my own?

One out of four college students; suffers from some form of mental illness, with 44 percent of college students reporting having symptoms of depression at some point in their college careers. According to the American College Health Association, 30 percent of students in a nationwide survey reported feeling "so depressed that it was difficult to function" at some point in the last year. Despite these numbers, 75 percent of us don’t get treated, and until now, I was one of them.

My first antidepressant was the generic form of Effexor, known as Venlafaxine. A friend of mine was on it, so I wasn’t concerned with how I’d react. I was looking for results.

I got home. I ripped open the package and looked at the tiny pills. They looked flimsy. They felt hollow. Their little gray and white bands weren’t convincing in the slightest. Regardless, I popped one in my mouth and waited. Was I going to feel anything?

Depression can be linked to three major structures in the brain: the amygdala, the thalamus, and the hippocampus. When someone is depressed, one of these structures is not functioning at its highest level. These three structures are a part of the brain called the Limbic System (one part of the nervous system). The Limbic System is responsible for emotions and memories, so if any of these structures falls short, it can lead to depression.

Two hours after popping my first dose of Venlafaxine, I was in bed. But I had slept a lot lately. That day seemed no different. I passed out until dinnertime and decided to hit the gym, a normal facet of my seemingly normal life. I hopped on the elliptical, I pressed my usual buttons and picked my usual settings: time, 45 minutes; incline, 10; resistance, 12.

Within five minutes I knew everything wasn’t as it was supposed to be. I was exhausted. I had a headache. Did I need to throw up? I suffered valiantly until the fifteenth minute and got off my machine as if I had just run a marathon. I thought about doing weights or core exercises and after pacing around the squishy gym floor for a few minutes I decided to give up and head home. After a failed evening of going out with my friends, I finally went to sleep. Or tried to, I should say.

Insomnia.

I looked my prescription. Maybe I should actually read the side effects. "Contact your provider or dial 911 in an emergency if you have any of the following symptoms…" A long list. Anxiety, irritability, loss of appetite, suicidal thoughts, increases in depression, mood swings, intense feelings of happiness, you name it. Down the list I go and there it was: insomnia.

The pharmacist at the 24-hour Walgreens told me I needed to call my doctor first thing in the morning.

Here I was back at the beginning. I felt defeated. I was so sure that if Effexor worked for my friend it would work for me to. I was so sure I’d be cured. The next drug my doctor prescribed was Fluoxetine, or the more complicated way to spell Prozac. At this point it had become a twisted sort of game called “What side effect will I have today?” It was becoming more difficult to tell the difference between a side effect and normalcy. I was extremely irritable—granted, there were circumstances that I’d like to believe made it justifiable. But it’s hard to tell. I found myself talking quickly, but then I couldn’t quite tell: was I actually talking quickly, or was I delusional?

Why is it so hard to figure out which of these pills is actually going to work? Basically, how it works is that each antidepressant is formulated to help out one of those aforementioned brain structures, and it’s extremely difficult to figure out which one you need. Therefore, it becomes a game of trial and error.

Three weeks in, my doctor calls to check up on me. How am I feeling? I tell her no, I haven’t felt a low (win!), and yes, I’m sleeping a lot (side effect), and no, I’m never hungry (side effect). But how do I know if this is working? She thinks about it. Considers the options. Then she says the words I was waiting for: Shall we up the dosage?

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