What to Do (On and Off the Web) While You’re Waiting for Your Antidepressants to Kick In

Image: Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh
Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

I’ve been there; I’ve done that. I’ve suffered from depression nearly my whole life, and wasn’t diagnosed till I was 27. I know all the stages you go through when you’re waiting those six interminable weeks for your antidepressant meds to start working. So, as my gift to you, since I know your mind might be kind of cloudy if you’re depressed right now, I’ve compiled this list of suggestions. I hope they give you some moments of relief. Just so I’m not accused of discriminating against non-depressives, you all who don’t suffer from depression can feel free to check out my suggestions too. Someone pointed out to me that it takes some people more than six weeks to feel much better. That’s definitely true. Everyone’s different, and some people could even take fewer than six weeks to feel normal again. And the newer antidepressants can take considerably less time than six weeks to be effective. This guide is divided the way it is as just a general guideline.

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My Experience with Depression

“I Am Half-Sick of Shadows,” said the Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse

Let me tell you right away that I am uncomfortable recounting my experience with depression. Not because it’s painful to talk about (though it is), but because I created this web page about depression to help other people, not to go on and on about myself. However, I can’t forget how illuminating William Styron’s account of his depression in Darkness Visible was to me before I was diagnosed and treated for depression. It really was the book that made me recognize my illness and therefore led me to seek professional help. Since Styron is so much more eloquent than I could ever be, I urge you to read his book. If nothing else, it will help you explain your illness to other people, if you have it, or help you to understand a loved one’s pain if you are close to someone who suffers from the “black dog”, as Churchill called it. If you are interested in my story, read on. You may recognize yourself or someone else in it.

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Darren’s Letter

The Lament for Icarus by Herbert James Draper

Most of us who have accepted our mental illness have had those moments of profound irritation or anger when we hear the subject of mental illness and its treatment used as a source of comic relief. Prozac has been relentlessly marketed, and has become a household name, and therefore is tossed around in conversation by people who know nothing about depression or antidepressants. Most of us have heard someone say, “Oh, take a Prozac and lighten up,” or something to that effect. Darren Ross read an article by a writer who referred to Prozac twice in a completely ignorant manner, and decided to take the time to try to set the record straight by writing a letter to the editor. I’m sure he educated a good number of people, and since he addressed many myths and misconceptions about depression and mental illness so well, I asked him if I could include his letter on my web page. I would suggest that if you are trying to educate someone about mental illness, depression and its treatment, you print off this section and give it to them.

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Depression as a Medical Illness

Image: The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne-Jones
The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne-Jones

The following story describes, for anyone who’s never experienced it, what it’s like, and for anyone currently suffering a similar experience, the story offers hope, because this story has a happy ending. At least, it’s been happy for several years now.

The greatest fear I have ever felt, a fear on a par with the vastness of eternity, was when I feared there would be an after life.This was for me the deepest darkest fear imaginable. I was afraid of living forever because I did not like life. I had a good family, I had a few friends, I was a very good student in school, everything seemed to be going my way, but there was something wrong with my life — I was not happy. I wasn’t particularly unhappy on any given day, but there was a general mild unhappiness which I bore day after day. One day of this mild unhappiness was no problem, even a week was easy to bear. But the constant month after month, year after year of bearing it day after day began to take its toll.

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What to Do During the Middle Two Weeks You’re Waiting for Your Antidepressants to Kick In

Image: Harmony in Red (The Dessert) by Henri Matisse
Harmony in Red (The Dessert) by Henri Matisse

Chances are you’re not having quite so many devastatingly low days now. You’re functioning a little better overall, but you’re still not ready to run any marathons yet or run for public office. Don’t worry about it – this recovery takes time, and it happens so subtly you may not notice it till someone else points it out. You’re probably still not eager to spend too much time outside your home, but the cyberworld provides many diversions (you can wander around it in your pajamas, and no one will know). I’ve found that things of beauty are both soothing and refreshing at this point, so that’s where we’ll start first.

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Recovering from Depression

Image: A Coign of Vantage by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
A Coign of Vantage by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

So you have successfully come out of your depression, either because you have received treatment, or because the depression went away on its own. How can you stack the deck against it coming back? What’s the best way to celebrate this renewal of life?

Keeping Depression Away

Your enemies are stress and illness – either of these can bring on depression, at least temporarily. Your tools for fighting both stress and illness are eating right, exercising, and stress reduction. There’s a good chance that you weren’t paying much attention to your diet or exercising properly when you were in your depression, so this is a good time to get back on track.

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I Knew I had a Good/Bad Psychiatrist/Therapist When…

Image: The Betrothed by John William Godward

I thought it would be helpful and informative to share good/bad psychiatrist or therapist stories.

We’ll start out with my experiences…

My first experience with treatment was at the mental health clinic at the local hospital. I was fairly indifferent toward the first psychiatrist I had there, but I was unpleasantly jarred to find out that he was leaving after six months. Apparently they were on some sort of rotation. When I walked into the new psychiatrist’s office, I immediately got a bad feeling. It looked like he felt this was a temporary situation, as the office was completely bare except for the desk and two chairs.

The reason for my visit was to ask him to raise my medication, as I was feeling the familiar signs of depression after being fairly stable for a year. He never even looked at me, and only asked me one question to determine whether I was depressed again or not, “Do you have thoughts of harming yourself or others?” I said, “Well, no, but I never have, so that’s not really an indication for me.” He ignored all the signs of depression I was recounting and refused to raise my medication. I absolutely hated him, and wouldn’t go back until he was gone six months later.

This time when I walked into the new psychiatrist’s office I was very wary, but the difference he had made in that cold office was amazing. I’m a little fuzzy on the specifics, but I immediately noticed that the place smelled great. He had air fresheners in the office that made you want to inhale when you walked in.

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Scented Baths

Baden-Baden Bath

The Baden-Baden bath is a bath that you will want to repeat frequently. Its lovely pine scent and its carefully mixed ingredients will create a body of water similar to the curative mineral content of the renowned springs at the luxurious Baden-Baden spa in Germany. Select an album of Mozart’s piano concertos to play while you bathe. Pour yourself a tall glass of sparkling mineral water with a slice of lime or a dash of fresh lime juice. Place it tubside to sip as a replenishing tonic.

Image One-Half Cup of Borax
One-Quarter Cup of Sea Salt
Five Drops of Oil of Sage
Five Drops of Oil of Rosemary
Ten Drops of Oil of Pine Balsam
Loofa Mitt

While your bath is running, combine the Borax and the Sea Salt in a glass bowl, stirring with a metal spoon. Add the Oil of Sage, the Oil of Rosemary, and the Oil of Pine Balsam to the dry mixture in the bowl and stir thoroughly. Add this entire mixture to the bath while the water is still running and stir the water with your hands till it’s apparent that the Borax and the Sea Salt are completely dissolved.

Now it’s time to claim your just reward. Slip into the tub and journey back to your earliest moments of sensation. Give your conscious mind a rest, and allow your unconscious feelings free rein. Soak for at least twenty minutes, and breathe deeply of the healing scents surrounding you. The essential oils in the Baden-Baden bath are wonderful for restoring the body’s vital energy and stimulating the respiratory system. When you are fully relaxed you may use the Loofa Mitt to invigorate your skin and circulation. Do not use soap with this bath. If you can, let your skin air dry before you dress.

Clan of the Cave Bear Spa

The Clan of the Cave Bear Spa is a powerful, healthful ritual designed to purify the mind and body. Enter this prehistoric spa for a transforming retreat from the outside world. It will prepare you to embrace new situations with grace, and help you to accept life’s challenges with courage and confidence. Once you have experienced its magical properties, you will return to this spirit-renewing ceremonial spa again and again.

One-Quarter Cup of Powdered French Clay
Sage Smudge Stick
Pine-Scented Soap
Loofa Mitt
Pumice Stone

Warm your bathroom ahead of time so that you’ll be comfortable outside the bathtub during the spa ritual. Prepare your Clan of the Cave Bear mud pack by mixing the Powdered French Clay with enough water to make a slight runny paste. Take off your clothes, tie back your hair, and slather the clay on your face, neck and upper chest.

While the clay is drying and drawing impurities from your skin, light the end of the Sage Smudge Stick and wave it in the air for a minute or two until the bathroom is redolent with the earthy scent of the burning herb. Smudge sticks, widely available at health food stores, are bundles or herbs tied together tightly so that when lit, the stick will smoke rather than burn. Sage was burned ritually by North American Indians to purify and cleanse the environment. It symbolizes the virtues of strength and wisdom, and the forces of the earth that can be summoned to counteract negative thoughts and influences.

Extinguish the smudge stick and fill the tub to the top with comfortably hot water. By now the clay will have dried on your skin, so you may climb in and submerge yourself. Splash water over your face and neck to soften the clay, and wash it off your skin with the Pine-Scented Soap. Pine has a powerful resorative scent that brings to mind positive, secure experiences. After ten minutes or so, scrub your skin with the Loofa Mitt to remove dry, dead cells and smooth your body all over. Continue to soak for another ten minutes or so.

Now, pull the plug and let the water drain out of the tub around you. While you are waiting, rub the Pumice Stone against the rough areas of skin on your elbows, feet and hands – anywhere there are calluses to be smoothed away. When the tub is nearly empty, turn on the faucet to a cool temperature and squat in front of it, splashing water over yourself to rinse off.

You will now glow pink all over, purified from head to toe, mentally and physically. Rub your skin vigorously with a rough towel and let yourself air dry completely before you dress and emerge into the world, a more powerful entity.

Copyright © 1991, Maribeth Riggs

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10 Things You Can Do This Month to Manage Your Depression

Depression treatment can make a big difference, but it has to be managed. Many people with depression lack the motivation to pull together an effective treatment program, so if you feel like you’ve been thrashing around and getting nowhere, these suggestions might help you get on the right track.

1. Assess your level of satisfaction with your doctor. Your doctor is a crucial element of successful treatment. Are you happy with yours? If you haven’t made progress, is it because your doctor doesn’t seem really engaged in your treatment? If you have a doctor who doesn’t listen to you, respect your right to ask questions and doesn’t seem to really care whether your depression is successfully treated, then it’s time to move on.

2. Prepare a list of questions ahead of time for your next doctor visit. This is a good idea anytime you go to visit a doctor, but especially with depression, given how fuzzy it can make your thought processes.

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Jump-start your day with exercise (Yes, even if you’re depressed)

Image: Still Life of Vase with Daisies and Poppies by Van Gogh
Still Life of Vase with Daisies and Poppies by Van Gogh

It’s 5:30am and it’s still dark. For some reason I’m actually awake. Granted, my usual waking time is only half an hour later, but to me, voluntarily getting up early is an idea that just doesn’t compute. However, I am deliberately giving up sleep for a good reason. I’m going to jog, using a game on the Wii.

If you’re suffering from depression, you’re probably thinking, “How nice for you.” After all, you can’t even contemplate exercising when you’re depressed. Just getting through the day is an accomplishment. Trust me, I do know how you feel. I went through twenty years of untreated depression. But I also know that some of my best periods during those two decades were the times when I was exercising regularly.

Several studies have suggested that exercise can alleviate depression. A study released recently by a team at Temple University found that it can even help postmenopausal women with stress, anxiety and depression (but not hot flashes, alas). Exercise not only relieves stress, which is believed to contribute to depression, but also gives you some immediate relief due to the endorphins that exercise produces. They’re like nature’s happy pills.

And exercise will help your mood, no matter how severe your depression is or what type of treatment you’re under for it. If your depression is mild, it can be an effective alternative remedy. If your depression is moderate or severe, exercise is a great way to augment an antidepressant or antidepressant/therapy regimen.

But, but…I can hear the excuses coming to your lips now. It’s winter and too dark or cold to walk or jog, you can’t afford gym fees or you don’t know where to find a gym, etc. Or maybe the big one – I don’t have any motivation. Sorry, but I’m going to knock all of those reasons (or excuses) down so you’re going to, at the very least, think of new ones.

If you live where the weather’s inhospitable in the winter, there are plenty of ways to exercise indoors. To do yoga, all you need is a mat and a book or DVD. I use a DVD called A.M. and P.M. Yoga for Beginners. If you’re lucky enough to have a Wii, like us, I can promise you that the jogging, tennis and boxing workouts on the Wii Sports game will burn off plenty of calories, and games like Dance Dance Revolution for the XBox 360 do the same.

Or, if it’s just cold and not raining or sleeting, why not bundle up and go for a walk?

Five ways to motivate yourself

1. Think of the workout as another prescription for your depression. I have no idea why it works, but it does – at least, it did for me on many occasions.

2. Get an exercise buddy. Yes, I can practically hear the groans now. But it’s a tactic that really works. On the day that you really don’t feel like working out, your buddy hopefully will be full of motivation.

3. Keep the payoff in mind. If you find that exercise does lighten the darkness, even for a short time, isn’t that kind of relief worth the effort?

4. Recognize that, when you start thinking of excuses, they are, for the most part, not very impressive. Okay, so it’s raining – are you going to melt? You’re tired? Well, you will feel more energetic after you work out, so get up off the couch. Obviously you should not exercise if you’re injured or truly sick, but don’t let a case of sniffles or a slight headache give you an excuse that you think is plausible – it’s not.

5. Find your favorite way to pass the time if you find the workout boring. If you don’t feel like listening to music, try books on tape. You do tend to walk a little slower, but you may find the workout flying by.

One last thought: Keep your goals realistic. If you haven’t been exercising at all, and decide that you’re now going to work out every day for an hour faithfully, there’s a good chance you’re going to fail. There’s a good chance that someone without depression would fail taking things that way. Start by making small changes in your routine. For instance, I recently started parking my car farther away at work, which adds just a few minutes of walking to my day, but it does help. Maybe you can come up with a similar “baby step” to jump-start your exercise.

Good luck!

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