When I decided to start Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT), I embarked on a quest: I wanted to find out why my brain was my enemy.

I didn’t get it. If my brain’s goal was to keep me alive, why was I wanting to not be alive anymore? It didn’t make sense.

I wanted to find out what was wrong with my brain.

After years of therapy, meditation, and neuroscience research, I got to the conclusion that there was nothing wrong with me.

My brain is working as expected. I got it stuck in a loop that could never get out by itself.

Over time, I developed some coping mechanisms to live with anxiety: biting my nails, overachieving, being a perfectionist. All these heavy words and actions combined, led to a severe burnout in 2020. Everything that used to give me joy, including my career in software development, was no longer making me happy.

That’s when I started this mental health and personal discovery quest.

Today, I am a different person. I made peace with myself. I’m happy, calm, well, healthy, and grateful. I hope sharing my experience here can help someone who’s going through a hard time and finding their way out.

At the end of April of 2022, I started taking an anti-depressant: sertraline. Because there’s so much stigma and uncertainty about taking anti-depressants, I decided to share my experience before and after taking them. Hopefully, it will help someone make a decision that can change their lives for the better.

My mental health journey before 2020

My mental health was never my priority until 2020. I have had different therapists from different modalities. CBT was the approach that most helped me. But I still felt like I wasn’t in the mental place I wanted to be. I was close but still afraid I could never actually “fully get and stay better”.

Fast-forward to the beginning 2022, where I got in a terrible place. I was spending days without doing anything, barely getting out of bed. For a driven, goal-oriented person, procrastinating was something I had a hard time accepting.

Things were getting really bad, and all the work I’d done by then (therapy, meditation, coaching) made me see that I was going to a dark place where I wouldn’t be able to get out by myself. I had stopped going to therapy, it didn’t feel like it was of any help anymore.

I decided to ask for help. My husband called my therapist and she suggested going to the Access and Assessment Centre (AAC) in Vancouver. I got an appointment with a psychiatrist at the end of June that year.

I was advised to call my family doctor to ask for a prescription to help me until the consultation.

The moment to decide

Before I called him, I did some research about taking anti-depressants. I had no idea what he would recommend, and I wanted to get there prepared.

My family doctor asked if I was open to taking sertraline. Sertraline is a Prozac-like anti-depressant, a family of Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

At the moment, lots of things crossed my mind:

  • “what if I get dependent on them?”
  • “what if I feel lots of side effects?”
  • “what happens after I stop?”
  • “I shouldn’t need meds. Therapy, meditation… all for nothing? I should be stronger.”

There is still a big stigma around anti-depressants. Even after I got the meds the next day, I still did more research before taking the first pill.

Eventually, I landed in this video. To be completely honest, I was relieved to just see someone saying it helped them and they wish they had started soon. That was a relief. Maybe that could happen with me as well. And I could always decide to stop.

Even Dr. Huberman mentions hearing a lot of bad statements about antidepressants in this episode about trauma and prescription drugs. It can be scary. You hope it will make you feel better, but there’s no guarantee of anything.

The reason why I decided to share my experience with anti-depressants is because there’s so much stigma about them that can be harmful. I was so relieved I found someone sharing a positive experience.

Besides all the doubt and apprehension, ultimately I knew I needed extra support. Otherwise, nothing would change. I did not want to keep living like that.

*A disclaimer before we go on: I can only talk about my experience with sertraline. I feel so lucky and grateful it worked well with me and I didn’t experience side effects (except one really bad migraine one day). I also felt a bit mentally tired at the end of the day for the first few days, but nothing exceptional. Since I knew there was different chemistry going on in my head, I allowed myself to take it easy for the first week.

The only difference I see is I feel hungrier so I’m eating more grains and beans to keep me healthy ans satisfied (since I eat a whole food plant-based diet, it’s kinda effortless to eat healthily).

My brain on meds

I decided to take the 1st pill on April 28th, 2022. The next day, I woke up and my mind was simply… silent. It was as if all the thoughts were gone, especially the repetitive/intrusive ones. I had never experienced this before.

I felt so much better, I even went to the gym because I was suddenly feeling more active!

I have researched depression and anxiety. I have a laic understanding of how my brain works. After taking the meds, it was as if all the strong connections that created this loop of intrusive thoughts were cut loose.

I’ve been meditating almost every day for quite some time now. I notice the streams of thoughts that initiate a rabbit role of anxiety for me. But it wasn’t still enough.

The pills help me because the thoughts were drastically less intense and less overwhelming, emotionally and mentally. Despite benefiting from mindfulness training, I was still spending lots of energy into resisting the repetitive negative thoughts.

A bit of science behind anti-depressants

I highly recommend watching the episode “Dr. Paul Conti: Therapy, Treating Trauma & Other Life Challenges” from the Huberman Podcast.

Dr. Conti explains why medicine is not a substitute for therapy. He explains that using medicines helps the person engage in therapy as productive as possible:

“Prozac-like medicines seem to make there be more serotonin in certain circuits that are important for mood regulation, anxiety regulation, distress tolerance. it helps get them feeling better and create more distress tolerance”.

That was exactly my experience! The antidepressants created more distress tolerance in me.

Dr. Conti mentions that medicine:

  • “ease the systems that are making the rigidity and the repetition in the brain”
  • “help intervene in negative pathways, sending out those tendrils of neurons that are hypervigilant and avoidant in our brains”.
  • “can take away clinical rumination”.

Thank god for that.

Again: the meds alone are not the solution. We are complex living beings. We can’t just erase our traumas or fix our problems with magic pills. Therapy and other mental health support might be necessary to give yourself the full support you need.

That’s how taking the meds helped me. I was then able to give myself space to breathe and go back to therapy and take care of myself.

My experience after 8 weeks of taking sertraline

The worthlessness that results from chronic depression makes it harder to even believe change is possible.

I’m so grateful I accepted pharmaceutical support. I learned not to judge anyone for the type of support they need. I figured, if so many people work so hard on improving these meds to decrease the side effects, why not give it a try? I had nothing to lose. Plus, nothing is permanent in life.

Another lesson for me was: traumas don’t simply go away 🙃

I’ve been avoiding healing my traumas my entire life. This experience showed me that it was time and I was ready. I’m now doing IFS and coaching on imposter complex because now I know my limitations and problems, and how to move forward with the support I need.

I wanted to share my experience because I was fearful of taking sertraline. I never took any sort of medications and I intended to keep it like that. I couldn’t be more grateful for saying yes to prescription drugs because I feel so much better.

I wish I had done it before. Despite having done therapy, I still needed help. I’m proud of making that decision.

It’s okay to need help – we all do

Support is essential. I know how vulnerable it is and the shame around feeling like a weak person. I wouldn’t even have gone to AAC had my husband not called my therapist, and taken me there.

Reach out to whatever grasp of hope is inside of you and ask for help. You deserve to be happy.

I can’t guarantee your experience will be as smooth as mine. Or that therapy will work out at the first attempt. But I can guarantee it’s worth trying until you find what works for you.

Keep trying. You matter. You are worthy. I believe that for you until you start believing in it by yourself 🧡

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