On Starting an Anti-Depressant Medication for Anxiety

Grief is such an unpredictable journey. I’ve been learning this since my dad died almost four and a half years ago. My faith carried me through his disease with alcoholism and also through his unexpected and sudden death. I truly don’t know how I would have otherwise coped had I not been in such a good place with God in my life. Since the initial shock of it all, I have had a wide array of feelings about it all: relief, sadness, disappointment, anger, devastation, anxiety, rage.
Storm to the South
It wasn’t until another traumatic event at work this summer triggered me to go to therapy for the first time in my life. I knew it wasn’t specifically about the patient, though it was very hard to cope with in the moment, it went much much deeper than that for me. It was a catalyst that sparked a need for change within me. I knew prayer and my faith weren’t going to solely carry me through this one—I needed outside intervention.

First Came Therapy

Work was able to give me up to three free therapy sessions. I did two sessions a week apart and they helped tremendously understand myself better. Even hearing from an outsider what I already knew and believed in my heart, was something I needed affirmed. She told me that I was a caregiver and a fixer, and I was more focused on taking care of everyone else. With all the built up energy and feelings I had regarding my dad combined with the nature to always put others above myself, I either needed to burn that excess energy off (exercise/work out), relax with a lot of self-care, or both. We did an anxiety scale at this time, as I told her I didn’t feel “depressed” by definition of sadness or not finding the will to do daily activities and just curl up in bed and not want to get up. I scored a 9 out of 21 on the GAD7 scale, which almost put me at moderate for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). She told me that at a 10 is when they go into further intervention such as medication and she felt that talk therapy would help me and that I didn’t need medications.

I agreed—I didn’t need medications.

Enter one of the best girlfriends a girl could ever ask for. There’s few people in my circle of trust that I confide in when the serious things are happening, and she is one of them. I told her after my first session how therapy was going, and that my therapist and I agreed that while I am not above taking medications (anti-anxiety, anti-depression), it didn’t seem like I was at a point of needing any. I also told her, along with my therapist, that I had discussed with my mom that I really do think I have more symptoms of anxiety and depression, they just manifest in non-traditional or unexpected ways.

I have gone through awful phases of irritability and rage many times in my life. I understand as the primary caregiver of 3 young boys that I am allowed to discipline my children, get angry at them, and that I’m allowed to not be “perfect” all the time. But I also recognized that they deserve better and I wanted to do better for them. My light bulb moment was when I YELLED at our 4 year old for spilling a macaroni noodle on his chair at lunch one day. That reaction was absolutely unacceptable and irrational on my part and I knew it right then and there. I regretted it immediately, yet in a weird and twisted way I felt out of my control the way I felt I “had” to react.
Family Photos 2017
I don’t want to be out of control in my anger with my kids or with my husband, who always get the most raw form of me.

My friend is also a nurse and she told me that she didn’t want to be a pill pusher, but she felt called to share her personal experience with me. She told me she had very similar symptoms that I was having with the anger and rage and it was also causing her problems. She shared that she had been on anti-depressants before, but they were not as effective as the one she was currently on, recommended to her by girlfriends also experiencing similar symptoms. It’s a fairly new anti-depressant called desvenlafaxine, or Pristiq. It’s a cousin of well-known venlafaxine, commonly called Effexor. She told me it was life-changing for her and that it was worth suggesting to the therapist.

So I did.

Then Came Medication

My therapist isn’t a psychiatrist, so she wasn’t able to prescribe it for me, so she encouraged me to make an appointment with my family doctor. I’ve gotten to know my new doctor fairly well over the last year. I brought him my GAD7 score and he agreed that I was on the cusp of needing medication, or at least for further intervention. I asked if there would be any harm in trialing it, and if it didn’t work I’d just stop, if I noticed any improvement I’d stay on. He told me we would rule out other problems first and ordered a TSH and CBC for blood work and they both came back normal. It would be a 6 month trial on the medication regardless of how I felt (unless I was having severe side effects). Then and there he gave me a 2 week sample from the office and told me to come back after that and we would talk more and he would give me a prescription for a month.

I started July 19 which was the day before we left for our BC summer vacation. I had the best vacation of my parenting life—it was so relaxing and it was just what I needed. I came back to see my doctor and only scored a 2/21 on the GAD7 this time. I also told him that I know it might be the post-vacation feeling, the placebo effect or whatever it was—but I felt good. It was unlikely that it would be the medication, as with most anti-depressants it often takes a minimum of 2 weeks to build up in your system. The only side effects I had were feeling a bit jittery on the inside for a few days and a very mild nausea. I didn’t feel overly stimulated or overly tired, which were 2 big symptoms I was told to look out for.

Why Pristiq?

My doctor told me he only ever prescribes young people on 1of 4 of the newer anti-depressant medications with fewer side effects. I never talk about this part of my life on my blog, and I will not go in depth about this here, but it was very important for me to not lose my libido, as this is a very common and well-known side effect of the older anti-depressant medications. I also didn’t want to gain weight and that is also not a common side effect of this medication.

I can say after 5 weeks on this medication that I feel really great. This is the first harvest season in years that I am not anxious about handling single-parenting, cooking large meals and just living in this uncertain season of coming and going and stopping and starting. I feel more at peace and more at ease with the world and two of my family members have also told me they see a positive change in me.

I know this medication won’t make me perfect. I know that I will always have emotions, hormones and life events that will be hard to cope with. I had my worst day in the last 5 weeks yesterday, but it’s also PMS time, so I know and understand that I’m human, I’m a woman and I’ll still have my completely imperfect moments. I just hope that this medication keeps helping to bring out the best in me, most of the time.

Family Photos 2017
I have to take care of myself, so I can take care of them.

More to come…

Disclaimer: As always, this is me sharing my personal experience with anxiety and going on this medication. This blog post is in no way sponsored or an advertisement; it is not to be taken as medical advice. Always, always seek the advice of you own medical health professional team if you feel that you are struggling with anxiety and/or depression. I’m just here to share my own story.

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I'm a nurse who married a farmer and I'm a boy mom of 3 to Braden, Ethan and Jonathan. I love blogging about family life, agriculture, recipes and embracing my role as farm wife and mom. I'm knee-deep in tractors, trains and trucks and I'm often seen with my camera in my hands catching life's moments.

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Leave a Reply

  1. Thank you for sharing. It is funny how that grief/trauma resurfaces at unexpected times. I was on antidepressants, but I hated how I didn’t want to be cozy with my husband. I’m going to talk to my dr about Pristiq. Thank you for your openness and encouragement that I’m not alone. And thanks for farming food! I have no interest and I’m so thankful for my farming friends.

    • Grief is sure a roller coaster…I honestly had no idea that I had legitimate anxiety throughout my life, but it was starting to impact me in a real way just now in my mid-30s. I was super worried about going on an anti-depressant for that very reason, but I am very happy 2 months in now that I feel very cozy with my husband 🙂

  2. I have dealt with anxiety and depression for almost 20 years. I am a mental health nurse for over 38 years and you never expect it will happen to you. With medication and the support of a wonderful, caring family physician I have been able to live a fulfilling life. This year my mom passed awa, my sister was very ill and my relationship of 30 years ended. A lot of anxiety has surfaced but it is one day at a time. I am proud of you for putting your story out there, we need more people like you.

  3. As the farming partner of someone who has managed their anxiety and depression for over 20 years I have to say that your husband and family will be so proud of you and thank you for taking care of yourself. Mental Health is so important to everyone and yet we don't give it the attention it deserves. Thanks Sarah for advocating for openness and enlightenment around mental health. For those that can't quite embrace this discussion yet, those that can provide a path for others to follow. Thanks for guiding the discussion.

  4. Sarah, you're bold and brave to speak out on this and it's a topic so many will connect to. THANK YOU! Mental health isn't talked about enough and you're breaking down walls for many with sharing your personal story. Taking care of you makes you be the best for your family as you clearly care about most and it's all rooted in your faith too. Keep sharing!

  5. Thanks for writing, I actually JUST read an article on a blog about MTHFR and I wouldn't doubt if my vitamin D was alarmingly low most of the year where I live in Canada. My doc did check my thyroid and did a CBC to make sure I wasn't anemic and all was well there—I will update this blog post to reflect that, it's important I share that too! Thank you so much for the suggestion!

  6. Very interesting.

    I, too, am a farmer's wife.

    I was on effexor a few years back and it was wonderful. My anxiety got to the point of panic attacks and I did learn deep muscle relaxation techniques as well.

    I went off it for a time and then when menopause hit I was speaking with a woman and she said that she had an "anxious" personality and told me to watch when my hot flashes occurred. If they were only during anxious times she found that effexor worked wonderfully for her. I am back on it…spoke with a new doctor for ages about it and he totally was in favor and said he could say that I could safely be on it for life.

    The only difference is that I feel normal…and can deal with stress situations better…

    Happy for you…hugs from one farmer's wife to another.