In the mean-time, Waiting for Treatment Response

A crowd of Neuro-receptors fill our brain like a high school mosh pit. It’s noisy and possibly dangerous up there. It’s hard to focus. The negative thoughts are drumming. Medical treatment for depression is the Arthur Murray instructor to our brain-dance. And it takes time.  

When we take medication, the neurotransmitters targeted in our brain have to respond to the neuro-messengers that are the medication. Some receptors downregulate, i.e., decrease in number or activity. Other receptors likewise, upregulate. Again, this takes time. For example, fluoxetine, or Prozac, which came on the market in the late 80’s, is one of our most familiar antidepressants. When we start the medication, (and please don’t call them drugs because no one is panhandling for fluoxetine… Nor are we taking fluoxetine to get a high, but rather to treat a medical illness)… 

When we start fluoxetine, it can take 3-6weeks to start experiencing the benefits. Furthermore, during the first few weeks it is common to feel worse before we feel better. Worse anxiety, worse depression, this is because the receptors are learning a better dance. And it takes time to learn. And learning in this case feels worse before it feels better. 

You ask, what do we do until the medication takes effect? Marvelous consideration. Because here we are, asking for help, and our psychiatrist gives us something that makes it worse. Ummm. 

In the first couple weeks, which can feel like forever, perspective being what it is, a cloudy lens, feeling worse is described by the health of our brain. The brain, from which all emotions, behaviors, and sense of reality come from, takes time to heal.

We come to the psychiatrist by the hair of our chinny chin chin, almost dead inside. We waited, of course, to make the appointment. Waited for our courage to catch up with our disease. And then we waited for an appointment to open up three months later, seemingly forgotten at the train station scanning the crowd for kindness and help to come. And then? Then we receive treatment that takes another month to start, to start I say, not finish, the healing it promised, (a promise that values at about 50-60% of the time to come through. That’s the statistic for fluoxetine to be effective for each of us with our first trial of depression treatment. Thereafter, the likelihood of responding to fluoxetine diminishes after each trial.) 

This is the lighting on the stage for your question, “What do we do in the meantime?” We survive?

It’s too easy to come up with behavioral solutions that if they were to work, they would have already done so during that waiting – ex: 2 months of worsening mood, 2 months to call the psychiatrist, 3 months to get in for your appointment, 1 month for the medication to start working = 8 months. 

You’re not a dummy. But we’ve been advised as if we were by our community. “Feel better.” “Snap out of it.” “Pull yourself together.” “Be strong.” It’s not like you didn’t think of these on your own and were waiting for someone wiser to tell you to get on with life. But, If you are able to, please do get on with it. Go exercise. Sleep better. Eat better. Look at the world with hope.

For the rest of us with melancholia, ie. major depression, the choice left us when we lost brain health. Similar to the alcoholic choosing not to drink, choosing to feel well isn’t a choice. When the medical illness recovers, we gain our freedom to choose those things back. 

During these “8 months” there are some things that can be done however. 

Go to a psychiatric partial hospital program, (“PHP”).  This is a day hospital where you attend for about 6 hours, 5 days a week, for about 4-9 weeks. It’s incredibly supportive. But more than that, PHP teaches dialectical behavioral therapy, (“DBT”), a type of therapy that has been shown to make changes at a cellular level. There are changes to our automatic thoughts, so that when something triggers us, our pre conscious response is more friendly to “Me.”  It’s not a “stick-shift”, but rather increasingly automatic. The key is to work toward brain health. 

Others will collaborate with their psychiatrist to augment fluoxetine, or whichever antidepressant of choice, with another medication that can help pop you out of depression sooner. These treatments are not generally long lasting and don’t treat the underlying illness. Rather they treat the symptoms here and now. Some examples used include stimulants or thyroid replacement therapy. 

In the end, be in a community of support – be it PHP,  outpatient therapy, or NAMI

Support is the shell to our drippy egg, while we wait for our medical treatments to take effect. 

Question: Have your efforts in treatment worked out? What’s your story?

Self Care Tip: Don’t give up! Pursue treatment. Your illness is treatable. But in the meantime… be in a community of support. Keep on!

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