Depression is complex. It took time to find my voice.

·4-min read


As we navigate through life’s challenges, feeling down or sad at times is not uncommon. Some people may be more vulnerable to sadness these days, amid the isolation and stress caused by the global pandemic. It can be difficult to discern if feelings of sadness are simply situational and temporary, or signaling something more. When symptoms persist, such as sadness, loss of interest in things, decreased energy, changes in eating or sleeping, or recurrent thoughts of death, what you’re experiencing may be something more complex, like a form of depression called major depressive disorder (MDD).

MDD is serious and everyone experiences it differently; one person’s symptoms may not be the same as another’s. Mary W.* has experienced symptoms of MDD for the majority of her adult life and was officially diagnosed at age 24. In addition to her depressed mood, she had difficulty thinking, concentrating, and making decisions, trouble getting out of bed, and at times questioned if life was worth living. Mary felt worthless and also was withdrawing socially, no longer interested in being the go-to friend who helped others make decisions.

“My depression made me feel like an object in a room without a voice,” recalled Mary. “I went from being a source of support and offering advice to my friends and loved ones, to being the one who needed the advice and asking myself, ‘What would I say to me right now?’”

Over the years, Mary cycled through different treatment plans, but found herself still experiencing symptoms of MDD and then ultimately relapsing into a full depressive episode. Mary knew something had to change; this cycle had to be addressed. Mary recalled the moment she recognized the seriousness of her situation. “I had recently moved to Chicago and instead of being excited to explore a new city, I was distracted by overwhelming thoughts of harming myself. I knew I needed help and had to talk to a doctor again about my MDD. It took a lot of energy to realize that this had to be the next step. I was desperate. I was scared nothing would work for me.”

Mary continued, “I had tried different treatment options that helped improve my mood, yet I still couldn’t find enjoyment in participating in life and doing the things I once liked doing. To make matters worse, I was gaining weight, which I assumed was a result of my treatment, having previously combatted this treatment side effect. I was worried about starting a new treatment and having to experience all new side effects again.”

Dr. John Zajecka, a psychiatrist from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL who has been practicing for more than 30 years, shared that MDD treatment plans can include medications, like antidepressants, as well as psychotherapy and brain stimulation therapies. “The most common types of treatments I discuss with my patients are antidepressant medications. While antidepressant medications are approved to be effective and tolerable for patients based on clinical trials, there are also potential side effects to be aware of,” said Dr. Zajecka.

Side effects from antidepressants can include nausea, vomiting, weight gain, changes in sleep, treatment-emergent sexual dysfunction, and suicidal thoughts and actions in youths/young adults.

Dr. Zajecka urges anyone with MDD who thinks they might be experiencing side effects of their antidepressant medication to proactively discuss them with their doctor. “MDD medication can impact people differently,” he said. “The good news is that science has come a long way and there are numerous treatment options to choose from. Open communication between doctor and patient can help guide treatment choices to find the right fit for that patient’s unique needs.”

Today, Mary is grateful to have found a doctor with whom she feels comfortable having meaningful and honest conversations about her depression. She believes this helped her doctor to identify the treatment plan that’s best for her. Mary hopes that by sharing her story she might encourage others living with MDD to take the sometimes-difficult step to talk with their doctor.

“I know that sometimes it can feel like there is no hope. It took a lot of time for me to find my voice and feel empowered to advocate for myself. I want people to know that MDD may be complex, but also treatable. Everyone’s journey is unique and takes time. Maybe my experience finding the right treatment will help even one person living with MDD take the next step to seek professional help.”

*Name withheld to protect subject’s privacy. Mary is a contributor for Takeda and Lundbeck.

Dr. John Zajecka is a paid consultant for Takeda and Lundbeck. His expertise is in the management of depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders. Dr. Zajecka has been a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry at Rush University since 1988 and is currently a Professor of Psychiatry, and the Director of the Woman’s Board Depression Treatment and Research Center.