Trigger warning: This article contains references to suicide, which could be triggering to some readers.
Welcome to Vibe Check, Unbothered’s wellness column aimed at revolutionising how Black folx think about self-care, because “self-care” is not always synonymous with Black existence. A safe space for us to share our experiences, Vibe Check explores how Black people are reclaiming their time and wellness, reconnecting with their power, and fostering balance and healing in their day-to-day lives.
This month, Unbothered and Somos Director Kimber Bowman, based in Los Angeles, shares her antidepressant journey.
On April 14, 2023, I was diagnosed with depression and moderate anxiety, and I was relieved. A diagnosis means there might be a solution to my mental health challenges, and my life depended on one.
Somewhere around October 2021, something inside me broke. I can’t explain what caused it; I just know that it felt like my body and my spirit went through a breakup and no matter what I did, they refused to get back together.
In the time since then, I quit a job, took another job a million girls would kill to have, had a mental break three months later, quit that job, broke up with my girlfriend, went into a depressive spiral, contemplated unaliving myself repeatedly, got too scared to do it, started freelancing because—depressed or not—I was also too scared to be broke. I gained 30 pounds, binge ate daily, spent ALL my money on clothes while barely leaving the house, quit freelancing because I hated chasing checks, took a job I hated, quit three months later, took a job I loved, moved somewhere I loved, connected with people I loved, and a still felt like I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. I didn’t know what was wrong with me.
I’d been going to monthly therapy sessions since 2020, but talking through my issues wasn’t enough, probably because I’d stopped telling her how I really felt so she wouldn’t see how badly I’d reverted. I was scared of myself and scared to let others see how scared I was. I got really good at hiding—social media helps with that. I posted videos of me dancing, travelling, and thriving so no one would know I was secretly praying I wouldn’t wake up. I didn’t want to die, but I was tired of living. Joy is a heavy-ass mask.
So, when my psychiatrist, who is a Black woman, told me she had a medication that could help me tap back into my life, I didn’t cry. I bawled. Full Kardashian.
She prescribed an antidepressant designed to boost the levels of norepinephrine (a neurotransmitter and hormone that is essential in the regulation of arousal, attention, cognitive function, and stress reactions) and dopamine (a chemical that makes you feel good) in my brain. If effective, it would counteract the low energy, dark thoughts and mood shifts I had been experiencing. It also had the potential to aid in weight loss and ADHD symptoms (which — according to TikTok — I also showed signs of). It would take about six weeks for the drug to build up in my system and enact its full effects, but it sounded like a miracle and I hoped it would be.
Mental health is a buzzword today, but still carries a stigma in our community. I’m nervous to be this vulnerable, but I wanted to document my experience for anyone else considering taking this journey or for someone already on a similar path. Below is a look back at my first 30 days on antidepressants: the lows, the highs (and the hives).
Day 1: I took my first pill right after I brushed my teeth. Things started okay. I had a cup of coffee like usual, made some scrambled egg whites, and got to work. Then 3 p.m. hit. It hit like a bitch. I got a sudden burst of energy and it manifested in the form of my favourite vices: shopping and eating. I impulsively spent $200 dollars (around £150) on a purse and a shirt I knew wouldn’t fit me. Then I went on a binge, eating a bowl of ramen and half a red velvet cake from Whole Foods. That wasn’t enough, so I ordered myself a Chicken Bacon Ranch meal from McDonald’s via Uber Eats. All this happened in like 40 minutes. By 5 pm, I was passed out on the couch.
Update: By 9 p.m., my dog was laid out by the door because we’d missed his regularly scheduled walk and he was fighting the urge to pee on the floor. I took him out and a second burst of energy came over me. I felt compelled to clean my entire kitchen. I mopped, and then I finished three brainstorm docs for work in an hour. Y’all, I felt manic, but I loved the productivity.
Day 3: Tough night. I’d been getting super tired midday, so I forced myself to stay up until 8 p.m. the day before. Unfortunately, I woke up at 3 a.m. and wandered around the house like a nightwalker for three hours. I made a TikTok video and a bowl of Frosted Flakes.
I was groggy through most of the morning, but still productive. Things fell apart at night. More binging (Taco Bell, chicken wings and fries in one sitting) and overspending (four separate purchases of the clothes and accessories I did not need). I stayed up until 1 a.m. posting items for sale on Poshmark to make myself feel better about the $270 spent at Alo Yoga.
I felt so much guilt. Guilt and nausea. And, a hit of confusion because this medication was supposed to help curb my appetite, yet it seemed to be doing the opposite.
Day 5: I woke up early as hell again, but I was less irritable. I spent the first 30 minutes watching TikToks and then decided it was time to descale my Nespresso. Wait…Can you even drink coffee on anti-depressants? I’d consumed at least a cup a day since starting the meds.
I started Googling symptoms and side effects — days too late. Apparently, when consumed with caffeine, this medication can cause an increased risk of seizures, blood pressure spikes, and insomnia! Weird sleep patterns explained.
I felt anger. Without coffee, life is truly ass.
Day 8: I woke up with a dizzying and disorienting migraine. I struggled through the entire day and stayed off-camera during my work meetings while I tried to avoid vomiting and crying. I had no idea if this was a side effect of the medication or if my brain had simply given up on me for good.
The upside was therapy. I was nervous to tell my therapist that I’d sought psychiatric help without her knowing. I knew she wouldn’t be upset with me, but I felt a pang of guilt as if I was saying that her therapy wasn’t enough for me anymore.
As suspected, she was completely cool with it. She had a lot of questions about why I’d sought additional support and gave me some helpful insight on the drug I’d been prescribed. She’d worked with a few younger clients who’d also experienced spikes in excessive behaviour, mostly promiscuity and suicidal ideation. That was an unlock for me. The energy was there no matter what, but it had to be channelled, positively and intentionally. Otherwise, the vices took over.
Day 15: I woke up and checked my bank account first thing. I spent the week returning most of my splurge purchases, and refunds were coming back. Feeling less broke got me off to a good start.
My psychiatrist and I increased my dosage from the 150mg I was initially prescribed to 300mg. I felt nervous about it, mostly because I was actually starting to feel less broken, so why fix it? I switched to decaf coffee — half-caf on weekends — which really helped mellow me out. I also learned how to do something productive with my energy when I felt it ramp up, like lock into a project, clean my apartment, walk my dog, or workout. Once the burst would subside, I’d take a break. Moving intuitively with my body became a gamechanger on this medication.
Day 20: I woke up just before my 6:30 a.m. alarm. No grogginess and only a hint of anxiety. I volunteered with high school kids at my old job today. The coordinators told me I didn’t need detailed presentation slides, so I grabbed my computer and started drafting up a quick deck that wasn’t quick at all. By the time I sent the email to the coordinators, I had 30 minutes to get dressed and head over to the office.
I was 10 minutes into my drive when I realised I’d forgotten to take my medication. There was no time to turn around and I would be volunteering most of the day. Plus, my psychiatrist warned against taking the meds after midday, because I’d risk turning into an insomniatic gremlin. I figured it would be fine. It was just one day.
After volunteering ended, I headed to a wine bar to get end-of-the-week charcuterie and rosé with a friend. Midway through my single glass, my ankles started itching like crazy. Then my hands. I felt like I was having a reaction. I’m allergic to tree nuts and my dad has a strawberry allergy, both of which were on the charcuterie board, but I’d stayed clear. Shit, now my head was itching too. What the actual fuck?
Day 23: At 11 p.m. I was a shell of myself. I’d been itching uncontrollably for three days. I had hot, red hives everywhere, and I do mean EVERYWHERE. Every time I closed my eyes, I felt another agitating itch pop up on another part of my body. I bit off my Gel X manicure from the stress, so I’d been scratching my legs with a hairbrush, which is the most unsanitary shit I think I’ve ever done.
While waiting for Tyrone (my Uber Eats driver) to arrive with calamine spray and cortisone cream, I had the brilliant idea to start researching if hives were a side effect of my antidepressant. DING DING DING! Across Tiktok and Google, I started seeing images and videos of people covered in the same red patches.
This was a new low. I could feel myself starting to break out of depression only to find that my medication had turned me into a walking mosquito bite. I cried. Hard.
Day 24: I barely slept. Around 3 a.m. I sent my doctor a message with my hypothesis about the hives along with some pictures of my skin. Her message came through around 11 a.m. and was not helpful at all. She said hives are common, but not this late into taking the medication. She suggested that I rule everything else out before I stop taking the drug.
The video call saved her that day because if we’d been in person, hands would have been thrown. I couldn’t sleep, I could barely work, and her solution was to basically do nothing. I sent a strongly worded message back, explaining to her everything that had happened before the itching began — specifically missing my meds and having a glass of rosé. I hoped that would jog something in her mind.
I skipped them anyway. I didn’t trust them anymore.
I could barely think straight throughout the day because of the itching, so later on I went to urgent care. They took one look at my skin and gave me a steroid shot. After a few hours, the swelling and itching started to subside, and for the first time in a few days, I slept.
Day 25: The doctor finally got back to me. She “realised” we’d upped my dosage and told me to immediately cut back to one pill (150mg). It wasn’t necessarily the drug, the missed day of meds, or the alcohol, but the combination of all three probably had an adverse effect.
It was my first day without itching in days, so I felt very much against taking another pill, but my friend warned me about the negative effects of stopping medication (i.e. withdrawals).
I took the pill, but I was not happy about it.
Day 30: I had my one-month check-in with my doctor. At this point, I’d stopped blaming her for my hives, so we could have a civil conversation. The itching had finally gone away and I was back to one pill a day. I felt good. Really good.
I used to describe depression as feeling like my spirit and body got divorced, but my spirit moved out and I was just stuck with this body. As I reflected on myself on this day, it felt like my spirit was ringing the doorbell.
I still had sad moments and negative thought cycles, but I felt more aware of them. Just like intuitively knowing the bursts of energy were coming and how to channel them, I started observing the sadness instead of letting it become me. Overall, I felt more present than I had in almost two years.
My doctor smiled as I reflected on the month. In our first session, I was a ball of tears. Now. I was sharing my stories with laughter and animation instead of furrowed brows and tears. She was happy for me. I imagined it must feel pretty rewarding to witness the change you were able to facilitate in someone’s life (the mood, not the hives). I felt happy for her, too.
As my 30 days came to an end, all I could focus on was how much I wished my parents would have had the security to prioritise their mental health. They came from a generation where you bottle everything up, “quit crying” and “toughen up”. They raised three little Black girls to be strong, not vulnerable. I feel like I’m unlearning all that shit right now—for myself, my future kids and hopefully for you too.
Depression is a bitch, but you don’t have to deal with it alone. I’m on the journey with you. And — with the help of our good sis AD — for the first time in a long time, I’m finally looking forward.
If you are thinking about suicide, please contact Samaritans on 116 123. All calls are free and will be answered in confidence.