They may take a while to start working and they aren’t a miracle cure, but you should never feel like a failure for taking them
This week (May 16-22) is Mental Health Awareness Week, with “relationships” as the theme. We’ll be running features all week about the mental health of those close to you, the mental health of the artists that inspire you and the different ways that communities and individuals deal with the issue. Slowly but surely, progress is being made in the ways in which we discuss a problem that affects each and every one of us.
I didn’t admit I was depressed until it had almost killed me. I refused to believe that I needed help. I’d settled into my denial about it like a chubby little pug settles into a beanbag on a warm afternoon. I made a few half-hearted attempts to get help. I’d go to doctors appointments with the intention of saying something, but I’d panic and pretend I was just there for free condoms. “I’m just really horny” was easier to say to a professional than “I’m depressed and I need some help”.
It took a lot of time, a lot of coaxing, and a lot of Bruce Willis movies to get me to recognise the reality of the situation: I was out of my depth and without help I probably wouldn’t last much longer. So I got help. I saw a doctor who referred me to a counsellor, who got me in touch with another doctor who explained my treatment options. It was a long road. I tried Mindfulness, but I couldn’t grasp it. Talking therapies and DBT didn’t work. I convinced myself I was unfixable. I continued to dig myself down into the depression. Antidepressants were a last ditch effort. And they saved my life.
Prozac made it so I could breathe again, and once I could breathe I could think again. And DBT started to seem worthwhile. Mindfulness made more sense, I had more patience for it. I put myself together again like a Lego Millennium Falcon. It was hard and it was painful. But I made it. I’m still here. I’m still mostly in one piece. And you’re here too. Because you’re reading this with your eyeballs. So anyway here’s everything I know about antidepressants:
(DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A SCIENTICIAN NOR AM I A LADY DOCTOR I AM JUST BETH WHO HAS AN INTERNET CONNECTION AND TOOK SOME MEDICINE ONE TIME)
THEY NEED A LITTLE TIME
They don’t start working the minute you swallow them. It’s not like in cartoons. You have to wait. It’s like watching Emmerdale; it could take months for anything significant to happen. Your doctor will warn you that the first few weeks can be a little rocky. You might not sleep much, you might sleep more. You might experience heightened anxiety, a loss of appetite, a sense of unease. I couldn’t stop yawning for the first couple of weeks after going on Citalopram. This period of adjustment is very normal, and often necessary. Keep your loved ones in the loop about this, because you might need to lean on them whilst things level out.
COMING OFF THEM ABRUPTLY IS USUALLY A BAD IDEA
Going cold turkey on antidepressants can make your brain into a spaghetti soup for a whole minute. And then a lot more minutes after that. I stopped taking citalopram completely a few months after I started because I was convinced I didn’t need it anymore. The withdrawal crept up on me slowly. First came the brain zaps, which are exactly as unpleasant as they sound. Then a tsunami of depression and anxiety. It was like the worst hangover in the world except it couldn’t be cured with a Lucozade and a wank.
“If a medication doesn’t work then fire it. Bring in a new medication with a better business plan and shinier shoes”
IT’S NORMAL TO TRY A FEW
I’ve tried four. One did nothing, one made me intensely suicidal. One was okay for a while then stopped working completely. One has been helping keep me level for the last couple of years. You don’t have to stay taking anything that isn’t working how you want it to work. You’re the Alan Sugar of your own brain. If a medication doesn’t work then fire it. Bring in a new medication with a better business plan and shinier shoes. It’s all good.
DON’T FEEL LIKE A FAILURE FOR NEEDING THEM
Doing something about your mental illness is not failure. You’re not failing by trying to get better. You’re a fucking champion even if you do have soup stains on your t-shirt and you still wake up crying most days. Finding an antidepressant that actually works for you is a huge victory, and you’re allowed to feel happy about it. Lots of people I spoke to had no real idea of when they’d stop taking their antidepressant of choice, or whether they ever would. All they knew was that they’d found something that worked and they were doing better. Wizard.
DOCTORS ARE SOMETIMES WANKERS ABOUT THEM
I wish this one wasn’t true. I wish all doctors were glossy golden retrievers in lab coats who would listen and nod and trust us to know our own minds. But doctors aren’t golden retrievers. They’re human people with human faces and human legs. They wear shoes and they don’t always look happy to see you. And sometimes they’re really really shitty about mental illness. I once had a local GP roll his eyes at my mention of depression. Another put his hand on my knee and asked if maybe I wasn’t depressed, maybe I just wanted a boyfriend. You’ll know it when you see one. They’ll look at you and ask if you’re “maybe just a little bit blue”. Don’t fall for it. You’re not just blue. You’re struggling with depression and it’s serious enough that you’re here to ask for help. Don’t let them convince you that you’ll be fine with a hot Ribena and a good night’s sleep.
“Do your research, listen to people who’ve tried them and don’t rush into anything”
THEY AREN’T A MIRACLE CURE, THEY’RE A HELPING HAND
Antidepressants aren’t going to write job applications for you, they aren’t going to make you a delicious chicken broth, they aren’t going to undo all the damage that’s ever been done to you. They’re not going to make you all better. What they can do, if you’re lucky, is help lift the weight of depression long enough for you to start doing those things for yourself. There’s no guarantee they’ll do anything, but there’s a chance.
YOUR FEARS ARE LEGITIMATE
18-year-old me was terrified of antidepressants in the same way that six-year-old me was terrified of Swedish pop group ABBA. What is the truth? What are they hiding? Why are they looking at me like that? What if they suck out my soul? Are they brothers and sisters? Why are they kissing?
All I’d ever heard about antidepressants was that they’d turn me into a zombie and kill my creativity. Turns out this can happen. One Twitter user told me that the side effects of taking Prozac “weren’t that much better than depression symptoms”. Another started taking SSRI’s for general anxiety and hated it; “it just made me feel zoned out all the time and I felt like I couldn’t focus…when something happened that would normally make me sad, I just felt no emotion.”
So do your research, listen to people who’ve tried them and don’t rush into anything. And if you do decide that you want to try antidepressants please remember that there’s no more shame in it than if you want to cure yourself with meditation, therapy or Bruce Willis movies