I never thought I’d be someone who takes antidepressants.
I never imagined myself having alarms on my phone to take pills, chummily chatting with other depressives about side effects, and counting out little foil packs to take on holiday.
A big part of that was my fear around antidepressants – the worry that they’d change who I was, flatten out all my emotions, or wreck my sex drive.Another part of me thought that taking meds was the ‘lesser’ option, a way of dealing with mental illness that wasn’t as good as proper therapy.
But reaching a low point (increasing suicidal thoughts, spending weekends sobbing in bed, having panic attacks in the work toilets, missing therapy sessions as I was unable to drive, becoming more and more socially isolated, my PTSD was just getting worse, you know the drill) made me throw all of the worries and medication-based stigma out of the window. My Psychiatrist who had been trying to get me onto antidepressants for two years was thrilled at the session when I finally agreed to go on them.
I wasn’t bothered about what it meant to be taking pills anymore. I would do anything to feel better.
The side-effects were still a little scary. So was the lack of information – I knew antidepressants were meant to help, but I didn’t really have any idea how they made you feel.
Which is why, now, six months in, I feel like it’s worth shouting about how I’m doing. You know, just to add another story to the mix besides ‘my friend’s mum took medication and it RUINED HER LIFE’.
So, here’s how it’s going.
My cheeks do not ache from constant beaming. I do not skip to work. I have not replaced fears of boiler explosions and home break-ins with thoughts of ‘add a little confetti to every day!’ and ‘dream it, do it!’ (I found both of those by googling ‘inspirational Instagram’, full disclosure).
Effexor is not a magical happy pill that gets rid of all your struggles and transforms you into a walking cloud of glitter and joy.
For me, it also hasn’t been an evil mix of chemicals that flattened out my mood and generally ruined my state of being.
Maybe it’s awful for some people – but I don’t think that’s reason enough to bash antidepressants entirely. There are so many different types of medication to take your pick from, and if one type isn’t working, you should feel comfortable asking for another type before giving up on meds. There’s bound to be one that can help.
In my experience, Effexor hasn’t given me a dramatic transformation. The changes are subtle.
The best way to describe the feeling is a lift – a slight adjustment to my base level of low moods and obsessive thoughts. The low moods still happen, just not as often. When they do, they’re slightly easier to get out of.
The anxiety still comes, but I’m more able to stop the thoughts before they spiral into obsession. Basically, antidepressants give me just enough of a boost that I can see my mental illness for what it is. I can see it from a distance, work out what’s true and real and what’s my brain being nasty, and do what I need to do to keep going. That’s not to say everything’s peachy, to be clear.
I’m six months into taking antidepressants. The week before last I had to leave a party because I’d had four panic attacks in the bathroom. This week I haven’t been sleeping. I’ve had nights when I’ve told myself I was worthless.
The recent terror attacks and pile-ups of terrible news sent me to a bad place, on constant edge and feeling close to panic whenever I heard a siren or saw another breaking news alert. The news recently coming out of London has really upset me as I think it has a lot of people.
But I suspect that without antidepressants, that low period would have been much, much worse.
When the lift from antidepressants is subtle, the side-effects have calmed down, and you’re not still experiencing the high of the initial decision to look after your mental health, it’s easy to feel like medication isn’t doing anything.
It’s only when you stop that you experience crashing lows and realise that, while the effects of medication may not seem dramatic, they give you the kind of stability, and that tiny lift, that can be life-saving.
Antidepressants haven’t flattened me out. I’m still funny (I think), I still get passionate about some things and infuriated by others but they have made things smoother. They’ve levelled things out a bit. The dips are there, but they’re not as deep.
Side-effects-wise, they happened, they still happen, but they’re not bad enough for me to justify changing medication or giving it up. When I started taking meds, I experienced intense shakes every morning, struggling to walk downstairs or wash my face. Those have completely disappeared, thankfully. The pills still slightly wreck my sleeping pattern and leave me with dodgy dreams, but that’s something I reckon I can fix.
I’ve put on weight, but it’s tricky to know if that’s general ‘I’m depressed and thus keep eating t or ‘these pills are making me chubby’ weight.I am also on other anti-psychotic medication and it’s renowned for weight gain so it could be that too. I’ll need to start eating healthily and working out to see how I feel.
I haven’t experienced any of the other scary side-effects listed on the pamphlet or yelled about in mental health forums.
I haven’t gone blind or other nasty side effects, my suicidal thoughts have not gone away though. They are as intense as ever but that is as a result of PTSD and Dissociative Identity Disorder,
On a serious note: If you do experience any side-effects like these, though, I genuinely, strongly urge you to bring it up with your GP. You don’t have to put up with sh*t just to feel a little better mentally but for me, antidepressants have put me on the track to being able to look after myself.
They don’t work alone. They don’t make things perfect, and I still need to learn how to deal with the low points, panic attacks, and obsessive thoughts that come up – that’s what therapy is for.
But I am so, so glad that I got over my fears, ignored the pill-bashing in the Facebook comments, and started taking antidepressants – because without them, I wouldn’t be able to keep trying. I wouldn’t care enough about myself, or have the emotional energy, to do the things that’ll make me get better – the therapy, the emotional work, getting enough sleep, eating properly.
Antidepressants haven’t fixed everything, but they’ve lifted me up just enough so that I can do all the other things that’ll help. They haven’t cured by my PTSD but they have helped enormously with one of the side effects allowing me to engage so much more actively in therapy. I have not missed any sessions since the antidepressants have taken affect. To me that’s awesome and a huge measure of success.