For what it’s worth, after 6 weeks after going off them, I’ve just gone back on anti-depressants.
I’ve read so much about people being encouraged to share their struggles with mental illness, and I’ve always looked at those stories and thought ‘how brave. Good on you.’
It’s important for people to share their experiences, and in reading about others challenges — I have been helped by not feeling so alone in mine.
But here’s the thing, not stepping up and sharing my own experience was (I suspect) due in part to the fact that whilst I’m on the medication, I don’t feel the ‘struggle’ that people refer to. I’m apart from it.
Recently, I decided to go it alone. Unaided. After seven years of being on a very low dose of sertraline (think Zoloft), I felt like I could go it alone.
This is not the first and only time I’ve been on antidepressants. The first time was after the birth of Luca. He was about four months old, and I wasn’t coping. The joy had been sucked out of my world. There was certainly no joy in parenting and whilst I knew there should be, as much as I tried to, I could no more connect with that joy than fly to the moon.
I struggled on, believing it was just my own inadequacy that was holding me back from embracing my new life as a mother, until one day when a friend was visiting I confided in her that I was afraid of leaving Luca alone with his father. She said to me.
‘That’s not normal Nath’
I knew when she said it, that she was speaking the truth, and I was not looking at the world the right way.
I went to my GP the next day, and got the ball rolling. Psychologist appointment, tick, mental health plan, tick, prescription for antidepressants, tick.
Within five days of starting on medication, the fog lifted. I liken the sensation to waking up and looking at the same life, but from a different perspective. Like being on one side of a lake — looking at the same forest, the same trees, the same sky, but from the different vantage point, somehow it all looks….better, softer, less intimidating, less daunting. I remained on them for twelve months, at which point I weaned off slowly (over two months).
I went back on them for twelve months when my marriage broke down the first time — again weaning off slowly over a couple of months once I felt I had stabilized. My signs (that I read for me) were that I started to want to feel things deeply — like when I heard a sad story and wanted to cry, but couldn’t — I didn’t want to feel that. I wanted to connect deeply and fully with that emotion, and I felt strong enough to do so.
Having a conversation with a mental health professional buddy of mine recently, she revealed it’s suspected that as few as 30% of people who take antidepressants actually chemically benefit from being on them. Certainly there is a mass of information available that suggests that the general public is being duped by the pharma industry, and that by and large it’s a scam at worst, ineffectual in most cases at best.
I’m not here to debate the pharmaceutical industry/health care case one way or the other.
I just want to wade in (well paddle at the edges really), and share my own humble, insignificant experience of depression, in the hope that it may offer even one person some comfort or clarity.
Round three for me and sertraline came when my marriage started it’s final countdown in 2010. I had a duty of care to my son and to myself to stay as mentally and emotionally robust as humanly possible in the face of a huge life changing upheaval, and I knew the symptoms well.
Functioning in public, or when people were around was possible, but as soon as the last person left the room or the lights went out, it felt like a black screen was being pulled down right in front of my eyes — just like when a computer starts to really die. I might as well have been a hundred metres deep in a cave for all the light that that was available. You see that sign and you know there’s no coming back from it. It’s over. So back to SSRI’s I went.
A couple of years into my separation, along came menopause, just to spice things up a bit. I went back to my GP, and asked all the questions about whether or not I should go off Sertraline, now that I was starting on HRT.
“How do I know which symptoms are real and which ones are hormonal?”
“Will I be double dipping?”
“Will HRT cancel out the SSRI’s or vice versa?”
Her sage response:
“I’ll ask you two questions”
“Can you cry, and can you cum?”
“Yes to both” was the response.
To which she said
“Honey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”
And so, on SSRI’s I have remained — on the lowest therapeutic dose (25 mg per day).
About six weeks ago, after a lot of travel for work had seen a bit of upheaval in my morning rituals, I noticed I’d actually been not taking my SSRI’s more regularly than taking them. I wondered, is it a sign? Is it time?
Although I had a spare box in the cupboard, I decided that I wasn’t going to break the seal, I was going to break the cycle and go off them.
I did my research. All the available information about going off SSRI’s I feel like I’ve read. Everything from headaches and nausea right through to episodic rage and skin rashes — none of which I’ve experienced.
I felt strong. I felt like I’d beaten it. I believed that I should be strong enough now to go it alone. Any turning back now would be abject failure on my part.
For a couple of weeks, nothing. Business as usual. Happy days. Success!
The first signs and symptoms that appeared for me were small, almost ‘normal’? Cranky at the end of a long day. Lack of patience with (what I perceived to be) unreasonable requests, lack of patience generally, a bit more teary than I usually am (crying every time I got off the phone from my Mum.)
“Come on Nathy, surely you didn’t expect to get off completely scott free “(who the hell is Scott Free by the way?)
“Suck it up sister, take that teaspoon of cement and harden the f*%k up!”
“You’ve got this”
…Hmmm, have I?
Enter flu like symptoms, insomnia, hyperarousal (not is a sexy kind of way, more like irritability, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, anger for the sake of anger — ie: directed at loved ones for no apparent reason), the list goes on. Still I thought ‘push through Nathy, you just need to tough this out’
Fast forward to present day. I’m here in Ubud, Bali for a week attending the Ubud Writers Festival. My first writers festival, a big deal for me. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m writing my first book, so an exciting event to be a part of. I’m here on my own, having some much needed down time from a demanding job, and some me time. I have a close girlfriend who is here with her family, so I have company when I choose. What a dream huh?
Welcome to my holiday. Which I have aptly renamed my ‘Helliday’.
Surrounded by all this beauty, culture, inspiration, nature, spectacular views and happy people — I am bereft. The muse has left me. I’m old, decrepit, useless, a shit writer, angry, sad, surrounded by fucking annoying tourists in an overcrowded island destination, not designed for the scale of human traffic that has become the scourge of Bali. This is my current lens. And the black curtain is back.
Happy Hellidays huh?
I had a choice to make. After an hour long tearful, sobbing conversation (who knew so much snot could be generated when one doesn’t actually have a cold!!) with my beautiful partner, during which he paused everything to be present for me, I decided to crack the fresh blister pack and get ‘back on the meds’.
Part of me feels weak. Like I’ve given up. Didn’t have the bottle to tough it out.
But the (ironically) stronger part of me, the more compassionate part of me is reminding myself to ‘work smarter, not harder’. A single parent, in her 50’s, working in a full time (and full on) corporate role, parent of a teenager, nursing a bad knee and writing her first book. What is the fight I’m fighting here? What are the truly important things in life, for which I need to be truly present?
It’s the stuff above. So with a little self love (and the love of others), I choose to view the path I’m taking a little differently. I’m viewing it like this: that I’m enabling myself the space and freedom to be able to focus on the things that matter, and put the struggle with myself on the back burner for now. I’ll live to fight that fight another day.
My decision this morning also enabled me to write this piece, give it a bit of spit and polish, and publish it. That alone tells me it was the right choice.
How will you work smarter not harder?