DISCLAIMER: I am not a qualified mental health professional. This article outlines my experience with mental illness and my own experience on antidepressants. If you are seeking advice on your specific situation, please seek help from a medical professional.
Making the decision to go onto antidepressants was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Sitting in the doctor’s office and realising my only option was antidepressants broke my heart. I was 15 at the time, going on a journey none of my peers were on. I couldn’t understand why my brain didn’t function like theirs.
I had always been an anxious child but high school was unbearable and my mental health suffered leaving me with no option other than medication my confidence plummeted to a new low.
Now three (almost four) years on, I’m still on antidepressants but my attitude towards them has changed drastically. I’ve made peace with the fact that I need antidepressants.
The first month is incredibly difficult
When I first went on antidepressants my doctor warned me that there wouldn’t be an instant transformation and to prepare for things to get worse before they get better. However, nothing could’ve prepared me for that first month. My mood was all over the place, one minute I’d be incredibly happy and the next I’d be curled up on the floor sobbing. I also found that my memory was affected as well, daily tasks were difficult and I had to make lists so I wouldn’t forget what I needed to do.
However, this response is completely natural and normal. Antidepressants contain serotonin, and your brain and body need time to adjust to the new (usually higher) level of serotonin. The first month is that adjustment period, which is why there are days where everything feels 10x worse and you question why you even want to be on antidepressants.
If it’s possible and you feel comfortable to, let someone know that you are going on antidepressants (or even just new medicine). In that first month support and understanding from others is must.
Unfortunately the one thing antidepressants aren’t is a magic happy pill, but they do help and after that first month it gets easier.
The stigma surrounding antidepressants is difficult to deal with
For the longest time I felt like my antidepressants were a shameful secret that must be concealed for as long as possible. I believed that people would find out that I’m on them and instantly judge me as “unstable” or someone you shouldn’t associate with. Looking back now it seems ridiculous that I felt like that. If I was on heart medication would I have felt the same? Probably not.
The summer I finished high school I took part in NCS (National Citizen Service), this involved a two week residential. I was in a room with four other girls who did see me take my medication. My worst fear had come true and the world didn’t fall apart. They treated me with respect and kindness. It was a five minute conversation and afterwards it was like a weight had been lifted.
Keep looking for other ways to cope with your mental health
I first went on antidepressants because the waitlist for counselling was so long, I still kept my place on that waitlist and a few months after going on antidepressants I also started going to therapy. Although depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain (that’s what the antidepressants treat) I am a firm believer in talking about and working through your problems. That’s what counselling did for me.
Starting counselling is a completely different experience to starting on antidepressants. I am incredibly lucky and grateful that I got to do both. Unfortunately going on antidepressants doesn’t also get rid of all your triggers, combining counselling and antidepressants is a great way of dealing with both the scientific and emotional side of depression.
I had no choice but to wait until I’d been on antidepressants for a few months before going to counselling, however, I believe that was the right thing to do. As mentioned above the first month on antidepressants is not fun to say the least! By waiting I went into counselling with a clear mind and an agenda of what I needed to deal with.
There isn’t a time limit for how long you’ll need antidepressants
My intention when I first went on antidepressants was that they were not a long term thing. I’d be on them for a year in the worst case scenario. I can’t remember what the thought process behind that was but every time I had a “good” day I believed I was a step closer to coming off the medication.
Now three almost four years on and I’m still taking my antidepressants and I’m ok with that. I have an inhaler which I have to use everyday and I wouldn’t dream of coming off that; my antidepressants are no different. Every morning when I take my tablet I know I’m giving my body what it needs – to take that away would be a punishment.
It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that you might need antidepressants for a long time, maybe even the rest of your life. Once you do, however, it gets better and easier.
It will get better
In the midst of my slowest moment there was a voice in my head telling me repeatedly that life would always be like this. That is not true. Depression is incredibly difficult to deal with and often feels like a losing battle. By acknowledging and then accepting that you need help you have taken the first step to improve your mental health and that’s something to celebrate.
My journey with antidepressants isn’t an easy one, I still have bad days, days where I don’t feel like I’m getting better. Unfortunately that’s the nature of depression but when I think to the person I was before antidepressants and she doesn’t feel like me at all.
No-one has the same experience with mental illness and the same goes for antidepressants but it does get easier. If we keep having conversations about mental health problems and the solutions to those it will become easier to take that medication or go to that counselling session.
Words by Orla McAndrew
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