I’ve been taking antidepressants for a year
This week is a sobering anniversary for me: as of March 27, two days ago, I have been back on antidepressants for one whole year. That’s a new personal best/worst.
You may not know what an antidepressant actually is or what it does, but you can Google that. Here’s what it feels like to take them. Imagine some of the things that put you in a bad place: illness, lack of sleep, a fight with a loved one, a bit of bad news – whatever makes for a shit day. It makes you feel off kilter, like you’re not yourself, so you probably do a few things to correct it. You take a Lemsip, get an early night, talk it out with someone, or just give yourself time to chill out. If you’re depressed, your bad day happens all by itself, and your medication is what helps put you back on an even keel.
You still have peaks, troughs, good days, bad days, and really bad days. You feel and think all the same things. There’s no roadblock before your depressive thoughts, no feeling of artificial calm. You don’t feel drunk or drugged or drowsy. You feel the same, except that you level out at an emotional altitude that feels more comfortable. You feel more like yourself.
Antidepressants are not a cure. They’re not numbing, nor do they give you a high, and they absolutely, categorically, do not change you.
And I’ve been taking them now for a year, which comes with some complicated feelings, and has got me thinking about everything it means and doesn’t mean.
It doesn’t mean I’m the most unwell I’ve ever been.
The first time I relented to a prescription for antidepressants, I had been severely depressed for nearly two years, and to medicate myself felt like a defeat. It wasn’t until that medication helped me make some drastic changes that I realised I was outrageously, dangerously wrong. Doing something to help yourself is never a defeat. It’s empowering, and simply knowing you made a good decision is sometimes enough to start making a difference. The only reason I’m now at twelve months and counting is because I was vigilant this time around. I recognised the signs early on and I acted on them, and that makes me want to embrace this anniversary. For one whole year, I’ve been taking care of myself.
It doesn’t mean I’ve been sad for a year.
Within the last year, I have been happy, and I have felt like myself, but never for long enough to consider phasing out the antidepressants. I can’t tell you how tempting it is sometimes, when the sun is out or I’m feeling great about myself, to pronounce myself well and set about putting this episode behind me. I’m so ready for that day, but then I take a turn and I’m reminded what the consequence might be if I jump the gun. It’s a major reason I can’t let this one-year thing scare me – there’s no reason to rush.
It doesn’t mean I’ll never come off them.
For a long time, I thought my tousle with depression was in my past; a blip on what was otherwise sure to be a happy and healthy life. Even when I relapsed in my final year of university, when I was writing my dissertation and putting myself under intense pressure, I told myself anyone would be depressed under the circumstances – this one doesn’t count. Only recently have I come to realise that it may be a part of who I am, always.
I’d love to tell you I’m okay with this; that I’m learning to accept it. But I can only hope that will someday be true. As it stands, I still get really fucking angry about it sometimes. I can’t consolidate the person I think I am and the woman with depression, and I don’t want to. I guess that’s the way with all chronic illness, mental or physical. There’s a lot more to be said along this vein, so look out for a future post on the subject.
One thing I do know is that I can, and will, be depression-free and off the meds, even if another episode is just one faulty step ahead.
It does mean something’s got to give.
My circumstances are difficult right now. Excessive amounts of uncertainty have always been a big factor in my low periods, and right now I don’t know what next month is going to look like, let alone the rest of 2016. It feels like I’m in a transitional period with no forward momentum – I’m stuck in gridlock, and my depression is just loving it. It’s a difficult cycle to break, but as long as I can stay afloat, protect my house of cards, and stay open to change, then change will come. It’s a hopefulness I never imagined I could have my first time round the track, and one I know I couldn’t maintain right now without medication. So I’m not going to stress over my first full year on antidepressants. I’m going to let this anniversary pass, and try to be okay with it.
And readers! If you think you could benefit from medication, please don’t be afraid. There’s a lot of stigma around antidepressants that has no business being there. I can’t tell you if you’re a good candidate, only a doctor can, but if you have any questions, visit the contact me page and I will try and answer them.