‘Taking antidepressants doesn’t make me weak’
‘It was the best decision I could have made’
I haven’t had the best mental health history. It’s only since October that I’ve been getting help for this.
I always had an inkling that the way I was feeling wasn’t quite right: that most people didn’t spend a lot of time panicking about the idea of family members dying, or spending days in bed without the energy to do anything but lie there, feeling useless about being unable to face the world.
Seriously: try focusing on an essay when your mind prefers to worry about how you’re definitely going to fail your degree; that embarrassing thing you did when you were 12; the chance that you might step out in front of an oncoming car even though you absolutely don’t want to do so; the fact that you might need the toilet in the next 30 minutes; or that your phone charger has been making a weird noise and that probably means it is going to explode and burn the house down. It is exhausting.
Anxiety is like a little, overzealous risk assessor who sits on your shoulder whispering into your ear about every potential thing that could conceivably go wrong, whilst slowly consuming all of your energy.
It got to the point that I was questioning my own thoughts and experiences. I put off getting help for years because I had convinced myself that my mental health problems were something I was making up. I repeatedly told myself that I wasn’t “really” ill because my mental health wasn’t bad enough, despite the fact that I was struggling to cope with everyday life.
But last October, it just got too much – and I knew I wouldn’t make it to the end of final year if I didn’t do something. That doctor’s appointment was probably one of the scariest moments of my life. But I was lucky: the doctor I saw was so understanding and made my experiences feel valid. A couple of weeks later we decided I would try antidepressants.
These are only my personal experiences with Sertraline – but personally, I owe that medicine everything.
I was prepared for the worst. I had done my research: due to my anxiety, I had probably done a little too much research. I knew all the potential side effects: the fact that they might increase feelings of wanting to self-harm, that they might make me sick, or somewhat ironically, that they might make me more anxious.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, I was really ill for about a week after I first went on them. I couldn’t keep down food for days. My doctor was genuinely surprised by how bad my side effects were, but I pushed through and I’ve now been on them for eight months. And however bad the side effects were, the worst part was the reactions I got from other people about being on antidepressants.
I was told that they would make me numb, or that any happiness I felt whilst taking them would be fake.
I was told that I was weak, that I should just be strong and not worry. I was wold that I was just attention-seeking.
This won’t be true for everybody, but for me, starting antidepressants was the best decision I could have made for myself at that time. But that was constantly belittled and undermined by others.
In fact, Sertraline doesn’t make me numb: anxiety and depression do. I would spend hours lying in bed feeling nothing and not moving. I would have sharp spikes of sadness and fear. Every emotion I could feel was multiplied by 100. Now, I still feel the spectrum of emotions, but I can appreciate them. I can feel happy and not think about the fact that I have an essay due in five weeks and I might have left my hair straighteners on. Every laugh isn’t undercut with anxiety; I don’t have to question everything I feel.
If anything antidepressants have given me my emotions back. I can just do so much more. It sounds like a cliché, but the best way to express it is that moment that Dorothy steps out in Oz, in glorious technicolour. I feel like myself – and it has been years since I could last say that.
It’s not to say that I don’t still have bad days. And my anxiety hasn’t gone altogether. But what antidepressants have done is get me to a point where I can actually help myself. When I was struggling to get by day-to-day, I couldn’t focus on learning how to deal with anxiety and trying to work out why I felt that way. When you are struggling to stay afloat, you don’t have the energy to swim to shore.
Asking for help was the opposite of weak: for me, choosing antidepressants was the strongest thing I could have done. I spent years telling myself that I was being dramatic and that it was all in my head. It took a lot to convince myself that I was worth saving.
Again, antidepressants aren’t going to be the best option for everyone, but asking for help is. Even if you just have a gut feeling that things probably aren’t how they should be, tell a friend or a doctor. Eventually, it will be worth it.
Because of Sertraline, I am the best version of myself – I am not fake, or numb, or weak.