Tuesday, 8 December 2015
Medication and Me | Recovery and Anti-Depressants
I hate admitting to people that, almost 5 years on, I continue to take anti-depressants daily.
It’s this whole notion of recovery. The ‘No more down days, No more pills’ recovery. Rarely in articles about mental illness is medication mentioned. I often feel that medication remains one of the most stigmatised areas of mental health.
More often than not this is to do with misunderstandings around the anti-depressant industry (see That Age-Old Anti-Depressant Argument).
But there’s also a holistic approach favoured by the media. You see it all the time that you probably don’t even notice how one sided it is. Running for sanity. Eat your mind better. Cure mental illness with mindfulness. How Yoga changed my life.
Recovery is portrayed as ditching the medication in favour of lifestyle changes. Very few who speak out publicly will do so while on medication. And recovery is often defined as the point in which you ditch the pills.
But that’s not my story.
I’m sick of hearing about recovery from an anti-medication perspective. Why can’t they go hand-in-hand? They have for me.
Since April 2011 I’ve been taking anti-depressants. I was first prescribed them on a visit to a college GP. The visit lasted half an hour and included a second opinion. I was sent for an immediate emergency counselling session and a psychiatrist’s appointment the following week. A few months later, my dosage was upped and I was taking two types of medication.
A couple of months later, it was decreased slightly. It hasn’t changed since.
My experience of medication has been largely positive.
They provide a balance for me. I’m placed back on the equilibrium. Rather than being down constantly, I am in a neutral state and react to sad things by feeling down, and react to positive things by feeling happy. Before my tablets I could have been told I had won the Lotto or my grandparent had died and my feelings would have been the same. I would have remained miserable.
Yes, sometimes my sadness is still hard to shake. But I don’t get lost in the thoughts and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness since I’ve been taking my tablets. They clear the fog; it’s up to me then to navigate the way ahead.
And when on that equilibrium, steps towards recovery can finally be made.
However, there are also some side-effects that I’ve had to live with over the years;
• My tablets make me drowsy roughly an hour and a half after taking them. I can, and have, slept through the loudest fire alarm imaginable on these tablets. Not the handiest side effect if there is an impending fire. But considering I had such difficulty falling asleep beforehand; awoke throughout the night and was plagued by vicious nightmares that felt as real as the rain that fell on my head this morning, it’s a small price to pay.
• They make me hungry (Fun fact: one of the medications I am on is also used in cats to stimulate their appetite). Since I started taking them I’ve actually been able to put on weight, for the first time in my life.
• My pupils are quite largely dilated. Many people don’t notice unless I point it out, but for the eagle-eyed it must be rather obvious I’m taking something!
• Dry mouth is listed as one of the most common side-effects of anti-depressant medication. I’ve had it for so long that I often forget whether it was a result of my medication or if it’s always been there. I’m going with the former though.
But it hasn’t always been plain sailing. I wanted a quick-fix for my depression after I was first diagnosed. But quick-fixes, be it lifestyle changes or medication, aren’t the reality when treating any illness.
Without an immediate effect I decided to quit my medication just six months after I’d started. I felt that they weren’t making a difference. I didn’t feel suicidal anymore, but I put that victory down as a personal one rather than a pharmaceutical one.
I didn’t consult with my psychiatrist or the GP who had prescribed my tablets. Instead I was encouraged by a misguided doctor to wean myself off of them. I just stopped taking them one day and waited to see what would happen. And it was hell.
I fell right back to the darkness I’d thought was behind me. The suicidal ideation returned, and my self-harming took on a more aggressive streak.
I never want to go back to that place again. And so ceasing my medication has never come up between me and my (new) GP despite the passage of time.
For me, recovery is a balance of positive life changes and medication. Everything from exercise to CBT to mindfulness has been tried, practiced and, more often than not, later abandoned. And in five years I have come a very very long way. But none of it would have been possible without being restored to the neutral state that medication has allowed.
Recovery isn’t consigned to those who are medication free. Often, they go hand in hand. For me, medication is the foundation, allowing me to build my recovery upon it.
Please don’t judge those on medication, those on medication for a long time, or those will always be on medication. It is nothing to be ashamed about.