The truth is I didn’t want to take antidepressants. No. Way. I’ll confess, before this experience I think I may have even been part of the mental health stigma. It’s really hard to admit that but it’s true, and I promised myself to always tell the truth in this space.
Much as I felt sorry for people suffering from depression I had absolutely no understanding of it and not much interest in getting any. “She’s taking some of those antidepressants” might have been whispered with an uncomfortable smile and wary eyes. Although I would display empathy outwardly, there was shame attached to the image of those pills in my mind, shame and a small helping of fear – “Wow, poor X…huh. I really hope I never need those.” I guess what I’m saying is, this is one example of where PND made me a better person.
They say you should never judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes but I fear I did. If I reach into the memory of Old Me I can see her murmuring “Thing is, I feel bad for her, but maybe if she got another job and had something to focus on each day she wouldn’t feel so depressed in the first place.” If I could go back and visit Old Me I’d shake her.
In June 2013 Old Me was a distant memory and New Me needed help. Desperately. I could see no light, no future, I could feel no joy and there wasn’t much I wouldn’t have done to get some relief. And yet still I hesitated. Partly because I judged myself, I wasn’t really someone who needed ‘happy pills,’ was I? But mostly I paused because of fear. What will these tablets do to my brain? What if I become psychotic? What if I become more suicidal? What if I experience more anxiety? (How can there be more than this?) What if I can no longer feel anything, what if I’m numb? What if I’m no longer me? I already barely recognised myself so this last one was particularly terrifying.
I held that prescription in my hand for several days, long days that felt like months. Under my husband’s encouragement, I went to the pharmacy and cashed it in. That packet then sat on my kitchen worktop for another 48 hours before I gave in. Ultimately, I felt I didn’t really have another option. I was waiting for a therapy appointment, and even with therapy no one could promise I would feel better any time soon and I needed to feel better. I needed hope. I needed something to cling on to and that box of tablets was it.
So I took them. And I waited. With a racing heart, I scanned for side effects with alarming frequency. When no side effects came I kept taking them. I waited for that rush of joy, that shining beacon of happiness coming over the dark hillside in front of me, I waited to feel completely and instantly healed, and that didn’t happen either.
What did happen is that the sheer process of taking those pills, and waiting the required two weeks for them to take effect, kept me going. It gave me a focus and it gave me hope.
What did happen is moments of relief snuck in. And, my God, they were beautiful. A long, cold drink in the desert. What did happen is I slept, and ate, and put a load of washing on and took care of my son, I cooked dinner and met up with friends and coped.
I gained perspective. My husband asked me if the tablets worked, if I felt any different and I said “They aren’t ‘happy pills’, they’re perspective pills. I can see this hell for what it is now, an illness, something I can recover from.” I had a better handle on it. I felt strong enough to go to therapy and work this through. I knew I wasn’t ‘crazy’ now, I knew I was unwell. I could see I wasn’t the only woman in the world who felt this way. I could believe this wasn’t forever. I’d put the situation into perspective.
I was doing everything I could to recover at that point – you name it, I tried it. Therapy, self care, supplements, exercise, family support – all of it – so I have absolutely no way of knowing how much of my feeling better can be attributed to antidepressants. And I don’t care. They were one of the tools in my box and I’m grateful for that.
After a year I felt ready to stop taking them. Old Me doesn’t want me to be taking tablets forever, she’s a judgmental old bitch but sometimes she still worms her way in. It was another six months, 18 months total, before I took the plunge, and to say I weaned off slowly is an understatement. I took my doctors advice and then went even slower. I took my last ‘perspective pill’ in January this year and so far, so good. I’m pleased to no longer feel I need them but I like to hope I would be completely comfortable taking them again in the future should I need to.
If you’re holding that prescription at this very moment I can’t advise you what to do, you are the only person who can get all the information and make that choice. Sadly, I also can’t promise you will be free from side effects. I can promise you that I felt just as frightened as you are feeling and I made it through just fine.
Also, a note for any Old Mes reading this. Try to have more compassion and understanding. Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, to the pharmacy and back, and held that prescription in your hand.
Watch my video on medication & supplements here for more information on this topic.