“Come on, now
I hear you’re feeling down
Well I can ease your pain
And get you on your feet again”
-Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb
I’m tethered to my mac by the headphone cable, eyes closed, floating on the familiar cushion of music. I feel a sort of knot, rising in my throat- a physical reaction to guitars, melodies, a soul poured into words…
Music. That soothes even the savage beast. To make hairs rise on my neck, to transport me, to lose myself in drumbeats and dischords, basslines and bar lines.
Ever since I was small, really small, music has been my lifeline. Nothing else has that raw power. Today is a music day – it’s my first day off antidepressants in a year.
I started the day happy, feeling free, albeit with the inevitable pounding behind my left eye, signifying the start of those chemicals beginning to leave my body. Mid afternoon though, I feel quite emotional.
I’m wringing my fingers, a sign that something uncomfortable is bubbling under the surface. It’s not that I feel sad, or scared, or anything I can really put my finger on. It’s hard to put into words – I feel like a small child, opening their eyes to a whole new world. My breath is a little jittery. I’m kind of proud of myself, for getting this far through the last year. The music beating through the sennheisers is my comfort blanket today.
This is my experience. I can’t write about anything else, I only know what I’ve lived through. And for me, those small, white tablets were a lifesaver.
I read so many articles about how drugs aren’t the whole story. That they’re either a) only as effective as placebo; or b) not effective. Trembling through lists of side-effects as long as my arm, I sought out forums full of horror stories, zombie days and sleepless nights. I didn’t want to take them. That day, sat in the doctors, finally letting everything that had built up over the years flow from wherever I’d locked it away – that day, it was my only option.
“I’m not coping so well right now” I wibbled, which was the understatement of the year. Trying to convey the enormity of the feelings inside me whilst not absolutely breaking apart in that clinical office was a challenge. That ingrained experience that ‘we just don’t talk about things like this’ was in full play, even then. Fortunately, my doctor is great. Eventually, clutching the thin prescription slip, I tottered to the chemist for my shiny box of tablets. And so, I began to make friends with the SSRI, Sertraline.
Am I weak for seeking medication to help my depression? Should I have looked instead to drug-free options first? For years in my eyes, tablets and pills were a quick fix. An easy path to take. Growing up in a family that never really spoke about illness, or emotions, bottling up my real feelings since my teen years became normal. Didn’t everybody feel this way? Happy on the outside, whilst blank and grey beneath that shell? Apparently not. It’s strange to look back and recognise symptoms that stuck with me over decades.
The moment I accepted that I wasn’t coping, everything changed. Diagnosed as severely depressed, something had to switch. And with that little green prescription, that ingrained view that tablets were something to avoid, just…disappeared. I could see I needed to take every avenue of help that was open to me. In that moment, I wasn’t weak. I was the most terrified I’d ever been, heading into the waiting room. I was really, truly, properly ill. Admitting that, to a doctor, to anybody, was one of the bravest things I’d ever done.
People aren’t weak for seeking help. They’re made of steel.
And yes, I had side-effects. I was dizzy, I had a two-week headache, I got the shakes, and I could SEE TIME. Which was actually quite good. I felt like a hawk. Anyway after a couple of weeks, everything settled down. (My superhero vision went back to normal, too, disappointingly). I felt GREAT, which finally quietened down after a month or so, to feeling, well, fine. It was as if the euphoric highs and chasmic lows had been limited to a slight raising or lowering of mood. Everything was ok.
This doesn’t sound great. But actually, it was exactly what I needed. Space for everything to settle. Time, without having to deal with being at rock bottom. A breathing space, without catastrophe, without crying in a corner. Waking up and actually being able to get out of bed. And no. Happy pills don’t make you happy. They’re not an easy way to deal with depression. Instead, antidepressants seem to work as a pull back from the abyss. They’re time. Time to stop, and to start again. To do little things – wander in the garden. Read a book. Make it outdoors for a coffee.
Alongside the meds, I was referred for group therapy. I think I’ll talk about that in a future post, save for saying that meeting others who understood, who had the same experiences, helped incredibly.
I increased my dose for a while after it stopped having so much of an effect, 10 months in. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t. And recently, I changed to a new antidepressant, Mirtazapine, an SNRI.
The side effects coming off Sertraline are still creeping up on me. The feeling of being brained by a pickaxe is still here. Experiencing all the bad bits of being drunk, all the time, isn’t really fun, but is getting better slowly. Along with the physical came the realisation of just how much they’d been doing for me. Feeling actual raw, fully present emotions is a shock to the system for a while. I’m just getting used to the highs and lows and am still a little wobbly over the whole ‘change-over’ period.
Unfortunately, it turned out that Mirtz was not for me. The Sertraline side-effects weren’t great, but it was ok. The Mirtz didn’t agree with me, but does agree with many people. In my case, I was so dizzy I could hardly stand, let alone drive. Sleeping for 14-16 hours a night. My muscles seemed to stop working, so I couldn’t even lift my phone. I was angry. I was sort-of-suicidal. And so I had to stop.
The doctor gave me the option of trying without any antidepressants. It was unexpected, but I wanted to try.
Here I am, an entire day in, writing a spaghetti-mess of words in a blog post I’m scared to publish. The ever-present doubt, of being open about mental ill health, of watching subscribers disappear whenever I post about the topic, of being scared to talk about things I’ve kept quiet for years… it’s here, on my shoulder, mocking and deriding. I try and let it go. I don’t want to feel shame for something that isn’t a part of me, but is something that has happened to me. So I share, chasing that honesty and embracing openness, finally.
I’ll draw this confusion of words to a close for now. If anyone else has had experiences they wish to share, please do in the comments, if you feel you can. How comfortable are you talking about mental health issues? What are your experiences of discussing mental ill health with others? Do you feel people are more accepting of it in recent years?
P.S. I’ve wavered about publishing this post for a week and a half – scheduling, deleting, re-scheduling, rewriting and all of that. I’m a little further on the journey, and feeling ok so far! In the end, I just pressed publish. It’s out into the world.