Unfortunately, there is a huge stigma around the use of medication for mental health. According to some people, it suggests that you’re just ‘giving up’ and using the meds as a ‘crutch’. That’s like telling someone who decides to take blood pressure medication that they’ve given up on their blood pressure. If someone is diabetic, you wouldn’t question the need for their constant injections, would you? So why is it so different for people with mental health issues? Let that sink in for a minute…
A few years back, I had mixed views on the proposition of medication; the same as when I was first diagnosed with all of my conditions. I worried what people would think or say – ‘What if people think I’m crazy? What if they don’t understand?’ I was desperate to feel happy and normal, but I felt embarrassed and ashamed that I needed these meds at such a young age. My parents would always say ‘You don’t need medication, just be happy’. Oh my goodness, yeah, I didn’t think of that! Like it’s that simple?! Many people think it’s just stress or life events that cause depression. WRONG! It can also be caused by a chemical and/or hormonal imbalance in the brain, so you can’t just ‘smile’ or ‘snap out of it’; sometimes that ‘choice’ to be happy is taken away from you.
I knew I had reached a dangerously low point and needed help when I began to feel like I didn’t want to be here anymore. I was about 17/18 at the time, and I’d started to feel empty and numb. I was scared because I felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore. I was put on an antidepressant called Citalopram at the beginning of my battle, and at one point, I decided I ‘felt fine’ and stopped taking them. My depression became severe within a few days and I was self-harming by punching or head-butting walls. I decided to start taking them again and was going steady. When I found out I was pregnant in 2015, I stopped taking them as I didn’t want any risk of harming the baby. For a while I was on cloud nine! I was so happy and excited about becoming a Mummy, me and my fiancé had just moved into our first place, I couldn’t wait for our future together. But then my anxiety started to flare up; I was uncontrollably crying at the horrible intrusive thoughts I was having due to my OCD. At a check-up at the hospital, they became concerned when I told them I was struggling. I was kept in over-night and wasn’t even allowed out of the ward on my own, as I was seen as a risk to myself. I felt the lowest I’d ever been, a total failure to everyone around me. I was offered Sertraline as it’s perfectly safe to use during pregnancy, and most commonly used by pregnant women, but I refused. However, I had loving family and friends around me and, over the next few weeks, I really started to improve. I started to feel so happy that I thought I didn’t even need them!
Oh, how I was wrong! Within 3 days of giving birth to Alfie, my anxiety hit me like a tonne of bricks. I was having nightmares and racing thoughts, hot and cold flushes, nausea, difficulty sleeping and I hadn’t eaten in days. When Alfie was about a week old, I was taken to A&E, gasping for air and feeling like I wasn’t really here (depersonalisation). It transpires that I was having a panic attack, which had lasted 5 days! I was sent home having been told by the doctor ‘It’s just your anxiety.’ Just anxiety? I just wanted to die, to end the suffering. But then I felt guilty – ‘How could I leave my precious baby without a Mummy, and Ashlee without a fiancée? I’m the worst Mother in the world!’ I was so scared for my own life, I was so confused and sad and felt like no one understood or wanted to even try. The next day I went to the Crisis Team at my local hospital, where they assessed me and prescribed me Pregabalin for anxiety and Mirtazapine for depression. This type of antidepressant also helps with sleep and appetite. I took them that evening and got an early night. The next morning, after a solid sleep, I woke up feeling hungry for the first time that week! I never imagined they would be so helpful and I dread to think where I’d be now if I hadn’t taken them.
18 months on, I’m now on the highest dose of Mirtazapine as my depression has become quite severe again, but my psychiatrist has started the slow process of reducing my anxiety meds, as he feels that is improving. I feel proud that I may be able to live a more ‘normal’ lifestyle, not constantly thinking ‘Have I taken my tablets yet today?’ or making sure I’ve got them with me when I go out etc. Yet I’m apprehensive because I’m scared I won’t cope without them and might hit rock bottom again. But I’ve got people around me to help so I’m trying to stay positive and focused, for a healthier and happier future.
As with all medication, there are side effects that aren’t too pleasant. Obviously, my antidepressants are for sleeping, so within half an hour of taking them, I’m like a zombie! This is really frustrating because then I don’t get to spend quality time with Ash – instead I’m in bed by 10pm! Then comes the difficult decision: Do I take them later than usual but be super tired in the morning because they won’t have had long enough to wear off? Or do I just skip this dose altogether so I can a) relax with Ash and b) not feel as tired in the morning – even though I’ll feel slightly lower in mood and a bit more anxious? However, if I don’t take them, I get awful withdrawal symptoms: nightmares, shaking, nausea, night sweats but shivering with cold, upset tummy and very tearful. This
then causes me to feel more depressed in general because I’m angry at myself – ‘If you didn’t need all these tablets, this wouldn’t happen!’ This then sets me off on a downward spiral: anger, frustration, suicidal thoughts, sadness, guilt. It takes all the strength within me to try and pick myself up and have the courage to face the day ahead. It’s important to be kind to yourself and give yourself time and patience to heal properly.
“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”