I’m quite comfortable talking about my mental health with my friends and family, (and occasionally on an anonymous tumblr post) but I don’t think I’ve ever addressed a wider audience about my experience with mental health issues until today. This will just be one blog post in a sea of others about how mental illness has affected and changed someones life, a piss in the ocean you might say, but there’s no harm in adding one more to the pile.
The title of this post is very fitting to how I feel about my personal mental health journey. To start with I’ll explain that I was clinically diagnosed with anxiety and depression when I was 14 and have since then been on antidepressants to manage it. I have had trial periods where I have come off the medication completely to see if I’m okay without it but unfortunately these haven’t been successful and at the moment it looks like I will be permanently on medication. I’ve had several different types of therapy on and off over the years, during difficult periods and hurdles, and thankfully I’ve got a great GP that has stuck with me and has kept a keen eye on my progress throughout it all.
I believe that for me, my depression has stemmed from my turbulent childhood due to an abusive father, which cemented in me, quite early on, some unhealthy coping mechanisms and negative cognitive processes. It seems all very far away now, but during my teens I did attempt suicide on two separate occasions, the first being when I was 13 years old. This was because for me, depression was a very real, physical illness. It prevented me from getting out of bed, from laughing, from functioning as a human being, and it is very hard to cope with especially when you are just a child, and don’t really understand why any of this is happening. With the anxiety on top of that as well, it made doing things like getting the bus to school a nightmare, oftentimes having panic attacks on the way and having to turn back and go home.
So fast forward and I’m 22. It’s been a long time now since I have accepted who I am and what I deal with, and even though ideally I’d prefer not to take medication I know that it’s just like any other illness and it keeps me balanced and well. When I was first prescribed the antidepressants, because I was under 16, the only ones a doctor can legally prescribe is fluoxetine (or Prozac as it’s branded), so that’s the one I started and have continued with. In more recent years my dosage was doubled, but I continued to experience low spells and terrible mood swings. I discussed it with my doctor and we decided that it might be best to change the type of meds as I had been on the same one for nearly 8 years. Sertraline was decided as the best option; an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) which has been proven to be effective especially in women, and is better an treating anxiety symptoms as well.
The swapping over part is the point of my ‘story’. I had to reduce the fluoxetine to 20g a day from 40g, over a period of about a month and only then could I start with the small dosage of Sertraline of 50g, which will be increased after around 1 month. I’m currently 3 weeks into the Sertraline and I have greeted my depression again like an old friend. I’ve been thinking for the past week how I feel more tired than usual, I’ve been more irritable, I’ve cried at practically nothing, I’ve not been able to move my face into any expression and I have found I’ve gone from happy to sinking in 0.5 seconds on some days. And all these things are not new, I’ve experienced them before, but it’s been a while since it’s been on this scale. I almost forgot what depression felt like, and it’s come back to remind me.
This morning, my sister rang me to make arrangements for the next time we see each other next weekend, and I couldn’t even find the energy to make coherent thoughts or sentences. When she asked me if I was okay, I broke down. I started crying and I couldn’t stop. Even when I got off the phone, I had to go and find my mum and sit with her while I cried some more; the flood gates had opened. It was getting closer to the time when I needed to go into work and I was still in a state, so I’ve had to call in sick.
The thing that I find the hardest about dealing with a low, sad and sluggish me, is that actually things are going pretty well for me right now and it feels like I’m ruining that with my own brain. On paper everything is fine; I’m training for a triathlon which is going really well, I’ve also got some long distance cycling events coming up, I’m completing challenges and achieving things I’ve never done before, I’ve recently acquired a boyfriend somehow (???) who is bloody lovely, I can’t complain about my job, and as always my family are my absolute rock and are always there for me 24/7.
So why am I depressed?
I don’t know. You tell me. I think this is the hardest thing for me to get my head round, is accepting that I’ll never really know why I’m like this. I can’t have someone scan my head or open up by brain and take a look and see what the problem is. Psychology research can only deduce so much from the studies that are completed, and no one can say ‘yes it’s because of this’. I’ve completed a Psychology degree, and after learning more about mental health I’ve come to my own conclusions. In my case I believe that as the plasticity of your brain is malleable when you are a child, the abuse and the negative things I experienced must have caused me to not develop in the same way as other people, thereby making me deficient in the hormones and neurotransmitters that control mood, such as dopamine, serotonin and cortisol. This means that it will be a life long issue for me, as I’ll always need medications to provide the chemicals in my brain that I’m lacking.
So the last few weeks or so have been like a trip down memory lane. Depression has dropped in to say hello like an unwanted call from a friend you haven’t bothered to keep in touch with. You’ll say hello, make the small talk, but the sooner they are gone the better. Hopefully my pal Sertraline will burst through the door any moment and kick depression out the door.
To many people, this will all come as a complete surprise to them. I am a lively, happy, loud person mostly, and even when I’m not feeling good, when I’m in situations like being at work, you wouldn’t know a thing was wrong. It’s not that I’m pretending or lying, I just am able to put it all in a box in the back of my brain, get on with my day, and then deal with it later. But it’s days like today, when it’s all spilling out of the box and I just don’t have the capacity to fake it.
It’s been nice to talk about it and open up a little bit. Thanks for reading, and I hope that it provides you with another perspective of mental illness.