In December, I started taking anti-depressants again. After six months off them. As we approach Time To Talk day this Thursday, I thought I’d get the conversation going again in my little corner of the social media world. Because anti-depressants are STILL misunderstood. If you’d like to join in and post your own picture with #thisisthefaceofantidepressants, that would be AMAZING. You might help someone else and wouldn’t it be great if we could change the FACE of anti-depressants. Remove the shame, stigma and fear. And show that those of us who take them are not ashamed. That we look just like everyone else. Because we are everyone else.
Ignoring the signs.
I hadn’t actually been feeling ‘sad’ like I did when I had PND, but I’d definitely felt off, anxious and physically very unwell. Dizzy. Foggy. Balance issues. And that horrible feeling of constant congestion.
Then the panic attacks started. I hadn’t had a panic attack since 2014, when I was diagnosed with PND, nine weeks after having my third child. Once again, they came out of the blue for seemingly no reason at all. Once again, they were scary and debilitating and made me feel like I was dying. The school run became a daunting prospect. I started to worry about socialising. But I kept going, as best as I could. Because I had to.
And because I didn’t really believe I was unwell again.
Mental illness doesn’t always makes sense.
How could I possibly be ‘depressed?’ I asked myself constantly.
I’d successfully managed my first solo summer holiday abroad with the kids. I’d written the next Notebook, whilst keeping three kids alive. I was running 25k a week and I’d survived a couple of minor hospital procedures, something that could have been a real challenge for a health anxious person. It just didn’t make sense. I couldn’t make it make sense. And that was my mistake, right there. Because, what ALL of us who have suffered from anxiety, depression or any form of mental difficulty know is that it doesn’t always make sense. I had forgotten this.
I had forgotten my own mantra – that you don’t have to have ANYTHING particular to feel low or anxious about.
Depression is a physical illness.
One day at the end of November, I decided I needed to do something. I had been practicing my CBT. I had had some EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) therapy. I had done everything I could think to do.
Feeling so unwell and lacking in energy was just not something I could tolerate having to raise three kids, mostly on my own. I had started to snap at them. I couldn’t find the energy to get us all through the day, every day. Because the anxiety was just utterly debilitating and I was exhausted. I reminded myself that no one needs to feel like this, whilst also noting that I had done EVERYTHING in my power to stay well, mentally. I had been really vigilant about my triggers like sleep, diet, exercise and I’d even had a month off booze. And yet STILL, despite all of this, I found myself unwell.
So, I booked an appointment to see my lovely doctor, who had seen me through PND, with the intention of going back on medication. And, as I sat in the waiting room, a wave of relief washed over me, as I had a moment of complete clarity. Where I realised AGAIN that this is not anything I can control. That I do not have a choice in how this illness affects me. For some (me), depression/anxiety IS a chemical thing. The End. It’s why I feel it so physically. It’s why despite everything I do, my body still needs a little more help.
The first thing my doctor reminded me of? ‘DEPRESSION IS A PHYSICAL ILLNESS’. It originates from a deficiency. And there it was. All the validation I would have needed, if I hadn’t just worked it out for myself. She also did a full blood count, just to rule out anything else, which came back clear. I started back on 50mg of Sertraline that day. Five days later (the tablets take time to work), I had the second worst panic attack of my life, on a lovely weekend break in Marrakech. I was happy; there was no reason for it to happen but it did and it lasted almost an hour. It was terrifying being so far from home. But I survived it and, when it was over, I drew strength from that. Because in the back of my mind, I had the comfort of knowing that with every pill I took from thereon in, I was going to get better.
I was not going to have to keep feeling like this.
Mental wellbeing is a journey not a destination.
I write this post to keep the conversation going.
To remind all of us (including myself) that mental wellbeing is a journey not a destination. That sometimes we will feel able to rule the world and, at other times, we will struggle to poke our heads out from under the duvet. To remind all of us (including myself) that depression and anxiety happens to anyone. We don’t have to have anything to feel sad about, or even feel sad. And it CAN manifest itself very physically.
I am all for the holistic approach in life, where possible. I run. I eat healthily (mostly). I practice CBT and I have faith in the universe and positive thoughts. But I also support the use of anti-depressants and acknowledge their role for many of us. They certainly work for me. And I feel no shame in taking them. I accept that I am no different to someone who has a thryoid problem or someone that needs to administer insulin. Two months in and I have recently had to up my dose. But slowly, I am starting to feel better. Not perfect, but better. Calmer. Capable. I can function again. It will take time to build up my store of serotonin and, even then, I know that I need to stay on top of my other triggers to stay well. But I am getting there. Again.
The journey goes on. And so do I.
When I came off my anti-depressants last June, after three years on them, I said I would go back on them in a heartbeat, if I needed to. That I will always do WHATEVER I need to do, to stay well. For me. And especially for my three kids. I feel so lucky that there is something I can take to help me do this, alongside CBT (which I always recommend). I’m filled with relief. Acceptance. Gratitude. And the reaffirmation that I never have to tolerate feeling unwell. I can always do something about it. It is not cheating. It is not giving in. It is not becoming someone else or papering over the cracks. It’s like catching a glimpse of the sun for the first time, after weeks of rain.
One in four of us will be affected, each year, by some form of mental illness. In 2016, some 64.7m of anti-depressants were dispensed in England. WE ARE NOT ALONE. And it doesn’t matter WHO you are, either. You can be young, old, post-natal, pre-natal, never have suffered from anything like this before, always struggled with your mental health, a celebrity or completely and utterly ‘ordinary’. We come with many, different faces. But what we ALL have in common? We don’t ever need to suffer.
So, seek help whenever you feel unwell and reclaim the life you deserve to live. BECAUSE YOU DESERVE TO LIVE. Help doesn’t make you weak, whatever form it comes in. It makes you strong and, most importantly, it makes you WELL. Pick up the phone. Talk to a friend. Your doctor. Take the first step and allow that wave of relief to wash over you. There are so many of us with you, all the way.
All the love to you, wherever you are today in your mental wellbeing journey. I hope today’s a good day. And, if it isn’t, I hope that tomorrow is better or the day after that. One step at a time.
And so you go on.