This morning, I shared a post on Facebook and Instagram about my relationship with anti-depressants (ADs). The response has been overwhelming and I’m so glad it’s opened up another conversation about mental wellbeing. I realised that, in all my posts about anxiety, PND and depression, I’ve glossed over the use of anti-depressants. And yet there are a lot of people who are scared of taking them or ashamed that they are. So I wanted to write something real and positive and to share what I know about them from being on them for two and a half years. *Disclaimer: I’m obviously not a medical professional and this post is based on my experience and conversations with others. Always talk to your doctor.
- If someone doesn’t understand taking a pill to be ‘happy,’ they’ve never been unwell enough to need to. The thing I hear repeatedly about ADs is STIGMA. People feel ashamed. They are made to feel ashamed. For the record, I am NOT ashamed. I do whatever it takes to stay well. The most useful and simple summary I’ve ever read about anti-depressants is this. ‘When you are REALLY unwell, you will do ANYTHING to get better.‘ It’s that hard and that simple. If someone else judges you for this, thinks you’ve copped out or whatever, they just don’t understand what it feels like to be in a really dark, lonely and physically tortuous place. That’s their issue, not yours.
- Taking responsibility for your happiness and your mental wellbeing is to be applauded. Where is the shame in taking a tablet that helps you feel well? For me, there is far more shame in being irritable, not coping and shouting at my poor kids. (OK, I still shout. ADs aren’t miracle workers and they don’t help your kids put their shoes on any faster when you’re late for school. AGAIN. But they do help me feel better about it.)
- You haven’t failed. You haven’t failed because, today, you need to take a tablet to function better. You’re only failing when you don’t get the help you need and deserve. Also? More people are taking them than you could ever know.
- How do you know if you need to take them? Personally, I think you know. This doesn’t mean you will necessarily feel any easier about doing so. But for me, I knew. After my second daughter was born, I felt anxious. I went to the doctors and, after a long chat, she prescribed me some anti-depressants. I’ll be honest, they scared the bejeezus out of me. ‘I’m not the sort of person that takes these,’ I thought, ignorantly. I went home, sat on the sofa and stared at the packet for a long time, before calling my dad. ‘I don’t want to take them,‘ I said. ‘Do you think I should?‘ My dad said simply, ‘If you really needed to take them you wouldn’t even be asking me.’ He was right. And that time I made it through on my own. Fast forward three years to my third baby and the experience was COMPLETELY different. I felt SO unwell in every way, I would have taken ANYTHING to feel better. My doctor herself said that if I hadn’t been so open to taking them, she would have insisted I did. That time? Nothing but those tablets (alongside a combination of CBT) was going to make me function again. I can still remember the relief when I started to feel better.
- Sometimes going swimming, running or meditation is not enough. I run three times a week and it is essential to my mental wellbeing. But, right now, it is NOT enough on its own. And anyone who’s ever tried to meditate in a house full of three under eights would probably find they want to pop a couple of pills too.
- It can take up to 6 weeks (or more) for ADs to work. Lots of people don’t realise that ADs take time to have an effect. IT IS NOT INSTANT. It was almost a month before I started to feel less foggy and less teary. Even then I had to double my dose from 50mg to 100mg to really start to feel the benefit. It can also take time to find the right type for you. So keep in regular contact with your doctor in those early weeks so you can both monitor your progress.
- How do you know when you’re ready to reduce your dose/stop taking them? I think your body tells you. For me, the lightbulb moment came 18 months after starting them, when I was at a funeral and I couldn’t really feel sad. It showed me how well I had become, that my body was obviously producing its own serotonin again and the 100mg I was taking was too much. After that, I called my doctor, we discussed it and I set about reducing my dose. I felt ready and I was. Some people might never be ready. And that’s also ok.
- Don’t rush to come off them. If you go on them already thinking about when you’re going to come off of them, you’re just adding more stress, expectation and potential disappointment to your life. Enjoy feeling well! My doctor told me I would be on them for a minimum of one year for my PND. When I started feeling better, I remember thinking, ‘Only a year? I like feeling well again!‘ Almost three years later, I’m on a daily ‘maintenance’ dose of 25mg. My doctor and I stay in regular contact and she fully supports my decision to remain on it, post separation. I have no plans to come off of them at the moment. Maybe when the kids leave home. Maybe not even then.
- If/when you are ready, come off them gradually. Side effects are inevitable (people talk about feeling more emotional and also unpleasant physical symptoms like an ‘electric shock’ feeling when you move your head) but if you come off them slowly, these are minimal. I took six weeks reducing my dose from 100mg to 25mg. It felt fine. Do not rush the process.
- If you do come off them, you might choose to go back on them again. So what? You don’t take a Lemsip pledging never to take one again, do you? Foolish people limit themselves. They say things like, ‘I’d never do that,‘ or ‘I’m never doing that again.‘ The less foolish amongst us recognise we’re setting ourselves up to fail, if we make promises we possibly can’t keep. If you’re well today without tablets, that’s brilliant. If you hit a bump in the road next year and find yourself back on them, that’s also brilliant. Because you’re taking responsibility for your mental wellbeing. Again.
- We do WHATEVER IT TAKES to stay well and that is different for everyone. Some people will have a ‘blip,’ recover fully and never look back. Some people will be on and off ADs, as ‘life happens.’ And some people will never come off them. Because they NEED them for a chemical imbalance or something physiological that means they can’t function without them. Or, they’ve simply made a personal choice because they feel better on them, than not. We don’t say to a diabetic, ‘Here’s some insulin. Have it for a couple of years and then we’re going to take it away and you can just wing it.’ In this regard, mental health is misunderstood and it shouldn’t be. Always remember. We do whatever it takes to stay well. And that is different for everyone.
Take care of yourself. And much love to everyone struggling, recovering and taking brave steps, today and always. If you need to know you’re most definitely NOT alone, check out today’s Facebook and Instagram post and read all the many amazing comments from people doing whatever it takes.