My Experience with Anti-Depressants

CW: medication, anxiety, depression, s*icide attempt.

Hi. I’m Cassidy, I’m a Leo, and I’ve been on anti-depressants for the last two years. I am still learning how to shake off the stigma associated with medication and try to talk about it as freely as I can. If people can talk about how kale or yoga changed their lives, why can’t I talk about how Sertraline saved mine?

Looking back, it’s clear to see that I have struggled with my mental health throughout my life. I was so anxious about starting secondary school that I hardly spoke for two years. When it got to A-Levels, I shut myself in the library for months, even going as far as to sneaking my lunch behind a textbook. This all came to a head, however, when I reached my third year of university. I tried to kill myself.

I felt completely lost; I had fallen out with and pushed away all of my housemates, my best friend was in a different country, I had no idea what to do after university. I felt, for want of a better word, empty.

A friend eventually convinced me to seek out the help of my GP and I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I was put on Sertraline and Amitriptyline, a combination that was also designed to help me sleep.

There’s no sugar-coating it; I don’t think I’ve felt worse than I did during those first few weeks on anti-depressants. I was no longer a rubber-band pulled taught and on the brink of snapping; I was out-and-out broken. I was angry and irritable. I lost all motivation to attend uni. I started picking at my skin as a coping mechanism. It was a difficult time where I felt so utterly unlike myself, but my GP convinced me to stick with it. I am so glad I did.

Many view medication as a so-called last resort, but for me, medication was the only life-line I felt I could take. Amidst the biggest student mental health crisis we have ever faced, university services are completely overwhelmed, and the wait list for counselling was 16 weeks. I had left university by the time I was even close to the top of the list, which meant moving, and moving doctors surgery. Medication became the only constant in my life.

Ever since, I have had a doctor’s appointment every two months, gradually increasing my dose of Sertraline, and eventually coming off of Amitriptyline. I’ve been through CBT training, and I am currently waiting for a psychiatric assessment to give me a deeper diagnosis and counselling (we can thank Covid-19 for the wait on this one).

To say that medication has eradicated my depression and anxiety would be wrong. I still struggle massively, especially when left alone (another thing we can thank Covid-19 for). I have bad days – fewer, admittedly, thankfully – that leave me completely unable to leave bed, to talk to anyone, to do anything but exist and hope I feel better once I sleep and wake up again. But you know what? Even on my worst days, the medication means I still want to wake up. That in itself has made the whole process worth it.

My sex-drive is non-existent. Every time I skip a dose (because, let’s be honest, nobody’s perfect) I feel ill for the whole day. Sometimes, I think it’d be better to feel sad than to feel nothing, which is sometimes what Sertraline can feel like. It is not easy. It is not a fix-all, and many people try various different anti-depressants before they find one that works. It is a long, and often gruelling, process.

But – and this is a big but – I am still here. I don’t cry myself to sleep as I used to, I am trying not to push my friends away, and I am planning for the future. This is especially amazing to me, as I never used to allow myself to plan more than a month ahead.

Anti-depressants are not for everyone; sometimes, the side-effects can outweigh the positives, and sometimes, people don’t feel comfortable relying on medication. It is fallible, and some GPs believe it is not a long-term solution. Personally, anti-depressants have worked for me at a base level. They haven’t “fixed” everything that’s wrong with me, but they have given me time I never thought I’d have, and at some point in the future, I’d like to reduce my dose and go back to counselling. At the moment, I am just grateful that I am here to think about my future at all.

As ever, there is no one-size-fits-all with medication, with therapy, with life. We’re all just muddling through and trying to see what works best for us. Stay safe. Reach out to friends, to family, to strangers, to doctors, to helplines. You are not alone in this.

Image courtesy of Pawel Czerwiński.

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