I take a pill every day to feel normal.
Over the weekend I forgot to get my prescription refilled and missed my medication for a couple of days. The result is that today I have had that light-headed feeling that you get when you haven’t eaten enough – as well as the sensation of sporadic mild electric shocks. I am experiencing SSRI Withdrawal Syndrome.
“What’s an SSRI?” I hear you ask. It stands for Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor – in other words, an anti-depressant.
It’s a pretty serious medication. But it helps me. And at the moment, I’m struggling to imagine my life without it – a dangerous dependency, perhaps but my other options are being too fatigued to get out of bed in the morning and too anxious to even leave my apartment.
I suffered with both throughout high school and university – where I had a very casual fling with anorexia and a serious relationship with self- harm. It all came crashing into one big meltdown when I returned from a year living overseas as part of an exchange program.
I felt like my whole world had been turned upside down. All the friends I’d made, the serious relationship I’d embarked on and a home I’d created – all collapsed and I had to return to my old life as if nothing had happened. This whole other world I’d lived in became just a blip on the radar and the brand new person I’d become was gone. Now I was back at home – it felt as if the whole wonderful experience had been a cruel dream.
After some fairly disastrous decision making that involved too much alcohol and far too little common sense, I decided I needed to get some help. I was sick of feeling like shit when, quite frankly, my life was peachy compared to the struggles other individuals go through. A sense of perspective saved me and that’s what motivated me to see a doctor and a therapist and begin taking anti-depressants. The particular brand I’m on also has off-label uses for anxiety.
Within a month, I felt a huge change. The first thing I noticed was my ability to speak up in class. This may seem like a small thing to you but for me, speaking in class was a big deal. I couldn’t raise my hand without my heart pounding in my chest and the colour rising in my cheeks, like I’d made some terrible faux-pas (because I was convinced that I would). I assumed that everyone was obviously judging me. They probably thought I was a silly girl with a pretentious accent. Anything I had to say was worthless and unnecessary anyway.
This paranoia plagued me daily in the throes of my worst anxiety.
After a couple of months on the medication, I suddenly found my voice. My confidence rose, tentatively but progressively, until I felt more and more comfortable with myself, my opinions and knew that what I had to say was worth sharing. Happiness naturally flows with confidence. Everything started coming together: I applied for an internship with a company where I am now employed full-time and using the skills I learned at university. I’m in a happy and stable relationship. I’m also able to look back at my experience overseas and appreciate what a wonderful time I had and be okay with the fact that it has now passed.
I’m not planning on staying on this drug forever. I want to get to a place where I am stable, confident and secure enough that I will slowly decrease my dosage until I’m able to stop taking it. It doesn’t “mask” the symptoms of my problem – it gives me the tools, the confidence and the mood lift, to get myself to a healthy place. And I’m almost there, after about 12 months of treatment.
It’s also impossible to ignore the pervasive stigma that surrounds mental illness and its treatments. Being told to “snap out of my bad mood” or urged that I “must have a reason for being depressed” was a frequent occurrence. And even now, I contribute to that stigma by not sharing my experience or telling people that I do take anti-depressants.
Only a few very select people know this about me. And that should change, because I shouldn’t feel ashamed.
I hope that one day soon I can sign my name to this article and own up to the fact that I have depression and needed help.
I hope this encourages more people to share their stories.
This story was written by someone known to Mamamia who has chosen to remain anonymous.
If you need immediate help, you can contact:
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800
MensLine Australia – 1300 78 99 78
SANE Australia has fact sheets on mental illness as well as advice on getting treatment. Visit www.sane.org or call 1800 18 SANE (7263). You can also visit beyondblue: the national depression initiative (1300 22 4636) or the Black Dog Institute, or talk to your local GP or health professional.
Do you think there is a stigma around mental illness? Do you think that there has been greater community acceptance of depression over the past few years? How do you deal with anxiety?