health

"I told people I'd abandoned antidepressants because they dulled my creativity. Then I ate my words."

At the age of 22, and amidst the stress of completing my master’s degree, I embarked on my journey into the unpredictable world of medication for my mental health. 

I didn’t know anyone personally who had taken an antidepressant before, but I thought that taking a tablet daily could potentially be the solution to all my problems. I was in. 

The truth is, this wasn’t the start of my mental health journey. A year prior, at 21, my doctor prescribed me a common SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), but I was afraid. Once I collected the pills from the pharmacist, I discarded them in the bin.

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Looking back at my childhood, I always had anxious tendencies and self-critical thought patterns. I just thought they were normal. Turns out, they weren't. 

As a child and then a teenager, my school never educated us about mental health. I also grew up in a time without the open dialogue we now see around mental illness. 

I missed all the signs that something was wrong. 

Whether it was building up a phobia of lifts at the age of 10, because I thought they were going to break. This lasted for over a year. 

Or at 12, convincing myself for a month that I had a blood clot after my grandfather had a stroke. 

During high school, I was paranoid daily that I was going to receive a detention slip even though I never broke the rules.

The problem, which I regret now, is that I never told anyone about these feelings. My parents and twin sister, who are immensely understanding people, would’ve helped me. These anxious tendencies were so normal for me, that I didn’t see them as an issue.  

My first major anxiety attack happened at 18. I didn’t know it was an anxiety attack, I thought I was having a stroke. My face went numb and my right arm felt paralysed. My parents rushed me to the hospital, the doctors ran a series of tests. Everything looked normal. 

I was told for the first time in my life that I'd just experienced an anxiety attack. 

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I convinced my parents that I could deal with this 'naturally'. I was highly functional and still didn’t think I had any mental health issues.

During the next few years, my mental health secretly began to spiral. The attack wasn’t a once-off like I thought it was and I began to develop more intense depressive feelings and anxious thoughts.

A year after discarding the SSRI, I built up the courage, though still feeling very embarrassed, to ask to be put onto a mental health care plan.

And for over a year, the SSRI worked. It felt like I finally found the magic potion to all my problems. Finally, I was going to live a life free from Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression. 

I then noticed something unusual happening to me. It was numbing my emotions. And without emotions, I couldn’t write, and if I couldn’t write, I couldn’t make money. 

In the middle of the tapering process, I penned an article for VICE, where I discussed my experience with SSRIs and what it did to my creativity. I mentioned being the only person at my grandfather’s funeral who wasn’t crying. Of course I was upset, but I felt like an emotionless alien among a sea of distraught family members. 

The years after SSRIs weren’t struggle-free, but also nothing life-shattering or devastating happened. I found solace in mindfulness and aromatherapy. All these strategies worked fine when I had the odd flare-up. 

Just like everyone on the planet, I didn’t know that 2020 was going to be close to apocalyptic. In March, I was a victim of an aggressive assault at work. Without having much time to process it, we were all thrown into a new way of life  — work habits changed, socialisation halted, and for us Melbournians, we had to endure weeks in an additional tough lockdown

It was just a patch, everyone was feeling the exact same and when restrictions eased, I’ll be back to ‘normal’, I thought. 

That didn’t happen. I still didn’t want to leave the house, going to work felt mentally draining, and I couldn’t figure out why my mind was still in lockdown. 

I constantly thought about the article I wrote. How could I go ask for help again when I told the world that antidepressants weren’t for me? This feeling of shame lasted for months. Once again, I didn’t want to tell anyone what I was feeling because I was supposed to be ‘okay’. I kept reading that article back, feeling increasingly more embarrassed after each re-read. 

At the beginning of 2021, now 27, I decided this had to stop. Why was I feeling ashamed? My family and friends weren’t going to think any less of me for reaching out for help. And no one who read that article years ago was keeping track of my life now. 

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 At the beginning of the month, I restarted an SSRI. This time a mid-dose of a different brand. 

After a rough few weeks of side effects, I’m starting to feel like a functional human again. I’m not up until 4am anymore and my mind doesn’t feel like it’s in lockdown. I have goals and plans again. I’m also much more active, adding daily early morning walks and mindfulness to my routine. 

I can’t answer if this will be the solution to my mental health struggles. I don’t know what life has in store for me in 2021. And I’m okay with that. 

As life moves forward and throws different obstacles in our paths, the ways we look after ourselves will change. You should never feel embarrassed about retreating back to something that worked for you years ago. Similarly, don’t feel any shame about wanting to try something new either. 

If I’ve learnt anything during my long-term struggles with mental health, it’s that this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. You might be slowly jogging behind or maybe you just found your second wind — the important thing is that you keep persevering.

Amy Smolcic is a writer, teacher, content manager of Wickedd Childd and bookworm based in Melbourne. For links to Amy's work, visit her website, www.asmolcic.com. You can follow her on Twitter @amysmolcic.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.


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