I’m not really sure where to start here. I’m not really sure where it ends, either, so I’ll present this as something of a discussion.
Anyone who has ever been on Anti-depressants will usually tell you one of two things about the experience. These experiences fit mostly into two Facebook relationship status’: `In a Committed Relationship` or `It’s Complicated`. I am quite firmly in the latter. This has been something of a talking point lately after the BBC published an article titled `Anti-Depressants: Major study finds they work`, to which my first response was “Yeah, and water is wet”.
I haven’t been on Anti-depressants for a while now. I couldn’t really tell you why I stopped taking them, just that as my therapy started working, and I became more functional, I just did. In hindsight, this is bizarre, considering how long it took me to get them prescribed. I was 15 – struggling to get both a proper diagnosis for depression and a therapist on the NHS who would take my case – when I started actively seeking Anti-depressants. I didn’t think of them as a miracle cure, and I still don’t, but I needed something to keep my mood high enough to prevent me doing something stupid before I could get other treatment. The problem was simply that I was 15. No doctor will prescribe an Anti-depressant dosage to a teenager if they can help it. Teens moods are all over the place as it is, and besides, a very depressed teenager actively seeking medication would look like a red flag to anyone. It took another year before a Doctor slightly bent the rules to get me on them, but by that point, I had been through 3 unsuccessful therapists, and we needed to try something.
My first dosage was on what I called `Prozac`, or what most people know as `Fluoxetine` (which, if you read that article I linked earlier, you might have noticed at the top of the `least effective` list). Now, I didn’t get on well with it. I was on it for all of 3 weeks. For the same reasons you never read the side effects on a medication packet before you start taking it, I won’t tell you what side-effects it gave me, only that I needed to come off it almost immediately. Somehow, this bad experience didn’t deter me from believing I needed to try more Anti-depressants. I had been told something that I would pass onto anyone considering giving medication a try: Every single drug will effect you differently, don’t give up after just one, or two, or three. There are tonnes out there, one of them will help your serotonin levels.
Speaking of, I moved onto 50mg of Sertraline, a very common Anti-depressant that a decent number of my family are on, or have used in the past. My Nan, for example, has been on 25mg (half a tablet) for her Anxiety for years of her life, and the effects are so striking that we can tell when she hasn’t taken one without her even telling us. Needless to say, this worked quite well for me! All I really remember about them was that they made me really tired, but this was also before we worked out I’m severely anaemic, so it was more likely to be the anaemia than the drugs themselves. My mood increased enough that the therapy started taking hold. I became more generally functional, even if I was still sleeping a lot. Then I just…stopped.
Which brings us to now.
Last week, my counsellor that I see every week (thank you DSA funding!) asked me about my history with Anti-depressants for the first time. You see, I think of my mood like a graph. When I was super depressed my `average mood` was way, way lower than most, functioning people’s. Recently, however, my `average mood` is about at the functioning human level, but my dips are extreme. My `bad days` are usually several days long, and really, really rough, usually knocking back my mental progress by weeks at a time. In my mind, maybe just 25/50mg of Sertraline might just bump up where my bottom level is, so that I can still function during that time. That might not be how that works, but I like to think that.
Yet, even though it seems like an easy answer, I am still conflicted about it. A lot of this I blame to social stigma against Anti-depressants and medication in general. Society seems to glamorise the idea of being completely off medication, but why? I’ve always encouraged people to put that idea away. There’s no shame on being on medication your whole life. Why should there be? After all, as many people say when this debate comes up, you wouldn’t tell a diabetic to stop taking insulin, so why would you say it to someone who’s brain doesn’t produce enough serotonin?
I’ve been conflicted about this for the last few weeks, so I started collecting opinions. First, I asked my roommates, who are Biochem and Biomed students, to explain to me exactly how Anti-depressants work, as I’m aware they’ve been studying it lately. I can’t remember the complexities of it too well, but my basic takeaway was `it helps your serotonin receptors in your brain actually do their job`. They also explained why some people can get `too used` to Anti-depressants and gradually need higher doses, but that was something I understood anyhow.
After this, I felt a little more self-assured about my decision, so I bought it up in my weekly call with my dad. I told him, quite confidently, that I was going to talk to my doctor the moment I got home for Easter and, hopefully, go through the rough adjustment period over the 2 week holiday. His response, surprisingly, was “I don’t know, hun, I don’t think you really need them anymore”. You see, I don’t really remember a lot of those super depressed years – very much intentionally – so there’s a chance that my dad remembers more of what I was like while I was taking them than I do. But then, is he remembering the depression, or the Anti-depressants? To further confuse my whole process I found out that my Nan, who you remember from earlier, had come off her dosage entirely, swearing that she’ll never go on them ever again. Is she just succumbing to the mindset that she should endeavour to be free of medication, or are the side-effects of them worse than I remember?
This is not a new conflict. I’ve met a dozen people who have the same internal debate, from my housemates, to doctors and therapists. I’m not the one to offer answers about it either. I don’t have a nice, neat conclusion for this. So, I’ll round it up this way: I think I’m going to try them again. Will they help me? Who knows? It’s got to be worth a try though, right? Maybe it will get me to a place where I actually post regularly.