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Adventures with Sertraline

So here’s a super obvious fact for you: Depression is shit, but we should talk about it more.

I’ve always been quietly embarrassed by my mental health problems. I see them as a weakness, and do everything I can to hide the symptoms from others when they arise. Frankly, I have a problem with accepting I even have a problem when I do. What can I say? I’m stubborn as hell, and it’s just the way it is for me.

For a long time I refused to be the person who relied on pills to get through the day. In the past no matter how bad things got, I would do anything to avoid medication. This time around was different though. I swallowed my pride, admitted I needed help, and took my first dose of sertraline.

I’m so glad I did.

Cynics will say it isn’t normal to need a pill to get you through the day.

And I hear them! That used to me be. But I think this attitude is mostly down to stigma. You wouldn’t say this to someone who needs a daily dose of medication to push away physical illnesses, which show themselves in more obvious ways. What’s the difference between that, and taking medication to ensure your brain is not encouraging you to jump in front of a train? Some people will be on antidepressants for most of their lives. Others will need it for a few months, to give them the push they need to address the source of their unhappiness. Either way, those who are using antidepressants shouldn’t be treated any differently.

Some people worry that antidepressants are being overprescribed by doctors.

Well duh. Of course they are. But what else can they do?

It’s likely that many people who suffer with depression could recover without the help of medication, provided they received the right talking therapies. But when waiting times for treatment are so long, what else are doctors supposed to do? Just send people away with nothing and hope they don’t kill themselves?

We’re facing a major mental health crisis in this country, and our mental health services are just not up to scratch. Mental health budgets are being cut violently, so the government have a lot to answer for; but this doesn’t change the fact we live in a fundamentally stressful culture. The problem runs so deep it is hard to see how we can solve it without a fundamental rethink about our priorities and how we live.

Let me give you some insight into how I was feeling less than six months ago.

Most of the time I’ve been able to push through my bad periods without the help of medication, but this time was different.

Every day was a challenge. I was sleeping for 11+ hours a day, and still feeling exhausted when I woke. I was missing enough work that it had started to flag up as a problem with HR. My family didn’t know what to do with me. I was experiencing that weird combination of anxiety and depression whereby I cared about nothing and everything at the same time, and never felt relaxed or at peace.

Suicidal thoughts were beginning to creep up on me until I was scaring myself with my ability to source methods of self-harm. Everything became a potential method of suicide. Driving to work. Just drive into the wall. Cutting vegetables for dinner. Just stab yourself. Entering my room. Just take all of your sleeping pills.

Thinking about my own death just became a matter of routine and practicality. I couldn’t try before 10pm, as people at home were still awake and therefore they might find me before I was dead. Jumping in front of a car or train was a no go, because that would inflict a lifetime of guilt on the person responsible for the fatal blow, and inconvenience people travelling to work. Hanging myself, or slitting my wrists, would just be crass, and traumatising for whoever found me. I was permanently on the verge of tears, and ready to clock out of life for good when the opportunity arose.

What I’m try to say is, sertraline couldn’t have come into my life soon enough.

What can I say about the experience itself? I felt sick for a while. It didn’t work straight away. But as my doctor had promised, I noticed my mood was slowly lifting one day at a time. Not only did the medication ward off unwelcome sadness, it helped quieten my anxiety day-to-day too. Everything became a little more bearable.

Which brings us to today…

I’ve been off antidepressants for a few months now, and so far so good. Sure, I still have bad days. But they are few and far between. I’m in a good place, and now I know what to do if I ever sink into dark places again. I’ll stop being so stubborn, and take all the help I can get.

Sertraline helped me fight back against sadness when I desperately needed the help, and I couldn’t be more thankful. As far as I’m concerned, it is the wonder drug which helped me get my life back; and I wouldn’t think twice about pursuing it again if I ever needed to.

If there’s one message I want to get across to those who are suffering or struggling with the idea of being on medication right now, it is this:

Please don’t see being on antidepressants as a sign of weakness, because it is anything but.

I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to realise this. It is something that can help push you in the right direction. Because what’s the alternative? You sit it in your room with the curtains closed and the lights off for weeks on end and hope you don’t get fired? Just leave your whole life falling apart to chance? It’s not practical or realistic; and you deserve better than that, even if your illness means you fail to see that right now.

Antidepressants won’t necessarily get you the results you’re looking for straight away. It takes time, and some medication may not work for you. But as someone who has experienced the difference a few pills can make first hand, I can tell you that being brave enough and strong enough to give it a chance might just be the best thing you ever do.

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