I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but I never knew were to start. So, I guess I’ll start from the beginning.
“I need help.”
Prior to being medicated I was taking St John’s Wort, I had Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), I was doing Yoga, eating well, and had joined a gym to improve my mental health. Sadly, nothing was able to break through my exterior wall of sheer sadness and anger.
The day I decided to be medicated was the day that I got so angry at my cat (for being his usual pain in the ass) that I genuinely didn’t want him anymore. I thought of every possible way to get rid of him (some were truly unspeakable) and after a few moments of delving into a place I never thought I’d see, I burst into tears and decided enough was enough; I needed help. Now, this may seem like a rather ridiculous breakthrough for some people, but for me it was life changing. My cat, Bruce Wayne, had been by my side for over two years as I had raised him from a kitten and was his sole human. He was (and still is) the most comically moody, hilarious and quirky cat at you’ll ever meet. Everyone loves Bruce, even cat-haters, he is just the weirdest little dude and I couldn’t imagine my life without him – until I did. Strangely, the thoughts I’d previously had about hurting myself didn’t shock or scare me, but the thought of hurting one of the things I love the most did. I needed help, desperately.
Shortly after that, I spoke to some friends at work who had gone through similar experiences and they warned me against going on drugs. Now, I can see the thinking behind this but I can hand-on-heart say that am extremely glad that I didn’t listen to them. Going ahead, I met with a GP that I liked and trusted, she was genuine and I could see the sadness in her eyes when I told her everything that I had tried to do to be happy again. She told me it would be okay, we’d get me better and she started me on a high dose of Sertraline (with hopes of putting it up a few weeks later, but I declined).
“I feel weird.”
The first day I took the medication I felt like I’d just taken some weak acid or other hallucinogenic drug. I felt very aware of my body. Like I could feel each chamber of my heart as each valve opened and closed. I could feel every nerve in my finger tips and each muscle in my face contract and relax. It is truly an indescribable experience, that thankfully only lasted a couple of days.
Before I started taking “happy pills” I was a writer and an artist. I started writing a novel a few years ago and fell in love with the world and my characters;it was an easy escape from my reality – to go into a world that I created, solely for me and my characters.
From when the drugs became part of my routine, I started to feel that the love for my novel began to cease. Every day I loved it a little less. Now, 10 months later, I can barely remember the characters that I was so passionate about. I can’t see their faces in my head anymore, the sound of their voices, the interior of their world. My characters became distant friends, who I still cared about but no longer felt the need to connect with.
It’s as if my medication put my life on hold. Imagine an artist who suddenly goes colourblind, or a singer who gets permanent laryngitis. You can still function as a person but your art-form, your passion, becomes diminished and eventually dies off all together. That’s how I felt.
Without them, without my book and my art, I felt lost. But not wholly lost, like the panic you’d feel if you wandered too deep into a forest or got caught up in a conversation that you know nothing about. It was more like walking into a building that you know, and forgetting which room you needed to go into. You’re there, you have a sense of purpose, but you’re misguided.
“I feel like Me again.”
As the months passed, and taking the medication became ingrained, I acclimatized. The tingling in my fingers had subsided and the strange metaphorical bubble that formed around me, burst. I finally remembered what it felt like to be happy, actually happy. Pre-medication I had some anger issues. Nothing serious but I would basically turn any emotion (whether it be sadness, desire, fear, anything really) into rage. It was easier for me to cope with rage. I understood it. But on the medication I didn’t feel so angry, I didn’t really feel much at all; I found it easier to shrug things off and pretend that it didn’t bother me. I could jump head first into situations, that would have previously made me physically ill with anxiety. For the first time, in a long time, I felt at peace.
The only way I can describe being on medication is like constantly having something with you that acts like barrier against the world. I call it padding. I hurt a little less, I rarely cried, I always laughed… but I never loved. To me, that padding stopped things from getting to me, it made me more resilient to the horrors of the world and of my own mind. But, it also stopped me from letting things in, people, scenic views, empathy. I struggled to sympathize with people who were having a hard time, as if it was simply programmed out of my head. Some of my nearest and dearest confronted me about it; saying I was cold, robotic, nasty, even selfish. To me, it felt like they were talking to me through a pain of glass in a prison visiting room, I could see their frustration and sadness but I couldn’t “feel” it. They were just words bouncing off my imaginary padding. I heard them though, and I thought about it a lot, but probably not in the way that most people would – through tears and “I can’t believe it”. It’s hard for me to look back on now, but I was all of those things. The medication made me that. You may think “it’s no excuse” but until you’ve walked around like an emotional zombie for a year – you really have no idea.
It’s been a hard 9 months, but the 10 before that were unbearable, and I can proudly say that I am off medication and have been for 4 weeks.
Looking back, it’s hard to put a positive spin on medication. It made me numb, hard, thoughtless and unloving. But, and this is a big BUT, it kept me alive. It kept me mentally stable, able to get up in the mornings, able to leave the house, able to enjoy the company of my friends, able to change everything about my life that I had previously hated. I could do it all. No more sickness, no more rage. And for that, I will take the bad; I will take the lectures from friends and the concerned looks from my family.
I think it’s very important to speak candidly about mental health. I could go on for days, telling stories of things that happened to me while I was medicated (some actually rather hilarious) but I won’t. I want the world to know that it’s OK to not want to be medicated, I didn’t want to be for the longest time. But it’s also OK to need to be medicated, which is exactly what happened to me. You aren’t weak, You aren’t pathetic, You aren’t a headcase, you aren’t any of those terrible things that you may have convinced yourself that you are. You’re just in need of a bit of padding.
It’s been an interesting month, but I’ll detail that in another post, another time. For now, if you’re feeling low and want the truth – I really hope this has helped. And please note: each person is different, and it’s important you take your own journey to find what works best for you.
Sufferers from any illness need love, laughter and support from everyone around them. Be that person for me, for your friend, parent, sibling, co-worker or partner.
Listen, understand, be patient and try to be conscious of the fact that it can’t be controlled and we’re still the same person who you love – in whatever way that is.
If you have any questions for me, please feel free to ask.
Knowledge is power, after all.