About 2 years ago, I was sat in a doctor’s office, and having a panic attack. I remember the concerned GP handing me tissue after tissue, reassuring the hyperventilating 22 year old breaking down in his office. It wasn’t my finest moment, to be honest. But it changed my life.
A lot had happened in the run-up to that appointment. I’d had some of my roughest months, mental health-wise, and when the stuff in my head started spilling over and affecting aspects of my life, especially academia, I knew I had to sort myself out, or I’d risk failing my final exams.
So I did something that terrified me: I started taking medication for my depression and anxiety.
I remember handing over the mint-green prescription slip for my Citalopram to the woman behind the counter in Boots. As she narrowed her eyes at the paper, and then at me, I was convinced that she was judging me for needing medication. I was pretty paranoid at the time, so I’m not entirely sure if she was actually judging me, but it felt like it.
My anti-depressants were making me more depressed
There’s still such a stigma about taking medication for mental health issues. It’s crazy (pun intended). I wanted to be open about it, but I also wanted to avoid judgement. So at first, I lied to most people. I let people think that I was taking The Pill, when I pulled out the metallic packet from my bag at the same time every day. Later, when I moved back in with my family, I had no idea how to tell my mother that I was taking an antidepressant, so I passed it off as iron tablets, for anaemia I didn’t have, because that seemed so much easier than sitting down and admitting that I needed medication to keep me level.
Side effect life
I had been so hung up on what it meant to take medication, I never really gave a thought to what life on antidepressants would be like. I’d fended off friends who recommended going on medication. “But what about the side effects?” I’d wail. Funnily enough, until I started taking them, I’d never given the side effects any thought.
Here are the side effects I experienced, in no particular order:
- Nausea – no one I’d spoken to had experienced this, or warned me about it, but a 20mg dose of Citalopram made me nauseous for the first two weeks. I walked around with low-level nausea, feeling as though I was one strong smell away from dry-heaving at all times. I imagine it’s what morning sickness feels like. It wasn’t pleasant, but it subsided.
- Changes in taste buds – I had to stop drinking coffee. In a week and a half, I found myself turning my nose up at coffee, especially the bitter instant coffee I made in my flat, because it had started to taste foul. The first time it happened, I thought I’d added milk that had gone off, but realised soon after that it wasn’t the coffee that had changed, it was me. Thank God that tea still tasted the same.
- A dry mouth – this wasn’t too bad. If anything, it made me drink more water, and I got into the habit of carrying gum around, so my breath was minty-fresh.
- Sleepyness – for the first couple of months, I relished this. After years of struggling with insomnia, my medication was helping me to nod off just a few minutes after climbing into bed. It was fantastic. I did struggle staying up late, though, and once found myself on the verge of snoozing on a late shift at work, which wasn’t so great.
- An increase in suicidal thoughts – yep, you read that right. My anti-depressants were making me more depressed. For a couple of months, I may have been cutting down on caffeine, sleeping better and drinking more water, but the inside of my head was a minefield. Suicidal thoughts would just pop unbidden into my head at an alarming rate, and I struggled to combat them.
After 8 weeks or so, it all calmed down, and even though it was a side effect-ridden hell to begin with, the resulting upswing in my mental health made it all worthwhile. Ah, stability.
I took my exams; got the grades I wanted so I could go on to study a Masters; graduated, and spent a chill summer working and hanging out with my friends. All was well.
That is, until I moved home.
On-again, off-again (and on again, and off again)
Moving is stressful enough, but I’d made the mistake of not getting two months’ worth of meds before leaving Newcastle to move home to Manchester. It took a couple of months to re-register at my GP, and then to get an appointment, and then finally to get a prescription. In this time, I’d effectively quit Citalopram cold turkey.
It was horrible, but once I was off, I was reluctant to go back on. I was sleeping OK, I hadn’t had a panic attack in almost 6 months, and I really didn’t want to deal with two weeks of nausea when starting my new degree.
So I threw my prescription away.
Should I have done that? Probably not. But everything seemed fine, and I’d never wanted to be completely dependent on antidepressants. I’d decided to go it alone, and if things got too bad, I could always go back, couldn’t I?
It’s never as simple as that. After that first run of medication, it’s been near impossible for me to get back on medication properly, for a whole host of reasons.
For a while, I wanted to – I was in a pretty bad place, mentally, so I might also have needed to. But after one month of being back on, I literally couldn’t afford the medication anymore. I just didn’t have £8.60 to spare every month (my financial situation was dire, don’t @ me). Although it probably was a necessity, it was one of the first things I cut out when money was tight.
Later on, when I needed them and had the money, I didn’t want the hassle of explaining to my mum that I wanted to go back on them. She’d been really understanding when I had come clean to her about what Citalopram actually did, and she was relieved I wasn’t anaemic. But telling her that my mental health was deteriorating was another difficult conversation that I wanted to put off for as long as possible.
I had been so hung up on what it meant to take medication, I never really gave a thought to what life on antidepressants would be like
It didn’t help that between deadlines, working ridiculous hours around a full-time Masters course, and a bunch of extra-curricular activities, I just never seemed to be free during GP-visiting hours. Trying to get an appointment at my local surgery was like trying to book tickets for a Lady Gaga show during presale – chances were slim, and if you didn’t get in early in the morning, when they became available, you were unlikely to get anything. Not for weeks anyway.
When my appointment would finally come round, I’d be running late and miss it, or I’d been convinced to do more hours at work. Once, I just plain forgot until I was sent a reminder text, and had to ring up and cancel. Another time, I woke up and was too depressed to go to the doctor (the irony isn’t lost on me, don’t worry).
After a lot of thought and some very shitty mental health days, I’m finally going back on my meds. I got myself a rare morning appointment, was prescribed Citalopram again, and am now the proud owner of a prescription slip I’ve yet to take to the pharmacist’s.
I’m ready to stop being on-again, off-again with my meds. I know they’re right for me, I just need to stop making excuses and commit to them.