I’ve noticed that in my time writing about mental health, there are different levels of acceptance for topics. I can discuss my depression or anxiety, but not my borderline personality disorder. I can talk about my anorexia but not my bulimia. I can discuss depression or therapy, but antidepressants feel different.
We’ve come further in fighting the mental health stigma but we still pick and choose what’s included in that. I’m guilty of that as well in the topics I choose to discuss, and those that feel too frightening. I get told that I’m “brave” for discussing things when I have a list of topics that feel too embarrassing to put into words.
This is one of those topics. I started antidepressants a few weeks ago and it felt harder than all the other parts of my mental illness. I struggled to admit it to my friends and family, and I even struggled to come to terms with the decision myself.
Here are the six things that scared me the most about going on antidepressants.
When I told a family member that I was going on antidepressants, their first question was for how long. I didn’t have an answer. Often, with these medications, they don’t set an end date. It’s not like antibiotics where you can kill the depression bacteria with a two-week dose and then return to your happy, healthy self.
Antidepressants don’t have an exact period of working. Some people stop needing them. Some people think they do, come off them and realise they need them again. Some people stay on them.
I don’t know which I’ll be. My depression isn’t being triggered by a life event, it’s just something biological, something in my DNA. So I could need them for a long time, or I could not.
I think the idea of coming off them scares me as well, as that’s a comedown like any medication is. It’s like when I got my IUD inserted, and it was an absolutely traumatising experience. My first thought as the pain receded was “That’s going to have to come out again”. One day I’ll go through all of these side effects again and await the crushing pain of my depression in full force, perhaps anticlimatic, perhaps even worse than I remember.
We fear the end of something right when it starts. It’s like falling in love knowing it very likely will end. Eventually, the joyous beginning starts to feel more and more like the dread of a horror film waiting to unfold.
I’m afraid of never coming off of antidepressants, and I’m afraid of coming off them, and I’ve barely even started them.
I shared this fear with a close friend and she responded, “But you don’t really drink now?”
She was right. I had basically stopped drinking for a few months now because it had been affecting my mental health too much. My depression was in such a precarious position that even two beers were enough to make the next day feel like wading through emotional mud.
I had been toying with the idea of stopping drinking altogether, fascinated by the ‘sober curious’ movement, but struggling with the social constructs of it.
Suddenly I was being prescribed a medication that came with the guidance of no alcohol. It turns out that alcohol doesn’t stop it working, but rather the effect of alcohol is strengthened, making it far too easy to get drunk. Also since alcohol is a depressant, it’s not a great mix when fighting depression, as I’ve experienced in the past.
I wasn’t drinking anyway and yet the idea of not drinking at all scared me. How would I go on a date and not have a drink? How would I attend a birthday and not have a drink?
I know that people still have a glass or two and drink on these medications, but I wanted to go in with the intention of really minimising that. I think what scared me most was that I didn’t really want to drink anymore, and I feared what that meant about me.
The scariest moment of my depression was when I didn’t want to write anymore. I reached that point last summer and it terrified me. This was the thing that I loved most in the world, my reason for getting up in the morning, and I suddenly didn’t care about it anymore. What was left then?
I need my writing like I need oxygen. I need the release of it, the ability to unburden the weight from my shoulders, the relief of being heard and seen for who I actually am rather than the mask I wear.
I was afraid that going on antidepressants would impact my productivity, but in all honesty, it couldn’t make it worse than my depression does. I’ve learned ways to stay productive despite my depression, but it’s still a challenge most days.
I’m embarrassed to admit that this was something weighing heavily on me. I like to think I’ve recovered from my eating disorder, but that mindset still plagues me. I’m finally growing more comfortable with my bigger body, and now I was faced with the possibility that it might change again. I didn’t want to feel like a stranger in my own skin again.
But weight gain is worth the positive effects of antidepressants. If I have to choose between a smaller size and feeling better, I know what the choice will be. We’ve been conditioned to believe that a smaller size can bring that happiness, but I’ve been there, and it was the most miserable I’ve ever been.
Beauty doesn’t have a size, and neither does happiness. Weight gain shouldn’t be a fear or a hurdle, but it’s okay to admit that these learned thoughts are hard to shake.
I’m scared of gaining weight and that’s okay, as long as I don’t let it stop me from anything. Now more than I ever, I need to be conscious of my maladaptive thoughts about my body and food, and not let them control me.
I was briefly on antidepressants in 2017. I wasn’t going to therapy and I was prescribed them by my GP. It was a dark time for me. I was drinking heavily, not working through my issues, and pretending everything would be fine now. I think that’s why I’m so afraid of drinking on medication, as things got really scary when I did. Of course, I was twenty and would take half a dozen tequila shots to numb the pain, rather than a casual beer with friends, but the fear remains.
That was a terrifying time for me. I had put so much hope into the medication. I had seen it as proof of my suffering and the key to my recovery.
Now I’m twenty-six, I know that medicine alone can’t fix things, and I’m looking after myself, both emotionally and physically.
We’ve come further in terms of the stigma surrounding mental illness, and yet it still can be difficult. Some colleagues from my previous job subscribed to my newsletter and I felt nervous about them reading my articles, the ones that discuss my mental illness in detail. But this is exactly why I write about these things. This is why I sat down and wrote this article.
I’m nervous about telling people that I’m on antidepressants because my depression has always been high-functioning. I can smile through the pain so well that I almost convince myself. So it comes as a shock to people, it always comes as a shock, and that makes me doubt myself. I hate that when I tell them that I’ve started medication, they’ll say that they never would’ve known things were bad, that I seem fine. They mean well, but it only strengthens my worst fears. It makes me feel like I’m exaggerating how bad it is, like I’m just not trying hard enough.
I’m scared to tell people but I’m also scared to remain in silence, to make excuses for not drinking, to hide the strip of pills. I don’t want to add to the shame of it by treating it as something to hide.
I’m not telling you these fears to deter you, quite the opposite. I’m trying to show that these fears are valid, even the ones that seem a bit silly. They’re valid because you think them, I think them, and they deserve the space to be observed.
They’re not enough to stop me from not taking medication and getting better, but they’re moments to be mourned, losses to be considered, and questions to be answered. I know that the real priority is reaching a place where each day no longer feels so difficult, but I’m still allowed to struggle on the way to get there. I have faith in trying medication and finding a way to make each day easier.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
Would you like to receive my top monthly articles right to your inbox?
For any comments/questions/enquiries, please get in touch at:
I'd love to hear from you!