9 months I ago I took my first anti-depressant.
Having suffered with increasingly bad (at times almost fatal) anxiety and depression for 9 years I had finally reached the point where it felt right.
Over the years I have been prescribed various anti-depressants many times but I have never taken them. I was adamant that I could conquer this on my own.
But the time came where I felt I had come as far as I could and I still wasn’t quite right. I was pretty exhausted, and was doing everything right. I then met with a doctor who spent 30 whole minutes talking to me about how SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) actually work and why he felt these were right for me.
I was prescribed Escitalopram as opposed to Citalopram as I was so so anxious about the side effects. Supposedly Escitalopram is purer, and therefore minimises the risk of nasty side effects so it’s worth mentioning this to your doctor and also bearing in mind this probably impacted my experience.
What are SSRIs?
Effectively people who have suffered trauma again and again, or those who just genetically don’t manage their serotonin levels productively, discard any serotonin hormone that is produced by the body too quickly for it to do it’s job. It’s like years of having any happiness destroyed or batted away in an instant has taught us to not bother storing it, as why would we waste energy on that when we can’t ever be happy?!
SO serotonin which is meant to balance our moods, sleep patterns etc comes is not stored in our brains long enough to have a positive impact. It’s basically destroyed by the stress hormone, cortisol, which creates a very inhospitable environment for poor little serotonin! But at times of stress cortisol is our way of surviving.
SSRI’s are a group of drugs which include Citalopram, and Escitalopram. They are designed to slow down the process at which we destroy or dispose of serotonin. It forces our brains to hold onto it for long. It gives the brain the strength to support the serotonin and allow it more time to get to work.
So they don’t create serotonin. Which is a common misconception. It just allows us to keep it for longer.
The longer the brain starts to see how useful it is to create a lovely space for serotonin to do it’s job, the easier it becomes to hold on to it. It starts to rebalance. It starts to give your mind a break from the insane amounts of cortisol that most likely, it doesn’t really need.
I don’t want to get addicted – is there any alternative!?
Firstly, this was and still is one of my major concerns. I’m currently working on reducing my dosage although I’m already on 5mg which is a very small dose. I will do another blog post in a month or so on this.
Before I was ready to take SSRI’s I was prescribe Propanalol which is a beta-blocker and these can be taken every day or sporadically as and when you need them. They surpress adrenaline and can help with those who suffer from panic attacks and may be right for you if you feel that SSRI’s are too heavy handed.
Should I start taking them?
That depends. I have heard stories where people started on a small dose which didn’t work, or the side effects made them feel more anxious at first so they quickly increased the dosage and so on. Which is a slippery slope.
I’ve also heard of people taking them and not doing anything else to try and manage their mental illness, just hoping the tablets will make it all better.
The ONLY reason I felt happy to finally take medication was because I felt I had the right support system and the right tools to deal with it.
I can not stress this enough… if you do not go to speak to someone it is incredibly unlikely you will get to the root cause of the issue, and have any hope of recovering/managing it long term. Taking tablets alone will merely cover up the symptoms but it will be a superficial fix and might not last.
After trying other therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy, exercise, diets, and hypnotherapy I start looking for an actual psychiatrist who could help me. I met with 4 different therapists until I found a disarmingly intelligent and beautiful lady called Daniela who actually made me feel understood.
We had about a years worth of sessions and it was a long tough slog. It was hard, and after some sessions where we did delve into some childhood trauma and other situations I had not properly processed emotionally, I would feel drained for a day or two but then like a weight had been lifted.
Many epiphanies later I had made amazing progress. I went back to see her while trying to get out of my abusive relationship, and the non-judgemental honesty she gave me was absolutely life changing.
Had I not gone to therapy there is no way in hell I would have had such a positive experience on Escitalopram this last year.
I also have a very good relationship with my doctor as well as friends and family who supported me through the initial adjustment period at the beginning.
How bad are the side effects?
I’m not going to lie, part of the reason why I was so against taking these was the fear of how bad they could make my anxiety and suicidal thoughts. I had heard of some people’s experiences when first taking these tablets, and it seemed brutal. Just not worth it. But then I thought… I’m already anxious. I get anxious about eating pizza for fuck’s sake, so I’m bound to feel anxious about a tablet thats working magic on my little peanut brain.
But it wasn’t as bad as I thought. It was totally bearable.
Here’s what I experienced in terms of side effects:
During the first two weeks I really did feel tired and groggy. A bit like I had just recovered from the flu. At times I had mild dissociation and I felt as though everything was a bit surreal but nothing that taking it easy couldn’t fix. I actually took the first week off work as I was worried, and I’m glad I did but I would say if you have an understanding boss then you’ll be just fine.
They weren’t exactly extreme, but some days I would feel exceptionally giggly and giddy but the next I would feel quite down. I had a couple of occasions during the first 7 days where I had massive whooshes of anxiety physically, like when you think there’s an extra step on the stairs and there isn’t. But it passed very quickly and I just reminded myself that it was adjusting to the medication.
Ok ok. Let’s get it out in the open. Since taking the tablets I’ve put on 1.5 stone (9.5 kg). That’s a lot. I’ve got from a size 6 to a size 10. Don’t get me wrong, I probably needed to put on a bit of weight and some of it is probably where I have less anxious energy burning all my calories. I’m also generally eating more as I’m more comfortable about food. HOWEVER, it’s definitely not all about that as I still don’t eat a lot. I’ve really struggled with this I’m not gonna lie and at the risk of getting a load of hate mail for complaining about being a size 10, my body was the one thing I was actually confident about.
It’s not a dealbreaker and if I had known about the weight gain vs the impact on my life of taking the tablets – I absolutely would still take the tablets.
What does it feel like?
When I was endlessly researching all the negatives in my self inflicted torture of trying to decide whether or not to take the medication, I would say 1 in 50 articles were positive. If that. And not one person explained how actually felt to be on anti-depressants. Clearly it’s different for everybody but here is the best way I can describe it:
It’s like somebody turned down the radio in my mind.
For so long it was like having the most hectic, annoying radio on in the background. You couldn’t always make out what was being said, but it was there. Constantly. That’s what having anxiety is like. Sometimes it gets louder when it’s particularly focused on a ‘what if’ scenario or you’re having a tough time. Or trying to sleep. It’s helpful like that.
After about 4 weeks of being on Escitalopram I felt…quieter.
I didn’t feel like a zombie. I didn’t lose my personality. I still found things funny. But it was so frickin’ quiet. It was blissful.
It still is.
Don’t get me wrong I still get anxiety. But it’s no longer constant. It’s so much more manageable and as a result I’ve been able to do more and more things to push me forward and prove to my poor little frightened mind that things aren’t as scary as they seem. I have had the most wonderful 9 months of my life.
The lack of noise has allowed me to focus properly again. I can read books again without drifting off. I can watch films without it triggering me. I’ve been able to do my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques more easily.
It has been pretty life changing. But there is no way I would have had this experience without the support and without the therapy.
I was so worried I would become a shell of a person with no personality on these tablets. But if anything it has allowed me to resdiscover who I actually am without the anxiety.
It no longer controls me as a person and as each day goes by my actual personality is able to shine more and more.
If you are considering taking anti-depressants, and in particular Escitalopram I would say make sure you have done all the right things first and that you have a support system around you in case you do have stronger side effects. You need to make sure that you know the medication is to support YOU in managing your mental illness and NOT a way of just covering up the issue.
If anybody has any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me – but obviously remember I am not a medical professional (shocking I know!) so this is purely advice from my experience.
Love always x
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