More than four million people in England alone are ‘long term users of antidepressants’, according to statistics released last year, and I’m not afraid to hold my hands up and say I’m part of that statistic.
After battling with crippling depression for a number of years and trying countless different ways of helping myself, a severe breakdown led to me making the hard decision to give in and take the tablets I’d been both recommended and prescribed many times before.
I use the phrase ‘give in’ purposely because that is how it felt. I felt like a failure. I’d given up all hope of ever getting better or back to normal without medical intervention, so taking antidepressants really did feel like my last hope.
For people who don’t suffer with depression or have never taken antidepressants, there’s a number of misconceptions about these tablets that I really think need putting straight because the reality of being an antidepressant taker isn’t what you’d think.
It is however crucial to underline that this is my experience alone, and everyone who has ever taken antidepressants will have their own experience – good, bad or average.
One common assumption of antidepressants is that they’re a bit of a miracle drug, they’re going to cure your depression, which unfortunately for all of us taking them, that just isn’t the case. Whether you’re taking Sertraline, Citalopram or any of the other antidepressants commonly prescribed in the UK, you may still experience depression – you’re unlikely to be cured.
They’re not like antibiotics, they’re not doing anything to your mind or body to get rid of your depression, they’re simply helping you manage – they’re a crutch. That’s the best way I can describe how an antidepressant actually helps you cope; if you broke your leg, you’d use crutches and although life would still be challenging and things would be harder to do, you could get on with everyday tasks and manage, and for some, that’s what antidepressants do to your brain, they can help you get through.
Another false assumption about antidepressants is that they’re some kind of ‘happy pill’. A lot of people who have never taken one of these tablets assume we wash one down everyday and feel on cloud nine permanently; laughing, joking and feeling overly happy because we’ve taken medication to eliminate depressed thoughts.
But for most, antidepressants simply level you out. They don’t elevate your mood, they just keep it steady. Antidepressants help to stop the lows feeling so low but they usually don’t create huge highs for you. They don’t improve your mood to make you feel like life is wonderful.
One of the biggest presumptions about taking antidepressants that really bothers me is that some people think it is an easy option, perhaps a ‘cop out’ to not have to deal with your real emotions.
Choosing to go on antidepressants was not a choice I took lightly, and I remember sitting in my kitchen crying when it came to taking my first ever tablet because I was so disappointed in myself for reaching this point. But I was also so scared of what was to come if I got into this cycle of taking these tablets.
Antidepressants may have side effects. For one, they can be somewhat addictive. Many takers of antidepressants may relate to the reliance they feel for their tablets, with physical and mental side effects often appearing pretty quickly if you don’t take them.
Although they’re a drug that is designed to help your brain, they can affect your body, for example weight loss or gain. I for one definitely experienced a severe appetite change when I started taking them – I also found that taking antidepressants ruined any sleeping pattern I had for a very long time.
I couldn’t get to sleep and I certainly couldn’t stay asleep but even when I did manage to nod off, they caused me the most vivid nightmares that were enough to wake me up in a panic attack. Luckily, these symptoms began to subside after a while, but one thing that has remained consistent whilst I take antidepressants is emotional numbness.
I used to cry at everything but as soon as I started taking antidepressants, I could no longer cry. I still feel depressed about the things I felt depressed about before starting the tablets. Things still upset me, anger me, worry me but I can’t show those emotions because I can no longer cry or have any kind of emotional reaction, I’ve become somewhat blank.
I still have things that overwhelm me and provoke a physical emotional response, like crying, but it’s rare, which for someone who was such an emotional person this is difficult to deal with. I feel antidepressants have robbed me of my ability to express my feelings while still forcing me to feel all those emotions.
If someone tells you they’re taking antidepressants, be considerate. Be aware that it may have been very difficult to take this step. They may be suffering with both mental and physical side effects. They may still be thinking about those depressed thoughts but just no longer knowing how to express them.
Antidepressants are a saviour for so many people and I can honestly say I do not regret my decision to take them, but being reliant on these tablets is part of my reality, and it needs to be better understood to help remove the stigma surrounding being an antidepressant user.
We all have to feel confident to be able to do what we need to do get by and have the best quality of life possible and if that means taking antidepressants, then there should be no shame about that.