[TW: suicide, mental illness]
If you have read any of my past posts you may be aware of my tumultuous struggle with mental health. After years of muddling through my pain silently and alone, I began to talk. And from there I have become a firm believer that talking does help. Nobody deals with a broken arm alone, or cancer or any other physical illness, so why should a mental illness be any different?
There’s obviously lot’s of different spectrums or ‘disorders’ that anyone can fall into in regards to mental illness. As you possibly know, I personally struggle with anxiety and depression. I didn’t know I did for years. As the years went by in secondary school, I was coping worse and worse, but my friends were great. They were always there for me and would bring me to the school’s guidance counsellor during points of immense panic.
I avoided talking about the direct issues for a very long time. It was only after dad passed and I was no longer able to do anything without a panic attack, that I realised I needed to talk with my doctor. But, if we’re being honest, I only went to my doctor because I had another physical issue and so I briefly dropped my mental issue in while I was there. Had I not had to go, I probably would have struggled a lot longer without help.
My doctor was, and still is, amazing. Although I only wanted to subtly drop in the topic, he took his time and spoke through all my emotions individually, as well as going through each and every option that was available to me. I was definitely in there well over the standard fifteen minutes. Eventually, we decided that six months on a mild antidepressant, and also some therapy would do the trick.
I was nervous about taking the tablets originally. He prescribed me 20mg of Prozac, to begin with. I didn’t want to be ‘crazy’, I wanted to be able to handle my emotions on my own. But, clearly, I couldn’t do that. This was August 2016.
By mid-September, I was on the tablets for around a month and I did notice a difference. It was then that I had an appointment with a therapist to see how they could help me. She was lovely and sent me away with loads of things to read and groups I could attend. I was told the waiting list was long but that I should hear back from them in around six to nine months. I never did. A sadly common experience here in Ireland.
As the months went by, I could feel myself slowly getting worse again. Maybe it was my body getting used to the tablets? Or maybe it was seasonal depression mixing in with my normal depression? Who knows. But I ended up being but on to a stronger antidepressant, this time Escitalopram, and I was referred to a psychiatrist.
I was terrified of going to the psychiatrist. The building was old and eerie. I felt as though my fear of being ‘crazy’ was coming through as I sat waiting in a long and lonely corridor. Thankfully, the psychiatrist was lovely. She definitely put me at ease within those dreary four walls. I left feeling less ‘crazy’ and somewhat more accepting of the cards I was being dealt. I felt that maybe, just maybe, I could get a handle on this. Granted that only lasted a couple of days before the imposter syndrome set in again and I began to feel isolated once more.
The intense and overwhelming feelings of being worthless, a burden to those around me, are crippling. Why should anyone be forced to deal with me? I just ruin everything. Everyone would be better off without me around. My mind was causing these self-inflictions, an endless cycle of torment, ensuring I felt well and truly like an utter waste of space. Little did I know that I was about to enter one of the darkest periods of my life.
A lot had happened and I was in a very dark place. My doctor increased my medication to the highest dose, which helped a bit but honestly, I was just lost and that wasn’t enough at that point. The panic attacks were regular and intense. The thoughts circling my mind were bleak and lacking all hope. I didn’t know how to go on. I thought this was in for me, that I would feel this way forever.
One day in college, at this point, I was in a pretty bad way. A panic attack hit me fast. I couldn’t cope anymore. I was incredibly low. Thankfully, a member of staff in the college got me the help I needed at that point. They mentioned Pieta House to me. I was taken aback, I didn’t think I would qualify for that. Sure, I had suicidal ideologies, but I was a lost cause as far as I was concerned. This is just my life. I couldn’t live with myself to take away the service from someone who may need it more. Thankfully, they encouraged me to try.
While on the highest dose of the Escitalopram they could give me, I was going weekly to Pieta House. It was wonderful, they were wonderful. I had an amazing therapist there, to this day I still think back to some of the things he had told me and they still help me. They helped me infinitely. Unfortunately, around the midpoint of my set amount of sessions I wasn’t able to go for a few weeks. I ended up in a bad place again. I wanted to kill myself. I had to go to my doctor for a physical issue again, and did what I had done those couple years prior and brought up my negative thoughts.
They got me to the psychiatrist as soon as possible. This time was different though. They didn’t want me to go to the mental health section of the hospital, instead, my appointment was in the main part. It was a completely different experience from my first time there. A different doctor called me in this time. Honestly, I don’t have a whole lot of good things to say about her. She barely looked at me, showed zero empathy, just thoroughly a very cold persona. However, I was very open with her. I shared with her just how dark my thoughts were, how I wanted to end it all, that I felt alone in the world. She asked me if I had any friends. I told her yes. She told me to talk with them instead and that there was nothing else they could do for me. With that, she ushered me out the door. I wasn’t in there ten minutes. I am angry merely writing this. It took me everything to be so brutally open about the state of my mind, and in those short few minutes, she shattered all my trust in the mental health system in this country. I was just lucky enough to be able to see my therapist back in Pieta House around a month later.
It took time, but I was finally getting somewhere. Although my sessions with Pieta House were coming to an end, I was sent away with compassion and the knowledge that I can call them if I need to again. Although I’ve never used it, I still have the number saved.
I stayed on that high dose of antidepressant for a further nine or ten months, until I took myself off them myself, which I really should not have done, and I was incredibly sick for several weeks, but I think I was pretty lucky with my withdrawal symptoms. I wouldn’t do that again though, and I strongly advise against doing that yourself. I was young and dumb and have since learnt that I was just further self-harm as I was causing myself to experience this physical illness.
I really, really, really wanted to be off tablets. I hated being so dependant on medicine to have a level of control over my emotions. I still hate it. I wish I could wake up in the morning and not worry about forgetting it and the consequences if I do happen to miss one.
I was off them for about a year before the feelings crept back in, slowly. I remember being at home, lower than I had been in a good while, and I managed to find an old box of Prozac in the back of a cupboard. After some inner debates, I took one. I decided that maybe just for a few weeks to help myself get back my control again. I didn’t have enough tablets to achieve that so I ended up back with my doctor, but I was honest and I knew what I wanted. A low dose was all I needed. We had a good discussion and decided that it was a good idea, just for a few weeks.
A few weeks ended up turning into a few months very quickly. The pandemic hit fairly quickly after that first tablet from the cupboard, and making an appointment with the doctor was hard. I couldn’t be as open over the phone. I think it was easier to just stay on them, not the mention the added pressures with everything going on.
Coming up to a year later, I said to my doctor that I was not sure if the medication I was on was helping me enough. I looked back on the years gone by. I had been on SSRI’s the whole time, and I never really felt as better as I possibly should have. My doctor decided to prescribe me a new SNRI and see how I get on with them. I have been on them for around two months now.
It feels like a lifetime ago when I was originally meant to be on those first tablets for just six months. I’m not sure how long I’ll be on these new ones. A few months, a few years, a lifetime? I’m trying not to think about it. For now, I just take each day as it comes. If these SNRI’s help me, then that’s all that really matters.
I am putting in more effort these days than ever before. I am making a conscious effort to exercise regularly, zoom Zumba classes twice weekly so far with my friend! I also have started therapy again around six months ago. I can feel myself making such major progress, but I still need my medication. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. And that’s okay. So often there is a stigma around anti-depressants, I have met people who see it as a point of pride that they don’t need them. And I truly think that Is great for them. But if you are like me, it’s very important to acknowledge that it’s okay to take them, and it doesn’t make you weaker or lazy or any of those things. We each have our own, individual journeys. What works for one person may not work for another. And that is okay.