Why I Started Taking Anti-Depressants
I didn’t want to admit I needed them, but I really did
For the last year and a half, I have been taking a daily 50mg dose of Sertraline, a common anti-depressant (also known under the brand name Zoloft).
But why? How did I get to a point where I believed I needed chemicals to alter my brain in order to be happy?
The last few years have been… difficult.
That line might be the biggest understatement I’ve written in quite a while.
There’s no one on the planet unaware of how much COVID-19 disrupted our lives. I have been lucky in that no one I know personally died, and I know a lot of people had a far worse experience than I did. But after a couple of months of lockdown, as someone who gets a lot of their energy from seeing people, I was finding it hard to keep going. And after six months, I had been made redundant, my marriage had ended, and I had to sell my house and move back in with my parents.
That is… a lot of disruption.
When my wife and I decided to call it a day, I got therapy through my work’s health insurance to help me get through it all. But when I lost my job, I had to end things with that therapist. But while she had helped me through the trauma of my separation, 2020 had left me well and truly in the grip of depression. And so I decided I needed to find someone new and begin some long-term therapy.
And so, I found a new therapist and began to work with them. And three months later, he asked me if I’d considered going on anti-depressants.
I believed taking anti-depressants was cheating
When I was younger, I used to be very much against the idea of anti-depressants.
Well, it’s a little more nuanced than that. I wasn’t against them in all cases. I believed that some people, those with chronic, lifelong conditions, needed them. But where depression or anxiety was caused by a situation or deeper issue, I saw anti-depressants as an excuse to avoid dealing with the root problems. I saw them as a part of a culture afraid of therapy.
They were something prescribed by doctors who would rather take money from pharmaceutical companies than put in the effort to help you, and taken by people wanting to smoother their problems rather than dealing with them head-on.
I saw them as the lazy way out.
This changed several years ago when I witnessed my wife’s relationship with them. She had been going through a major medical issue and was suffering from both depression and anxiety. When her therapist recommended medication, I have to admit I didn’t encourage it.
I didn’t outright say I didn’t want her to take them. It was always her decision. But I made it clear I wasn’t in favour of it. I was worried about her getting addicted. Or the side effects being worse than what she was already going through. I told her I believed ongoing therapy would be better in the long term and that she was strong enough to get through things on her own.
But she decided she needed to take them.
She was right, and I was wrong.
I could see the difference in her almost immediately. Depression can come on so gradually that I hadn’t realised how much it had changed her. But after a couple of weeks on the drugs, she had become the person I’d forgotten she’d used to be.
Would she have managed the same thing without medication? Probably, in time. But how much would she have suffered in that time? Now I understood that what the anti-depressants had done was help her get her head above water. They had given her the space to take control of her life.
I didn’t want to admit I wanted anti-depressants
When my therapist suggested my going on anti-depressants, I had to admit something to him. I’d been wanting him to suggest medication the whole time I’d been seeing him. I just couldn’t bring it up myself.
I told myself that I didn’t want him to think I was looking for an easy way out. That I wasn’t prepared to do the work that I needed to do. But I’ve also come to realise, through my therapist, that part of me thought I was being selfish. How could I need anti-depressants when so many people had things so much worse than me? I had a roof over my head, savings to live off, and hadn’t lost anyone close to me to the pandemic. How could I think I deserved anti-depressants?
But the thing was, I knew I was trapped in a depression. And I remembered how much my wife had changed for the better when she started her medication. How it had brought her back to who she had been before everything had begun to pile on top of her.
And that was what made me want to start medication. I wanted to go back to the person I had used to be.
Anti-depressants are a tool, not a solution
My prejudices towards anti-depressants had been built around the idea that they were a way to avoid dealing with your problems. That they were a way to toss a blanket over your issues rather than facing them and getting better.
But my wife’s experience had shown me this wasn’t the case at all. I still believe there are people out there who do this. But just because some people use medication poorly doesn’t mean it can’t be a good tool when used correctly.
When I spoke to my therapist about my worries, he put it like this. “Happy” and “Sad” are created by chemicals in our brains. But there is only so much “Happy” that the brain can create. So when you go through a period of prolonged or increased “Sad”, the body can no longer create enough “Happy” to balance things out. What anti-depressants do is give you additional “Happy”, putting you back in balance until your brain can get a handle on things again.
(For the record, my therapist put it far more eloquently. This is my own simplified version of what he said.)
And while this is most likely not at all how anti-depressants work, it presented it in terms that helped me accept how they would work for me. The medication would give me the boost of “Happy” I needed to get my feet on solid ground and work through the issues that had been piling all this “Sad” on my brain.
So, did the anti-depressants work?
In a word, yes.
My first month was… interesting. There are a lot of side effects when you’re altering your brain chemicals, some more worrying than others. I had it pretty easy compared to some. I had a solid month of chronic fatigue, a very upset stomach, and a complete loss of sex drive.
But after those first four weeks, things pretty much calmed down. The fatigue left me, which was very welcome. My stomach calmed down, thankfully, and for a few months only played up if I drank alcohol until even that didn’t affect me. And while the sex drive took a bit longer to return, return it did.
But did I feel less depressed?
Yes, but not immediately. There was no great moment of clarity where my head emerged from the fog, and I suddenly became myself again. Instead, what made me realise they were working was that I was able to read and write again. For months I’d lost the ability to focus my mind on anything vaguely creative, and suddenly it had come back to me.
And with that mental clarity, I was able to start actively working on my healing process. And a year and a half later, I’m approaching the point where I might be in a place where I can start thinking of coming off them again.
Are anti-depressants for everyone? No. But should they at least be considered by anyone in my situation? Yes.
I know that my dislike of anti-depressants came from a kernel of truth. I’m sure there are some people who decide to medicate rather than work on their issues. I’m sure there are some doctors who prescribe medication rather than working with their patients. And I’m sure that a few decades ago, medications were far less developed and little more than tranquilisers.
But that’s not where we are today. Today, anti-depression and anti-anxiety medication are pretty damn good. Yes, some people might take longer to find the one that works for them, but if they need them, the work they put in will be more than worth it in the end.
One final point…
This is just my story. Someone else may have had a far worse time on sertraline than I did. Or spent months or even years trying to find the right medication for them. We’re all different, and our stories are different. If you feel I’ve missed a vital part of our relationship with anti-depressants, let me know in a comment.
(This story was originally posted at www.thomashbrand.com)
About the Creator
Blogging about polyamory, ethical-non-monogamy, mental health, and modern relationships | (He/Him) | thomashbrand.com | ko-fi.com/thomashbrand
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