Jagged little pill

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Breakfast of champions. (No, Mum, I don’t take all these, it’s for illustrative purposes only.)

I mentioned in the last post that I’m currently taking antidepressants in a bid to try and get some respite from the anxiety madness, so I thought I’d go into a little more detail about Taking Drugs For A Mental Health Problem. Taking prescribed, doctor-approved medication for an illness that largely affects one’s emotions as opposed to one’s physical self is still up for debate, it seems – you still come across people who are rigid in their belief that mental illness can be overcome with healthy eating, exercise, and “just getting on with things”. And of course, all of those things help. Exercise in particular has been proven to alleviate symptoms of mild – moderate depression, and it’s also good for anxiety, as it helps the sufferer do something with all that excess adrenaline. But what if you’re so terrorised by your own thoughts that even going for a walk seems impossible? If your fears are holding you hostage and robbing you of sleep and the will to cook even a simple dinner, how on earth do you fight through the days?

Sometimes, you need chemical intervention.

I saw my (long-suffering) GP in early January, and we talked about how the last month had been. In short: bad. She asked if I’d thought any more about medication, while I was waiting on CBT. I said I was considering it, but still wasn’t 100% sure – Drummer Boy had wisely pointed out that starting a course of drugs within days of beginning a new job perhaps wasn’t the best idea. The doctor printed off some information about SSRIs and booked me in for a follow-up appointment two weeks later, so that I could think about it properly and make a decision.

Five days later, I called the surgery in a right old state and Long-Suffering GP sent a prescription for sertraline to my local pharmacy so I could pick it up on my way home from work. I delayed starting the course for a few days – I think I had something on over the weekend and didn’t want to be dealing with side effects – and took the first tablet on a Monday.

Initially, the side-effects were pretty grim, but not beyond my (albeit limited) coping abilities. The first day I took it on an empty stomach, which was a grave error, as I discovered a few hours later. My belly didn’t like that at all. Lesson learnt – I now take it with half a slice of toast at 6.45am (I have to leave the house at 7). There’s been nausea, shaking, a curious headache that curled, snake-like, around my left eye every day for two weeks, and one day of hot pins and needles up and down both arms. Sertraline is apparently known for causing insomnia, but as I get up at six and take it shortly afterwards, this hasn’t been a problem thus far.

By the Friday – day 5 – something was different. I woke up feeling vaguely positive, and actively wanted to wear a new dress and heels to work. A small thing, but God, I hadn’t felt remotely enthusiastic about clothes for months. A few days later, I had the urge to make a creamy, mild risotto, dotted with spinach and peas – so I did. Again, a small thing, but the process of chopping, grating, and standing by a stove and stirring for half an hour has been utterly beyond me for weeks. I’ve started going to Pilates on a Thursday, and me and my feeble muscles are loving it. I made brownies for my new workmates. I’ve just painted my nails.

These are all small things, but they add up to something significant: I’m feeling like me again. I have room in my head for things other than galloping fears and choking panic. I am no longer scared of the next minute, the next half-hour, the expanse of coming days. The sertraline has turned the volume down on the madness; it’s put a protective layer round me. I can hear myself, I no longer feel flayed.

I’m only three weeks in, and it certainly hasn’t been a continuous improvement – I’ve had some real panicky moments, and I still jump to the worst conclusion every time something is even slightly amiss. It’s a tablet, not a personality transplant. But it’s bought me some time (I start CBT tomorrow).

It’s allowed me to remember who I am – a girl who loves bookshops, music, cheese, coffee, eye-liner, writing, Brighton, bad puns, clear blue skies on cold days, the crunch of pebbles underfoot on the beach. A girl who has a touch of proper madness, but who has so many other things too.

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