In which this blog finally fully becomes a repository for my whining bullshit
Trigger warning: discussion of suicidal ideation
It’s been a little more than three years since I first started taking anti-depressant medication. Looking back, I can see that I very likely suffered from depression even as a young child, but it was only at the age of 21 that I considered seeking medical help for it. I had just returned from a year spent studying abroad in Japan, and had broken off the relationship I’d started with an American woman while we were both living there. This had been coming for months, but I still felt awful for letting her down- rather than letting her know my misgivings about our incompatibility, I had let her believe that I was happy and could see a long-term future for us. The truth was I couldn’t see any future for myself. It was painful to even speculate about what I might be doing in a year’s time.
Try as I might to tell myself I’d done the right thing, that I’d only hurt her more by prolonging a failing relationship, I fell into deeper self-loathing than normal. Nothing I’d previously felt pleasure or comfort in made me feel better. The turning point came when I walked across the road in front of a speeding ambulance, not caring whether it hit me or not. It seemed like a nicely ironic way to die; crushed by a vehicle intended to help save lives. As soon as that crossed my mind, though, it hit me that perhaps “normal” people didn’t think things like this. Perhaps I ought to consider the possibility I had a problem.
This is how I ended up seeing a GP who brought to mind David Cameron’s less arseholeish younger brother. He looked at a tiny multiple-choice questionnaire I’d filled in earlier, told me I probably had depression, and gave me some pills to take to see if they’d alleviate my feelings. It seemed very impersonal, even though he seemed understanding and sympathetic enough. Was this really enough to make me feel better?
Not really, as it turned out. That first set of pills didn’t do anything as far as I could tell, and I was given another medication to try. This one, Venlafaxine, seemed to work a bit better, preventing my mood sinking as low as it had done. I’ve continued taking it, in increasingly smaller doses, to this day. But in that time, I’ve consistently wondered if it’s really done me much good. I still struggle with self-esteem and confidence, battling an incredibly negative perception of myself. I continue to treat myself extremely harshly, in a way I would never dream of subjecting others to. In the last few months I have felt more able to discuss my depression, both on here and in person with those I’m close to. But I suspect this is more due to the influence of the counsellor I am lucky enough to see on a regular basis than any chemical effect of the anti-depressants.
I’m not the only one who thinks this way. My mother has recently told me she worries my medication does me more harm than good, facilitating my increasing isolation and low mood as I struggle to find work in a rural town I no longer want to live in. She claims that she can’t perceive any improvement in my situation, and I worry that she’s right. I don’t know that I am feeling more positive about life, or living to more of my full potential, than I was before taking the medication.
At the same time, I’m suspicious of her motives and reasoning. It often feels as though my family is opposed to the very idea of mood-altering medication. Certainly they’ve always been very responsive to the idea of me tapering off my dosage, with a view to eventually quitting the meds entirely. Maybe this is just because they think it’s in my best interest to do that. But I can’t shake the feeling they perceive the use of medication for mental health as a sign of weakness, or that they think depression is something I can cure myself of completely someday. This seems unlikely; I’m prepared to accept the fact that I will probably have to deal with feelings of self-loathing, a lack of confidence and a negative worldview for as long as I live. I wonder if, when my mother or father or grandfather posit the idea of eventually quitting my medication, they are hoping I will one day stop carrying on with this depression nonsense and act like a “normal”, healthy human being.
It feels unfair to say this, given that I know my mother and grandfather struggle with a lot of the same issues that I do. But I wonder if they know how it feels to not want to get out of bed in the morning, to feel like you could sleep forever. Or if they really appreciate the physical side effects that come with missing even a day’s medication- the headaches and nausea, like a permanent hangover. I worry at times that they see my reliance on this drug as a sign of weakness, when it takes a huge amount of strength for me to accomplish as much as I do.
That, of course, is probably not actually how they think. It’s a reflection of my self-loathing and low self-esteem that I think others see me as weak and pathetic. And again, it’s probably very unfair to assume they don’t appreciate how I feel, when they have experienced something similar themselves. Even if their desire for me to quit taking Venlafaxine comes from problematic assumptions and attitudes, it still seems like, overall, I might be better off not taking it.
I have attempted to cut down my reliance on medication in the past, reducing the amount of pills I took each week from seven to five before coming to the conclusion that it was causing my mood to deteriorate and returning to taking one pill a day. But right now, I’m prepared to try and do it again, with a view to ceasing my intake entirely. I will probably suffer from that low mood, that hatred of myself, whether I’m medicated or not. Right now, it feels as though the counselling, the slow steps towards being more open with my feelings and displays of emotion, are more helpful, for me at least, than the drugs I’ve come to rely on.
In the new year I intend to see my current GP and discuss the matter with them. Perhaps it’ll turn out they feel my family’s advice is misguided. Maybe they’ll encourage me to continue on my current dosage, either out of genuine concern or their financial stake in the sale of Venlafaxine. It could be that, as well as the negative self-image depression imbues me with, I have to get used to the reality of taking anti-depressants for the rest of my life as well. But I hope that isn’t the case. I’d like to maintain some hope that I can live without them, and even be happy again. What have I got right now but that hope?
Disclaimer: I hope the tone of this piece doesn’t send the message that I think anti-depressants and other medications are entirely useless, or a scam to make money off of depressed people etc. I am aware that some people cannot function day-to-day without medication, or at least find it much easier to do so with medication. I’m merely talking for myself when I say that I feel that they might not be working for me.