Depression and Anxiety are all too prevalent in our modern world. So, which way do you turn……..antidepressants, counselling, relaxation therapy, combination? Doctor, psychologist, councillor, psychiatrist?
The answer to a large degree is up to you, the patient. The key is to recognise and accept you have a problem and then seek help.
Eight and a half years. That is how long I have been on antidepressants. In anyone’s book, that is a significant amount of time.
It all started back in my teens. I was and still am, a high achiever, a perfectionist. I learnt to be a master of putting pressure on myself, continually striving for more but most notably never recognising my achievements. Nothing was good enough for me.
By my early 30s this had driven me to a degree, post graduate qualifications, sporting achievements, travel, a husband and kids. All was well….. seemingly. But on the inside I was anxious, insecure, tired and unable to recognise how well I was doing for myself.
Then…..something broke. The trigger was very personal and not relevant to this particular topic, but it undid me. All my insecurities bubbled to the surface and I fell apart. I knew it was bad and I went straight to my doctor (at least I think I did……maybe my mum persuaded me?).
My doctor put me straight on antidepressants and sent me to a councillor. It took a while but, eventually the pills started to take the edge off. I chatted to my councillor every week. We discussed the event that caused my breakdown. Not once, did I discuss the inherent issues, the ones that had been there since my teenage years. This was because at this stage, I didn’t recognise them.
I was ok.
I stopped seeing the councillor after a couple of months, by which time I had the pills working and stable.
This is the way I carried on for the next 7 or so years. Occasionally upping my dose, under the direction of my doctor, if situations became tough. Then easing them back when I was feeling better.
A couple of years ago, I started to notice I didn’t like the way I was handling or more accurately, not handling stress. Even on the pills, my stress was too frequent. I was blaming others and the universe for why my life felt hard (by the way, this is the life where I have a good job, I don’t have to worry too much about money, I don’t work a 60 hour week, my kids are slowly starting to get easier and I have a helpful husband). In reality, my life IS NOT hard compared to many. I was just choosing to take on too many different things, getting overwhelmed and blaming anything and anyone around me.
I turned 40 twelve months ago and something inside me said “it is time to change”. But still I didn’t know how. So I just kept going until there was another major trigger, this time at work (yes I was still on the pills). I fell apart again but sort of in a more controlled fashion!
And finally…………. I realised this is a long term ingrained problem, not just the issue that triggered my latest breakdown or the one before that. The way I look at myself and the way I handle these situations is the problem, not the situations themselves.
This was the very first time I had seen it this way!
I took myself off to the doctor again (this time I definitely did it without persuasion!). She told me to take more pills and asked if I would like to speak to someone. I said yes. She referred me to a psychologist and I went into her office positive and almost excited. Her first question was “Why are you here?” My answer “Because I want to change”.
This is the place where I tell you…… you are the answer to your treatment. Prior to this point, I hadn’t wanted to change. I wanted to take a pill to make life easier, I had wanted someone to validate me and tell me I would be ok. But, I hadn’t been ready to work on myself.
My psychologist has been fantastic. She has given me strategies to deal with situations and enabled me to look at things differently. But, mostly the change has been inside me.
I have accepted my weaknesses and begun finding ways to deal with them and most importantly I have stopped trying to hide them! I have started saying NO, I have started spending my spare time doing things I enjoy and that feed me (like writing, reading and swimming) and accepting it is sometimes ok to do nothing.
I am learning that accepting my struggles displays strength. Knowing how to manage them displays courage.
We all need to know we are not alone, but that our story is our own (no two are the same). We all handle things differently and that is OK!
The options for help are out there and we just need to figure out which one is right for us and know that it might change along the way. If one direction doesn’t work, try another. The key is to identify and accept.
So after 8 and a half years, something happened. On my way across the world on the holiday of a lifetime, I lost the pills! Literally lost them!
Now, what do I do? See a foreign doctor or risk a detox? Is the universe trying to tell me something?
Either option sounded scary.
However, I knew that for the first time in probably 15-20 years, my mental health was pretty good and what better time than on holiday when my stresses are low?! I chose to detox.
Let me just say, this is not the recommended way to do this and I do not advocate it (please always seek medical advice). Fortunately I was not on a high dose at the time. If I was, I know better than to have tried going ‘cold turkey’. I also had my husband and family by my side. I told my husband he was my eyes. He needed to watch my behaviour and if he deemed necessary, I would go to the doctor.
I had a couple of really tough days with the side effects of coming off. I was dizzy and nauseous. I developed a rash and if I am honest, I got a bit paranoid! I had a few days where I couldn’t concentrate and the kids thought I was funny, getting out of the lift on the wrong floor and not listening properly. I felt like they were giving me a hard time and making fun. My husband had to remind me they were not having a go at me.
Throughout it all….. I still functioned fine and I thoroughly enjoyed the holiday. One of the best (if not the best) in my life! Since, I have lived 6 months without the pills. Of course I have had some ups and downs, but I have found ways to overcome them and manage them in a healthy way.
I have started making changes to the way I live my life, finally allowing myself to do things the way I want, instead of the way I think I should be doing them. I have started listening to myself.
I used to think being on antidepressants was in some way bad or embarrassing, something I needed to hide. Same thing in regards to seeing a psychologist. I no longer feel that way.
There is a saying ‘It is what it is’ or ‘You are what you are’. Some of us are naturally predisposed to these types of mental weaknesses and always will be. They don’t go away. We just need to accept them, acknowledge them and find ways to manage them. We can do this more efficiently if we are not ashamed of them. Often it is these very same traits (namely perfectionism) dragging us down, that also drive us to accomplish great things.
I still have to work on myself daily. I still have to remind myself not to slip into my old habits. What I don’t need to remind myself anymore, is that it is ok to be me and that I am worthy of love and respect.
2018 has been a huge turning point for me. I have faced my demons, grown hugely as a person and Stressaholics Anonymous was born. Thank you to those who have been reading, a small but important bunch of people.
Tomorrow I set the scene for 2019 and beyond. One of confidence and positivity, one in which it is ok to have set backs but it is not ok to dwell on them.
If you think today’s story would help anyone you know, please share it. I think the only way for us to deal with the prevalence of mental health issues, is to talk about them and support one another.
So, as the sun sets on 2018. Here’s to an amazing 2019!