I’ve been on Fluxotine for almost three months now and it has already helped me far more than I expected. It took me around six months to persuade myself to try anti-depressants for the second time, despite being at times very ill with anxiety and depression. Considering the intensity of what I was feeling, I somehow still found room in my head to add one more worry to the pre-existing ones. I was ashamed at the thought of requiring anti-depressants and terrified of people knowing I was on medication. I should point out that I’m aware many people on anti-depressants are very comfortable talking about it and I admire them enormously. But I am also aware that the popularity of movements like #smashthestigma or #medicatedandmighty stems from a need for encouragement and solidarity against the prejudice surrounding mental health and medication.
When you go to a health clinic for anti-depressants or similar medicine the doctor will explain in detail that they are very safe, side effects should be minimal and so on. But the real questions running through the minds of a lot of us are completely different to those addressed.
I struggled to see anti-depressants as a regular type of medication, imagining that they acted as a cheat for general life and panicking that I wasn’t actually unusually depressed but looking for a crutch to make my life easier than everyone else’s. I took up debates with myself on whether depression and anxiety were simply part of my personality and taking pills for it was a decision to medically alter my genetic make-up. I also wondered whether I’d be on them for the rest of my life and forget what I’m naturally like as a person or perhaps end up stuck in some sort of emotionally dead limbo, having heard people discuss how anti-depressants ‘eradicate any emotional responses’. But mostly I was convinced that being on medication for mental health reasons made me some sort of weak and pathetic human being incapable of coping with regular life.
To people who haven’t experienced these specific insecurities and to myself today, those thought processes seem completely illogical. I also really want to emphasise that I have never for a second looked at anyone else in such a critical way. The fact is it’s far too easy to bully and belittle yourself whilst still admiring the people around you. I saw my medicated friends as brave for coping so well with their mental health issues and taking that step but saw myself as a failure, becoming even more inwardly angry and critical by making comparisons. Once I approached the topic I found that many of my close friends have their own experiences with mental health and therefore could encourage me to view things differently and find the confidence to try things that could help. My mum asked me to consider whether I’ve noticed any of the results I’d conjured up in my head in other people, whilst my friends were very comfortable discussing and comparing their medication and its effects. People also encouraged me to think of it as denying myself a cast for a broken leg or an antibiotic for tonsillitis, which is a comparison that makes anti-depressants far easier to consider. By the time the #medicatedandmighty campaign circulated on Facebook and Twitter it made me immensely happy and proud to feel like part of such a supportive community. When I shared my selfie I did it in a rush of excitement then suddenly realised I had a lot of people on Facebook from work and high school that I definitely wouldn’t talk to about my mental health. However the response surprised me first through the number of likes from unexpected people, but secondly through the number of people who commented saying that they are also on anti-depressants – people I had no clue were using them.
This was the point when I realised how damaging the lack of conversation around mental health and medication is. People should feel comfortable and accepted for whatever illness they have (physical or mental). A large chunk of society still views mental illness as a taboo subject. People often take to social media to express their experiences and find support but that isn’t enough, the general perspective is harmful and putting people off seeking help. Being able to look at myself with more confidence has made me realise that no one deserves to feel inferior because they require medication. Being able to admit that you need anti-depressants and ask for the help, let alone openly talk about it, makes you a strong person in itself and mental health needs to start being taken as seriously as physical illness so people are encouraged to feel comfortable with it. I’m hoping that my attempt to cram my learning curve into this small word limit might contribute to developing that necessary discussion.