Life has changed, explicably, for the better since starting antidepressants. My low days are rarer, my appreciation for life higher and my relationships stronger. Sertraline, or known by its brand name, Zoloft, truly has switched my direction.
Here’s the secret about antidepressants: a lot of people are on them. Here’s a fact about antidepressants: not many people talk about them.
My depression, which has been in and out of my life for years, felt indescribable. Labelling myself as ‘depressed’ is still quite a novelty. Despite actively wanting to die, ‘depression’ always seemed too strong, too scary a word. So here’s what sertraline did for me initially: it forced me to think. As I sit down with my quarantine-required wine, I pop my daily dosage. (Alcohol consumption not compulsory, though useful).
Routine is and always has been important to me, so the daily ritual of the tablets has really helped in itself. Questions like ‘why am I on antidepressants?’, ‘what am I doing to help my mental state apart from medication?’ and ‘for how long do I envisage these being part of my life?’ occur to me most days. Of course there are other, less productive, questions that spring to mind too. I try to let those ones go. Aside from their chemical impacts, I find letting myself consider how depression impacts my life to be a useful novelty. The answers to the questions that I have to ask myself have spurred me on to a more sustainable future.
I had been in counselling, on and off, for years in secondary school. When I left for Oxford, I considered therapy to have been something I had done. I’ve considered my anxiety, my darker thoughts. I’ve spent hours crying and talking it through. This thing I’ve worked so hard for, PPE, had become a reality. I’d achieved what I’d wanted and I’d worked on my emotions. Therefore, I would be happy.
Ladies and gentlemen: it will come as no surprise that this is apparently not how it works? Emotions, alas, do still occur.
Therapy: Act 2. I now have counselling every week. And I want to highlight: this would not have happened without antidepressants. They have given me enough motivation – something which my depression utterly drains – to get into therapy again. Sertraline has given me a boost in recognising how to fix the cycles I was too far in to break. I have learnt more about myself in the past 8 weeks than I have in the past two years from counselling. I can consider how I process life.
Sometimes it is also hard to seperate how much better I’m feeling from the medication itself. I have been so much more stable since sertraline has entered my life. I have not had the typical daily lows. Sundays are now enjoyable rather than filled with existential dread. Though even the positives force me to question. How much of feeling better is working through emotions? How much is simply chemical balances in my brain?
But the worst part of antidepressants? For me there are a few side-effects, though minor. Primarily, it’s regular heartburn and having a dry mouth. These two initial side-effects did ease up, but they are also still pretty permanent features of my life. Initially I was also more nauseous, which led to the delightful occurence of throwing up multiple times on a bus once. Overall, a small price to pay – though it has to be said that that particular handbag has never recovered. I also have not felt truly excited by anything in a while. Instead of waves of highs and lows, I now am at a pretty constant medium. Which I will definitely take. Though I do miss giddiness, of butterflies in my stomach, of not being able to sleep because there is something exciting happening tomorrow.
The reason I wrote this article is that I was recommended a course of six months of antidepressants, and then to re-evaluate. Now this six months is up. I am terrified of losing the progress I have made. I have had six of the most stable months of my life with sertraline. But I also don’t want to be on antidepressants forever. So where does this leave me?
In all honesty, I don’t know. But I have found that thinking about this helps. Being open about my emotions has helped, even though Rachel in Year 11 would wince even at the thought.
Talking to others about medication and what it is doing for my body, and what it did to theirs, was powerful and meant the world to me. So, let’s have a conversation about store-supplied serotonin. And let’s hope the next 6 months of my life may be more joy-filled than the last.