Salbutamol and Seretide for asthma, antihistamines and adrenaline for allergies, Codeine and Prednisolone for flare ups, and Sertraline for my brain. More specifically, Sertraline for chronic anxiety and clinical depression. Those are the medications that rattle around in my bag and go with me wherever I go. I’m kind of a package deal – “The creative, read-a-holic Rosie doll comes with her very own denim jacket, notebook, and stack of medication!”
I can still sense people stiffen up when I tell them I’m on antidepressants. The shift in their shoulders, the straightening off the back, and either the softening or hardening of the eyes – the ‘oh, I’m sorry’ look, or the ‘hmm, she must be an odd one’ glare. I’ve been on Sertraline for four years so I’m very used to it. It’s still unfathomably annoying though.
I find asthma and peanut allergies very easy to explain. Everyone knows someone who has them, or remembers the kid in class who couldn’t run, or notices the tannoy on an aeroplane saying they will not be serving peanuts. I’ve recently developed a confusing something-something with my colon-or-uterus-or-stomach and have to take strong painkillers to get through it. Despite not knowing anything about it and being in the dark with doctors, people still tend to grasp this unknown condition more than they grasp my need for antidepressants.
I’ve always been a bit of an anxious being, and I attribute that to having life threatening conditions that I’ve learnt to live with. ‘Better to be safe than sorry’ is my realistic mantra. In hindsight, I’d say trouble with anxiety really showed up when I was studying for my A-Levels – I worked via a cycle of school, eat, study, sleep and that’s all I did, despite urges from my family to just take a rest. Trouble really came through and arrived in full dramatic flair in the first year of University – negative thoughts, inability to focus, staring at the wall for hours on end, terrible insomnia, panic attacks, and more.
What happened after that was a flurry of extensions on work, phone counselling sessions, insomnia, crying to my parents and boyfriend (a lot of that, actually), and doctor’s appointments. Each doctor’s appointment landed me with a different diagnosis – severely depressed with no anxiety, severe anxiety with no depression, just insomnia, no depression, no anxiety, maybe it’s hormones, maybe you should lose weight, maybe it’s bipolar disorder, maybe it’s an overreaction. My personal favourite moment was when a doctor said ‘see, you just gave me a smile – you can’t be depressed!’, when in fact, I was so anxious about the appointment, I was gritting my teeth in a smile the whole way through.
An official diagnosis was settled upon after months of go-between and talking – the classic ‘chronic anxiety and clinical depression’; the most common mental illness for young adults. My doctor and I talked about getting me on the list for therapy and other options, but I went straight for medication. Medication has been my whole life, I literally have to trust it with my life in some cases; what’s another one to the list? It took a month for my body to adjust to the SSRI and the new amount of Serotonin it was being given. I had every side effect going – dry mouth, nausea, headaches, increased insomnia, dizziness, feeling weak as a newborn baby. But then, I started to notice the changes. I slept through a whole night. The panic attacks lessened and lessened. The negative thoughts that controlled my life retreated and retreated.
That’s not to say my illness disappeared. I still had moments of fear, nights where the thoughts would come back, and panic attacks still hit me like a tonne of bricks. But I was surviving. And then surviving turned into managing, and managing turned into thriving. My medication was upped from 50mg to 100mg after a particularly bad resurgence, but I got through it. Down went the medication, and my visits to Student Services lessened and lessened.
Four years later and I’m still on 50mg of Sertraline. I need it. Although I can tell my clinical depression has nigh on disappeared, I still struggle with chronic anxiety daily. The catch of breath in the chest, the palpitations, feelings of hopelessness, and the struggle to focus. But it doesn’t rule my life. It approaches for a few minutes but I’ve learnt how to control it, thanks to the support of Sertraline. Panic attacks happen, and that’s just a part of my life. But my saving grace has been going on antidepressants.
My lungs are diseased and inflamed. My body attacks itself when I consume peanuts. My internal organs swell and tear when they please. My brain doesn’t make enough Serotonin for my body. So what do I have to do? I take medications every day of my life. It’s not bad or a taboo subject. It’s ruddy lifesaving.