When I first started taking antidepressants I had to learn to sleep sitting up.
The first brand of tablets I started taking made me feel really unwell at night and so, on top of my fragile mental stability and general struggle to cope with daily life I was also sleep deprived.
During the day I was fine as far as sickness went but as soon as I lay down in bed at night I would feel the rising nausea and have to jump out of bed and run to the bathroom.
I would spend hours huddled on the bathroom floor, breathing slowly and trying not to panic until the sick feeling finally passed and I could carefully make my way back to bed. By this point I would be so tired that I would prop myself upon pillows so that I was mostly sitting up, which seemed to help with the nausea and fall asleep like that.
Most mornings I woke up in the same position.
This carried on for about six weeks, accompanied by a persistent dry mouth, mood swings and suicidal thoughts before the side effects started to settle down and I started to feel as though things were becoming a little more stable.
I’ve rarely felt so alone as I did on those nights when the rest of the house was asleep, unaware that I was sat cold and alone in the bathroom trying to control both nausea and the rising panic that this was now what my life consisted of.
Cold sleepless nights and difficult, exhausted days.
After about six weeks, when the nausea began to settle down I went from being unable to sleep to being able to fall asleep anywhere. I also found it very difficult to wake up in the mornings, although to be honest, if I was left to sleep it was more often the afternoon.
I think this was more of a defence mechanism than a side effect of the antidepressants.
I found it difficult enough to cope with the hours that I was awake without being forced to spend any more of the day or night with my thoughts for company.
I existed in endless cycle of sleepless nights and grey days in which I found myself unable to do anything much, my emotions dulled and fuggy.
The tears that ran down my face were like raindrops running down a window; I knew they were there, that they were cold and wet but it was though I was separated from them by panes of glass.
As though I was trapped on the inside looking out.
I continued in this fog, shrouded from the world apart from the frequent bursts of fear and panic that cut through the cocoon of medications and stabbed me right in the heart.
I started to realise that this was happening more and more frequently I wanted to hide away under my duvet, away from the world and everything in it that hurt but I discovered that I couldn’t hide from the thing that hurt me the most.
On those days, when my limbs were heavy and my brain felt like it was full of treacle I would wake up every day still exhausted and throughout the day I’d take any opportunity to lie down somewhere quiet where I could escape into sleep.
One day I fell asleep for two hours on the floor of my parents new tent that they’d put up in the garden. I’d gone in to have a look, suddenly felt unable to cope with everything that was going on and so lay down on the floor of the tent and shut my eyes.
It was either that or I lost control of my tenuous grip on my sanity and had yet another meltdown; dissolving into a quivering wreck of panic and fear.
Sleep was the only thing that saved me; the only place where I could escape. I frequently had bad dreams but at least in my dreams, even the worst ones, there were no panic attacks.
But the worst part of taking antidepressants wasn’t the side effects or the dreams or the never-ending exhaustion.
It when they stopped working.
During my ten year history of taking medication for depression I’ve taken five different brands of antidepressants, two different brands of sleeping tablets and one brand of sedative.
Every single time my body has developed a tolerance to the medication and over time their beneficial effects have lessened to the extent that it feels like I’m not taking any medication at all.
I would try to carry on, fixated on the idea that needing medication to help stabilise my mood somehow made me weak and pathetic and that I needed to stop taking the antidepressants.
That they made me not ‘me.’
As I endlessly punished myself I was guilty of believing every stigma associated with mental illness that there is;
That it wasn’t a real illness
That it was a sign of character flaws and personal weakness
That I could just snap out of it
That I’d done something to deserve it
I honestly didn’t think these thing about anyone else who with mental illness or took medication becaue of that, whether I knew them or not.
I only thought those things about me.
Much as I detested the antidepressantts and what (I thought) they represented I couldn’t manage without them. On a couple of occasions I ended up at the GP, sobbing my heart out because I was having medication issues and I felt so awful that I just wanted everything to stop.
I didn’t want to be dead but I just couldn’t cope with feeling the way I did anymore.
As a student I found myself huddled in the changing room on the ward where I was on placement, waiting for a return phone call from the GP and I wondered how I’d ended up like this.
When the GP phoned back and I explained my problem she was professional but sounded less than impressed that I was taking up one of the same day phone calls as opposed to making an appointment.
Still, she took my history butt said there wasn’t much she could do over the phone, unless I was experiencing suicidal thoughts.
I managed to sob out a yes and instantly her entire demeanour changed; her voice softened, her tone became so much more sympathetic and she called me sweetheart.
She organised a prescription for a new brand of antidepressants and a follow-up appointment.
A whole new range of side effects to deal with.
But it was so much worse not taking them.
It still is.