"I didn't realise just how unwell I was until the medication kicked in"
Asking for help is one of the toughest, but most liberating things we can do. When you are suffering from any kind of mental health issue, be it big or small, you can feel so hopeless like there's no way out. There's no doubt that feeling has been spreading across this small island since the pandemic began. The pandemic damaged my mental health after years of making progress in therapy. In an instant, all of my supports and comforts were taken away from me. I was faced with an empty calendar, isolation, and the darkest cloud of uncertainty over my head. The world was suddenly full of fear, grief, terror, and heartache.
As the months went by I tried my best to keep my head up, but sometimes you can't fight this battle alone. Sometimes you need to look for help and add another tool to your arsenal. I was already attending weekly cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, but it wasn't enough. I decided to reach out to my GP, something I've put off for years because I felt like the help wasn't there. I felt like they wouldn't understand or there wouldn't be enough help. I always felt like Ireland's mental health services would reflect the attitude we have about mental wellbeing.
Naturally, we just shrug off our problems and tell ourselves to cop on and it'll be grand, but that attitude can lead to us bottling everything up until those feelings start to overflow and take over. I didn't realise how bad my anxiety had gotten until the physical side effects started to creep in. The shallow breathing, the heart palpitations, the sleepless nights full of intrusive thoughts. The brain fog, the clenched jaw, and poor appetite. My body was warning me that something wasn't okay, but I shrugged it off until I couldn't ignore it any longer. I finally called my GP and was surprised to hear they actually had their own mental health doctor so I booked an appointment. I counted down the days to that appointment like a kid waiting for Christmas. On the morning of August 20th, I walked down to the doctor's surgery. I felt both nervous and elated.
I'll never forget the feeling of relief when my doctor told me she could help. When you reach such a low point mentally, you can't help but feel like there's no way out. You accept that you're going to feel this way forever, but I couldn't have been more wrong. I explained to her that I had been attended CBT for a couple of years, but no matter what it wasn't enough. Every time I got my head above water another wave would come along and push me back under again.
I needed something else to pull me up. Something to keep me afloat. And that something was medication. I have been taking the antidepressant sertraline for nearly a month now and I didn't realise just how unwell I was until the medication kicked in. I haven't felt as calm or content since I was 20-years-old. Years of worrying and anxiety had tricked me into thinking that it was completely normal to feel that way. I was stripped of feeling truly happy and carefree because I was afraid of the stigma surrounding medication.
"I'll never forget the feeling of relief when my doctor told me she could help."
It felt like a forbidden, stigmatised thing that I should be embarrassed about. I stopped myself from asking for help solely because of the dated views people have of mental health and medication. Speaking about the stigma attached to medication, Nia Charpentier from Rethink Mental Illness told Patient: "Unfortunately there is still a lot of stigma and misconceptions around medication for mental illness and this can have serious negative consequences.
"The knock-on impact of this is people might want to stop taking medication or not want to approach it all together. Medication isn't for everyone, but it's concerning when people are put off a treatment that could help them, by misunderstanding and fear."
If we take medication for headaches or high blood pressure or for contraception, why should mental health meds be treated any differently?
Aren't they just doing what all other medications do and helping us be as healthy as can be? Why should we let stigma prevent us from feeling happy and being able to enjoy our lives to the full? If there's something available that is going to make your mind feel less dark then why shouldn't we reach out for it? Life is so much better when your mind isn't clouded with dark, haunting thoughts and worries. I never thought I'd feel this normal again, truly. I was convinced my life would be tainted by my mental health issues forever, but now these little white tablets have completely transformed things for me.
These tablets have given me my life back.
And I'll never ever look back or feel any shame about it.
"There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.” — John Green.