At the end of my first year, I started on a course of antidepressants for the first time in my life. I was 19, and I had been struggling with an undiagnosed eating disorder, depression, and anxiety since I turned 16 three and a half years earlier.
For three and a half years I had struggled on, hitting my milestones and targets, taking each day as it came, trying not to feel like my world was collapsing, or that I was simply surviving. Anyone who’s experienced mental illness will tell you; one of the main things you suddenly appreciate is that surviving and living are two entirely different things.
When finally, I saw a wonderful Doctor in that Trinity of my first year, I was once and for all diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and my eating disorder finally recognised. The validation, that I wasn’t simply a screw up and ‘bad at life’ was huge for me. In that elated moment, I was so relieved to finally feel like someone believed that I wasn’t well – I wasn’t too focused on how I would be treated.
Indeed, three and half years into my struggle with mental illness, self-reliance was the only thing I trusted. I had repeatedly been let down, again and again, by GPs at home and the counselling service in Oxford.
Already in that first Michaelmas, I had felt particularly depressed, and suicidal. My mum out of concern for me, had looked up the counselling service, and suggested I try to get an appointment. I was very down at this point, I could barely leave my room for classes. I had no energy or zest for life. Even sending the email to say I felt suicidal was a huge ask of me mentally. I did it.
No response. When I got home over Christmas and told my mother that the counselling service never responded to me, she was of course, very worried. But what could she do? I remember at that point thinking it was the final straw. They had missed me. The fact I was suicidal wasn’t important enough for them to give me counselling.
Throughout my experience of mental illness, I had always been just well-enough for no one to help me. Again, and again, I was turned away, ignored, and told I wasn’t ill.
So, when in that first year Trinity, I saw a GP who finally said I was ill, and validated my illness, I felt like they had changed my life.
And more than that, they prescribed me antidepressants. Antidepressants have always been controversial. Often, they are cited as an easy way for Doctors to ignored a problem, or patients to cover up an illness. There is an expectation that there is a better, more ‘pure’ way to cope with the issue’s life throws at you. You should be able to manage without.
For me, personally, those antidepressants were heaven sent. I initially tried fluoxetine, which made me incredibly agitated, but I got an emergency appointment and was switched to my current anti-depressant sertraline.
I have been on sertraline for over two and half years now. It has changed my life immeasurably for the better, and it allows me the distance from my problems to appreciate them for what they are, and to manage my illness. I still feel anxious and I still feel down. My eating isn’t perfect, but its much better than it was. For me, antidepressants have given me my life back.
I would never say they work for everyone, and indeed, I am still very scared about my reliance on them. I have developed other coping techniques, and the DSA provide me with a mentor, who helps me to work out my life and how I’m feeling. I am not entirely dependent on antidepressants, and yet, in many ways, I am.
One of my main fears about dependency is the two-monthly review I have to have just to be able to pick up my prescription. For someone like me, who was told today by the Dr they probably won’t consider taking me off antidepressants again until the end of my finals, I don’t understand why these couldn’t be spaced further out; or an emergency prescription available when an appointment isn’t.
Every time, I go to the GP’s now, I feel like I have to justify my prescription, my depression. Two monthly reviews seem a ridiculous waste of everyone’s time, and it makes me feel uncomfortable for the future, not knowing when something I rely so heavily on may be taken away from me, with no alternative support in place.
If GPs and the University could provide me with complete assurance of alternative treatment, perhaps my anxiety would alleviate a little. But the reality is services are oversubscribed, and as a person, who is just never quite ill enough to qualify for them, I’d rather be safe in the knowledge that I can always access what treatment I can.
I’m no longer afraid to bring my needs to the table. The GPs and the counselling service used to make me feel like I wasn’t worth their help; I now have something that does help me. Regardless of side effects and my worries about antidepressants; I know it is the only treatment I can realistically access.
Image Credit: Kennagh Marsh