Once I had decided to take anti-depressants again, (read from the beginning of the series about this decision here) there was one other recurring thought I had to grapple with. This was it:
That taking anti-depressants was something that weak people did because they weren’t brave enough to face life on their own.
It was cowardly. It was shirking the hard work. It was taking the easy option.
Now I know in my heart of hearts this is a load of bollocks.
But years ago, when I was still wearing the brittle shell of invincibility that youth gives you, this was what I thought. It wasn’t a lie I had to challenge. It was what I believed.
In the bad old days.
Back then, I had very little interaction with, or knowledge of, people with mental illness. And the points of connection I did have were often infused with pity and a patronising (abhorrent) sense of my own superiority.
I would never let myself get into that state.
I didn’t know the terrifying truth. I didn’t know that mental illness (for me, depression and anxiety) was no respecter of persons, that they attack indiscriminately. I didn’t know how invasive and all-consuming their control could be.
There are people, one in particular, that I would love to have the opportunity to apologise to. This lovely woman was in my life for a while in my early 20s and not only was I ignorant and ungracious of her (now obvious to me) mental illness, but I dismissed and criticised the help that the anti-depressants she had been prescribed were giving her. Where I could have been a listening ear and an encouragement, I was the opposite. I fear I made the situation worse for her.
Although I hardly recognise the person I was then, I think and act differently now. In fact I would go as far as to say I am almost a completely different person now (I like to think a nicer, more gentle, and open person, well aware of my own inadequacies – but you’d probably have to check that with my husband!). This idea, that the chemical and hormonal support of anti-depressants was the coward’s way out somehow remained, a stubborn deeply-ingrained splinter of belief.
Deep down, despite years of learning and walking the hard path to self-acceptance, some part of me still saw drugs as a cop out.
A ready-meal instead of the food cooked from scratch, a crash diet instead of life-style change, a papering over the cracks; something that would soothe and give temporary relief but would not get to the heart of the problem. It was what you did if you weren’t brave to face the truth, or strong enough to do the hard work.
Because of some stupid pride, I rarely judge others as harshly as I judge myself. Nowadays I wouldn’t dream of criticising anyone who was prescribed or felt they needed anti-depressants, but I still felt I should be reprimanded.
When it came to me, I saw the prescription as the easy alternative; the feeble thing to do. If I took the drugs it was a sign of shameful fragility and a lack of courage.
I fought these thoughts on a daily basis for a number of weeks.
But the truth is that if this was ANY OTHER ILLNESS, I wouldn’t be questioning it. I would have gone immediately to get the help I needed, I wouldn’t have resisted the support I really needed. And if it had been any other illness people; friends, relatives, colleagues, would have been horrified if I hadn’t been taking the medication that was going to stop me throwing up, or regulate my blood sugar level. They would have thought me irresponsible for NOT taking the drugs. But we don’t treat mental illness like other physical illness, and herein lies the problem, the stigma, the source of shame, and the lack of grace.
One week after seeing my therapist, Amanda, one week of fighting the fear and the doubts, I saw my doctor. I told him what I had told her. And he listened, and asked questions, and told me of the potential side-effects and wrote me a prescription.
And as I walked out of the doctors clutching a piece of paper with a potential new start written in medical words I wasn’t familiar with, I cried and two words popped into my head.
This was difficult and this was brave.
Putting down my need to fix myself, putting aside my insecurity about what it would mean if I became someone who took anti-depressants again, was hard. It was not the soft-option, the cop out, the easy thing to do. It was difficult.
And it was brave. Brave to admit I wasn’t coping, to confess my weakness and my fear. Brave to hope that these pills wouldn’t make my situation worse, and that I would cope with it if there were unexpected and unwelcome side-effects. Brave to believe this didn’t count me out, it did not disqualify me. And brave to hope for something else, to believe that change was possible.
And so I began, and every time I felt the fear, or heard the lie, I told myself (I tell myself);
This is difficult, and I am doing it. This is scary and I am brave.
The final picture here is of a tree on our street. Every Easter our lovely neighbours decorate the tree with eggs they over the years, with the help of friends, have blown empty and painted.Every year I look forward to the day the eggs are hung from the branches, and I am reminded that something fragile and, to some people ‘broken’, can be beautiful.
(coming soon: Side effects and scary nights. Part 4)