By Sofia Bodo
CN: Antidepressants, depression,
I had done it all: self-care, counselling, CBT.
Friends had rallied around and then disappeared as the year turned; I had developed coping strategies which promptly failed; I would feel better, and then sink back down again like a stone. The cramps of angst and sadness in my mind kept their excruciating rhythm.
I was 18 years old. I was in my last year of school, and about to jet off to the Big Wide World of University. I was about to allow my passion for literature to go wild, and make friends for life, and have unforgettable experiences.
And yet I wasn’t happy.
I didn’t want to grow up; not yet. University was always a distant target – and then suddenly there it was, right in front of me, and I was hurtling towards its smirking, gaping jaws with nothing to stop me. I wanted to cling to my old life and go back to being a six-year-old in primary school, when my only worry was when my colouring failed to stay within the lines. I wanted to construct academia and adulthood from Lego bricks and then, when I was tired, to dismantle it all back into its box and erase it from existence. I didn’t want it to be real. Not yet.
“I couldn’t solve the problem myself. Talking couldn’t solve the problem either. So what was left?”
My fear led to eventual conversations with my Head of Year, and my English and History teachers. Their advice and support is something I will never, ever forget, and I try to pass it on, as best I can, to others who may need it; but the roots of my worries and sadness sadly still remained. I spoke to my doctor, to mental health professionals, to people at school – and nothing changed. I couldn’t solve the problem myself. Talking couldn’t solve the problem either. So what was left?
What was left was the unspoken; the shocking and forbidden powdery fruit that hung from the boughs of reluctant prescription trees in the darkest corners of the local pharmacy. One day in spring, I walked to my doctor and told him everything. I explained my depression and anxiety were not getting any better, and I was worried about my future, and I had already tried everything except the fruit only he had a licence to pick. I remember the hesitancy in his fingers as he typed the prescription; each letter a pause that lingered a little too long, as if he was giving me the chance to halt the proceedings, terrible as they were.
When the pharmacist presented me with the small box in a perverse proposal, I could almost hear the falsetto giggles of the collection of tablets as they passed from her hand to mine. I couldn’t believe it had actually come to this. I was actually going to take medication for my mind.
I put off taking them until the afternoon, just in case. I wondered if, now that I so close to actually taking medication, my depression and anxiety would realise the game was up and surrender. I imagined them raising their arms in defeat, halting their gruesome troops from inflicting any more damage, and then quickly fleeing from my mind forever, as if they finally accepted they weren’t going to win this battle, and there was no reason for a continued struggle on their part.
But they didn’t. My sadness continued. My panic again reared its repulsive head.
And so I reached for the tablets.
I opened the packet, and there they were; row upon row of petite white impressions, lined up like gravestones in the cemetery of unmedicated, unregulated emotion. And they were small! Too small, I thought, to actually change anything. I doubted whether something so minuscule would ever be able to conquer the vast troops of darkness which raged eternally inside my head. It was impossible. They would just make things worse, wouldn’t they? They might cause me to become fully mad, or physically ill, or face even more extreme lethargy. They could lead to my world being utterly dismantled.
“They were small. Too small, I thought, to actually change anything.”
My mind raced with such poisonous possibilities, all encapsulated within the tiny pearl-white oval I gently held between my fingers. I could feel the lettering on one side; the smooth void on the other. Should I; shouldn’t I? The age-old question of uncertainty rang about my ears like tinnitus as I poured a glass of water.
I let the tablet lie on my tongue for a brief, peaceful moment; felt the sweet coat dissolve into tastebuds until only a kernel of nausea remained. I was so violently scared.
‘There’s time to go back’, I told myself. ‘It’s time to stop this nonsense – you’re not really depressed, you’re just pretending; you don’t need meds, you’re just going to make yourself ill! Why don’t you grow a backb-”
I swallowed, and waited.
I am quite open, now, about taking my tablets; if people tell me that they have been unhappy for a while and counselling doesn’t work for them, I will happily reel off all the many positives of taking anti-depressants. Perhaps I am just trying to persuade myself that it was the right thing to do. I know that I am still hit, sometimes, with a tidal wave of regret; I want to stop taking them immediately, and go back to normality. But actually, in taking these tablets, I’ve felt far more normal than I ever did before.
I was so worried about the negatives that I failed to consider any possibility of a positive impact. And these tablets, these little bursts of Sertraline I take every morning, have given me so much positivity; to an extent I thought I would never feel. And even so, I’m still me, even though I take anti-depressants. I still have the same feelings and passions and obsessions; but I feel better about them. I feel better about my choices. I feel better about me.
And that makes all those little worries and panics and moments of sadness about my tablets worthwhile.