Monday, April 21, 2014

In defence of anti-depressants

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with a really bad headache or a pain in your chest? The sudden awakening combined with the ache for a moment convince you that you're dying and you experience what could be called night terror. Then you shake yourself, take some paracetamol/indigestion pills, quickly fall asleep, and feel fine when you wake up next morning.

Now imagine feeling that terror for 95% of the time.

It started when I was in my teens and peaked in my late forties. That's a long time to be living a part-life and at its worst a barely-life where, for example, I was too scared to go to the cinema just in case, and I had to psyche myself up to go to Sainsburys for the weekly shop. I was prayed for - and felt guilty when it made no difference - and I saw a number of doctors. I had counselling - she gave up on me - and tried therapy. That helped me understand myself better and see things differently but it didn't cure me.

The thing was that I didn't think of myself as having depression. Depression was a proper illness; I just worried too much. The slightest thing and I'd worry. Not just worry now and again but all the time. Thoughts would go round and around in my head repeating themselves incessantly. Until the next insignificant thing happened to give me something new to worry about. I carried out all the normal everyday tasks but my mind would be buzzing. It wasn't illness particularly or even death that scared me - unless it was one of my children that preoccupied my thoughts - but fear itself. The what-if fear. 

There was nothing logical about it and knowing that, as I did, made it even worse. 

But, no, I wasn't depressed, just anxious. I was simply stupid; I couldn't stop worrying and I was an idiot. I couldn't control my thoughts; my life and, more importantly, family life were adversely affected. I couldn't concentrate or enjoy the good times. And it was down to my stupidity. That's what I thought. It wasn't until I finally convinced the doctor that I couldn't go on living this caricature of a life that she prescribed anti-depressants. Little white pills containing serotonin. Magic pills that changed my life.

Yes, they do have side effects: my emotions are, well, drugged I suppose. I don't feel the highs and lows that others seem to experience but I can live with that. But having said that, for the last few months I've been halving the dose. I was doing really well so I thought I'd give it a go. (Doctors tend to encourage you to get off drugs if you can.) But recently I've noticed that my lows seem to be happening more frequently. I may start taking the prescribed dose again or I may go and chat to the doctor. One thing is certain, I'm not going back to that place of misery again. 

The reason I'm writing this now is two-fold. Elder Son posted a link to an article written by a journalist 'coming out' about his mental health problems. It's quite long but a very good article if you're interested. In it he says that when he eventually saw an expert he was diagnosed with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). 

Now when I think of OCD I think of people who have to keep washing their hands or checking they've turned off lights but in his case it's his thoughts that are obsessive and compulsive. And I see that his symptoms are very like mine. And that's a great relief. Not particularly to have a title or a name for my problem but to hear of someone else with similar experiences. Knowing I'm not alone. And allowing me to believe that maybe I'm not just stupid and incapable of controlling my own thoughts and mind.

The other reason for this long and probably boring to most people post is that recently it's been suggested to me or implied in conversations that I should give up my medication. 'What you need is God/fresh air/exercise.'

I would like to suggest that I have plenty of all of those - probably more than most - and they don't help.

If I were on blood thinning medication would you suggest that I stop taking it and run around more? If I were diabetic would you tell me to stop injecting myself and improve my diet? No, of course not.

I have a chemical imbalance that the drugs correct. It's no different from any other condition. Just because it's in my head and the symptoms aren't obvious to you don't make it any less real. Or life diminishing if untreated.

That's it. Rant over.

If you've got this far, thank you for reading. 


nick said...

That's very interesting to me, Liz, because I'm also an anxious person and I spend a lot of time worrying about things unnecessarily - including when I'm sleeping so I'll suddenly wake up feeling scared and panicky. The anxiety doesn't affect my everyday life enough for it to be a serious problem, or for me to consider taking an anti-anxiety drug, but it's a pointless habit I could do without. I often wonder what it's like to be someone who is seldom anxious and just takes everything as it comes.

I'm glad anti-depressants are helpful to you. People who suggest some "natural" remedy instead clearly haven't understood the situation.

Trubes said...

127Hi Liz, I read this with great interest and I firmly believe you should stay with the prescribed dose of anti depressants, if they obliterate your torment then they must be doing good.
I get tired of the 'know it alls',who pontificate against the use of serotin etc.
Have they ever felt the anguish of night terrors, not being able to go out for fear of having a panic attack, irrational thoughts going through your head over and over and over again ?
If you have a broken leg it is set in plaster, if you have Diabetes, suitable medication is administered, all well and good but what about an injured mind?
often told to 'get on with it', or even worse, 'don't take anti I psychotic drugs.... why ?
A young man I know suffers from all these terrifying symptoms decided, to stop taking his medication, the outcome was alarming. Thankfully he was persuaded to carry on with his treatment and he now on an even keel, enjoying life again. Granted, he does have some side effect but he knows just how to deal with them. He has come to terms with his illness and accepts that he probably will stay on medication for the rest of his life.
I think I can empathise with you too Liz, I've had to take various drugs to ease depression and panic attacks and they really helped, so if your medication helps your condition, stick with it.
I did read the article by the chap who 'fessed up' to having a mental health issue, I found it most helpful and informative.
Sounds like I'm having a rant, but not really , just to say I understand and support you.
One has to be subjective in these matters because your pain is your pain alone, whether it be mental or physical....
I get heartily tired of, when informing an intrusive person, as to why I am a wheelchair user...I usually reply because 'my legs don't work'....Cue for anyone suffering from a 'mind' related illness...'I take these tablets because my mind cannot function properly without them'!

Trubes said...

Ooopsy! The numbers 127 were part of the code I typed in to prove I'm not a robot, don'tknow they appearedat the start of my comments!....

I am a robot exterminate! ha ha !

love Di..xx (again)

Shirley Davis said...

I've known you through many of these years and I know how much of a difference those little white pills have had. You've been able to embrace life. Maybe not in all its fullness in that happy-clappy way (who needs that high all the time anyway) but certainly in terms of exploring the world, writing this magnificent blog and making friends and family feel valued.

The one thing that springs to mind - take the pills and remember you are a human being, not a doing, so it's OK to do nothing sometimes, isn't it?

And we all love you.

Liz Hinds said...

It must be amazing to not worry, nick, as you say. The people with the helpful suggestions are well-meaning and it's worked for them - for the time being.

Do people really ask you why you're in a wheelchair, 127Di?! Amazing. Thanks for your thoughts.

Thank you, Shirl!

JT said...

Lovely to read this Liz. I was at ware that you had this problem. I will pass your blog on to a few goers who share similar problems. Be blessed

Liz Hinds said...

Thanks, JT.

Trubes said...

127 ? that was the second set of numbers I had to type in to prove I'm not a robot... Do you think it's a message from above ? Ask George, he'll know.

A very nosey woman at the reception after my cousin's funeral, was going around the room trying to find out who was who. I was watching her , and lo and behold, she arrived at our table...question to quote.. 'And why are you in a wheelchair' ? (we all know one shouldn't start a conversation with 'And').
I gave her a very steely glare and replied,
'because my bloody legs don't work'....She scurried off without
another word.
We found out later she was the 'village gossip' !
I have had several people question why I use a wheelchair, I try not to be rude but it is so irritating when people are so intrusive...
I do walk when I can but my pain threshold kicks in after about 15 mins so chair is always at hand...
It's ok when I'm at home as I can just sit when necessary but life goes on... we still have lots of fun in Chez Westwell, particularly when all the kids are visiting..we had a lovely Easter Sunday with them....I thank God for our lovely 'girls' and families, which I know you do with yours xxx
Gosh! another rant from Di..xx

Liz Hinds said...

People are strange, Di. I tend to be just the opposite: if someone says they're going to the doctor, for example, I won't ask why. I figure they'll tell me if they want me to know. Husband says that maybe they want me to ask!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

A great post, Liz and one which I am sure will be of help to many people. Thank you. x

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Being depressed is so different to having Depression. I will own up to having it , or should I say I had it, I also had Paranoia with it , and was on several different tablets, only I was nearly beyond help .. I lost so much weight, even though I ate. I could not go out of my house or sometimes not out of my bedroom and it all got too much for me. Luckily with my good friends and God , I came through. There are of course certain degrees of Depression as we all well know.. I would only go with what the doctors say ,, don't mix dosages , ie , half and then prescribed, go and speak to the Doctor. I came off mine no problem and touch wood , I am ok now ,, What I went through , I would not want anyone to suffer with. No way was it down to your stupidity and yes family , and life is so affected. Go back to your doctor Liz xx

Leslie: said...

Everyone here has made some excellent comments, especially about sticking to your meds. You might not notice it at first, but gradually you will go "down" and then will have to wait to get "up" once you take your prescribed dose again. I am so thankful my daughter has finally accepted her bipolar and is on regular meds. Even so, she once had to go back into the hospital because one doctor put her on a drug that interacted negatively with the drugs she was already on. They had to wean her off the new meds and get her back to normal...whatever that is for her. So listen to your doctor and as you say, it's a chemical imbalance just as surely as someone has diabetes or cancer! rant over. :D

Rose said...

I'm one who doesn't like to take many drugs if I can help it, but when a drug helps you to live a more normal life, than of course one should take advantage of it! I'm a born worrier, too, but anxiety that keeps you from doing everyday activities is a condition that needs to be treated just like any physical malady. People who say you just need to have faith or eat right or whatever don't understand it's not that simple.

On a totally different topic, I saw your comment about the hellebores. I cut off the old foliage each spring, so that you can see the blooms. Just be careful not to accidentally cut off the blooms, too; believe me, I've done that:)

Furtheron said...

Fantastically written Liz. That article was an enlightening read as well.

As someone else who has battled all their adult life with a debilitating mental illness I can agree with you. The "pull yourself together" brigade can all go jump off a cliff!

With me they call my illness alcoholism. Now that I've said that all those reading this far will have a picture of an alcoholic - I doubt it is me. Even at the height of my drinking I drank in pubs never on a park bench or in an alley, I always worked, indeed I had a job with Director in my title and a budget with a few noughts on the end of it under my control, I had a house, two cars, a family etc. etc.

But I drank and couldn't stop - I thought it was because I was weak willed. Then I was told in reality alcoholism is essentially a form of depression whereby I drank to combat the symptoms of that depression - mostly I had an extremely low view of myself, thought I was worthless as a father, husband, worker, etc. Now I still feel that from time to time but I work at it reminding myself I'm not totally useless and I just don't drink. I'm lucky I found a solution to my problem that worked for me before the suicide tape got too loud and too repetitive to be ignored.