I was trying on a blouse in a shop changing room. I couldn’t fasten the buttons. Somehow it was just too complicated. The pills were doing strange things to me, things that made simple tasks seem impossible. Normal everyday actions I previously did without needing to think now seemed overwhelmingly complex. For example, I’d always been a confident and capable driver, but now driving had become scary and I didn’t feel in control of the car. The day before I’d got my first and only ever ticket for bad parking.
I gave up on the blouse, sat down on the little stool in the corner of the cubicle and put my head in my hands. I didn’t cry or scream, even though I felt incredibly upset and frustrated, the meds were keeping me on too much on a level for that.
The lows I was experiencing previously were levelled out, but so was everything else, I didn’t seemed to be feeling anything much at all. It was as though my experience of life was somehow more muted. I felt like a zombie.
That was the moment I decided to come off antidepressants.
While I know many people find them invaluable, even lifesaving. For me, they’d stopped me being a depressed person, but made me an empty shell.
Before I started taking them I thought something to numb the mental pain would be a god-send, but the reality was I preferred the pain to the half-awake, vacant state the pills put me in.
I had been prescribed a brand of antidepressant which has since been strongly linked to high suicide rates. I believe it’s not in use as much now.
This was in 2001. I should have been feeling on top of the world. I was 24, living in London with a fun and interesting social group, I had a great career as a writer and online editor the emerging online wing of the BBC. To this girl from a working class background in Stoke, who left school at 16 with one C grade GCSE, all this was basically a dream come true.
I think that was a big part of the problem. I didn’t feel like I deserved any of it, or that I belonged where I was. Through all the years of working hard to build it up I had this nagging fear of it all coming crashing down. Looking back, it was almost like I was jumping off the precipice before I got pushed.
I have only two memories from the day I went home from work. The first was staring at my computer screen with no clue what to do. The second is talking to my friend by the sinks in the ladies toilets saying, “You don’t understand, I’ve never been good enough to do this and now people are going to find out”.
The months that followed were dark… To be honest, I’m finding writing about this very hard. I’ll have to come back and tell you more another time. But I do want to leave you with the message that I got out of it.
In fact, in many ways depression was the best thing that ever happened to me.
It was painful, painful as hell, but turned out to be a pivotal point in my life. It was the start of a journey where I learned to be happy, truly happy, happier than I’d ever been in my life before I was ill.
When I talk about it people almost always ask how long it took me to get better. It doesn’t really work like that though, or at least it didn’t for me. I couldn’t tell you when I got better, I can say I didn’t feel better overnight, for sure. But to get to where I am now it has taken me, well, until now. In many ways my journey continues, but I am happy now, most of the time at least.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that physical exercise played a big part. I also did a lot of “inner work” on my confidence and self-image.
This hasn’t been an easy post to write. I haven’t talked publicly about this before. I’m not sure I’ve even told anyone some of these details. Talking about it with you here has brought back ghosts of those feelings, but that will pass. It’s worth it, I know how desperate I was for a lifeline during my depression and I just want you to know that, if any of this sounds familiar to you, there is hope.
Your journey will be different to mine, but you do have what it takes to make your future brighter. Really, you do.
No matter how loudly the voice of doubt argues against it, you have to keep believing. Part of you might not even want to be happy, there is something quite intoxicating about depression in a weird way. But believe me, when you learn to swim strongly it’s so much better than sinking.
Let’s talk more about this soon.
One of the reasons I wrote this today is because it’s Mental Health Awareness Week find out more about the campaign here.