I’ve been sitting here staring at the packet for half an hour.
These little pills, I know, are offering me the chance to numb my mind for a while from the anxiety and depression that’s taken hold of me. I’ve resisted them for so long that it feels strange to finally be here. As I said in this post, I can’t help feel like I’m failing.
I wonder if I’m really depressed enough to take them. After all, I’m generally okay. I’m not walking the streets in my pyjamas. I don’t feel a black cloud above me all the time. I’m still functioning as I always do, albeit with my mood swinging on a pendulum. I can be switched on one day, enough to write posts like this, but the next I can only stare at the screen blankly, my mind a fog.
But is this enough to start these tablets? I’ve spent over two years avoiding using them. I know this is a last resort for me.
I’ve been here before you see.
Do I really want to go here, again?
The answer is no. I don’t want to go here again, but I feel I must.
When post-traumatic stress disorder, following the traumatic hospital birth of my second child, sent me into depression in 2003, I was told I had late Post-natal Depression (PND) and was put on antidepressants. At the time, I remember being generally okay, still working and getting on with life, but it was when I found myself crossing a busy road without looking, or caring, that I knew I had to get help.
Even then, I didn’t class myself as having PND; my child was around 18 months old. Part of me knew it wasn’t tablets I needed. While they helped a little, they only masked the trauma within – that sensation of being so terrified and in pain that I couldn’t escape. I began to take up exercise and slowing that replaced the tablets. All I really needed was a few sessions with a trained therapist to understand why I was getting flashbacks of my second child’s birth. All I needed was to be understood. I wasn’t depressed. I was traumatized.
The pills don’t change you. They numb you. They desensitize you. Antidepressants turn off the anxious or depressed bit in your head but they also turn off emotions, in order to give you the ‘headspace’ to recover.
I remember seeing a really sad film. I didn’t cry. I remember seeing something funny. I didn’t laugh. I remember watching my child do something special. I felt numb. I didn’t like it. I got used to it though, which is why it took me 18 months to finally stop.
It took me four years to fully recover and feel in control again, so much so I went on to have another child in a positive home birth, an experience which quite remarkably undid all those traumatic memories. From that experience, I knew that pills were not the answer for me. Feeling in control of my life was. So every time I was offered pills after Abi died, I refused.
But your child dying is the ultimate way to lose control of your life.
Since Abi died, I’ve been offered antidepressants several times by the doctor. A few days before Abi’s funeral I called the GP. Normally having to wait or beg for a doctor’s appointment like everyone else, the GP called me back immediately and he knew my situation before I even spoke. I told him I needed something. He said of course, expecting me to ask for something to get me through the funeral. But no, I was actually more bothered by the state of my skin which had flared up so badly due to the stress and pregnancy hormones (following my pregnancy loss a few weeks before Abi’s death) that it was lumpy and painful. I didn’t want to have bad, sore skin for Abi, and with all eyes on me. He sounded surprised. It’s not the first thing you’d think someone would want after a death I suppose! But he prescribed some strong antibiotics to help me get control of it.
Then, a few weeks later, I was at the doctors again. I wanted to find out what they ‘offer’ bereaved patients and they were keen to let me know I could have antidepressants if I wanted them. They wanted to help me take the pain away in the only way they knew how. But, for me, there was no pill that could take away my grief.
At the time, an antidepressant would almost be like an anti-‘Abi’ pill. I didn’t want the feeling of grief to go, no matter how much it hurt. I needed to feel the grief because it kept me close to Abi. It was my penance for not preventing her death. The doctor recommended writing and talking, although the waiting list for free therapy was long. So I began this blog.
I fell pregnant again within three months of Abi dying. All focus was now on that. My grief stalled. My mind and body could only cope with one major thing at a time.
But with the new baby came new anxieties. I was relied upon by this little human and it sent my anxiety overboard. I wondered why on earth I had put myself in this position. As I hadn’t had chance to address the feelings of failure of preventing Abi’s death, I was now panicked by being solely responsible for this much-wanted baby. My body, having done its job at delivering another healthy child, was saying ‘enough’!
But still, I battled on. I was breastfeeding my baby, so I couldn’t take antidepressants or much else to help. I wasn’t tearful or emotional, like you’d expect. In the main I was doing okay, but my anxiety presented as physical symptoms. Aches and pains. Palpations. Dizziness. I became scared of leaving my children without a mother.
But suddenly the doctors seemed to change approach. I was now ‘understandably’ anxious (because of Abi), the fact I felt ill or in pain was all ‘anxiety related’, the fact I cried at times or felt depressed was ‘grief related’.
‘You’re just anxious, come back again if you’re still worried,’ said one hassled doctor after I went in with chest pains. There was nothing they could do for me!
When people misunderstand your feelings – mental and physical – it is frightening for an anxious person. It makes it worse! I felt pushed away. I felt like a lost cause. I felt scared there was something really wrong with me that they were misdiagnosing as ‘worry’. Fear compounded fear.
I battled through months of painful breastfeeding which finally settled down around five months. And, as my baby grew, my anxiety reduced, but it was still there. Now, you see, my grief decided I had room for it again and popped right back to the front of my mind!
I reluctantly went back to the doctor. As time had passed, Abi’s death wasn’t at the top of my notes, so when she asked me why I was feeling so anxious, I just burst into tears. I saw the familiar facial expression change to those sympathetic eyes every healthcare practitioner had given me in the months of pregnancy and following the birth. They offered me pills, again. But I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding now it was established. I was not going to stop just so I could take something I thought I shouldn’t, and that would likely make me worse from the side effects!
So, with waiting lists as long as my arm for free therapy, I began counselling with a private therapist. It was okay but very general, so I then moved on to a psychotherapist, which is much more involved and really digs down to the core of problems. I also saw my osteopath regularly to mend the physical anxiety-related strains on my body. All the while I had to keep my job ticking over so that I could afford to pay for my therapies and also manage my children’s bereavement therapy. I work for myself, so there’s no sick leave!
But it was my psychotherapist who helped me to see that actually, I might not be able to do this on my own. That yes, I’m still the ‘tough old bird’ I always was, but I’m also a human trying to live with some intense emotions. That a low dose of numbness might give me the mind holiday I need in order to get back on track. Looking at it that way, I could see that it wasn’t being a failure to ask for help. That in fact I was ‘failing’ myself by struggling on.
My son, now 16 months, was only having feeds late evening and through the night, more as a comfort than anything. I was getting ready to stop, although I didn’t want it to be for this reason. Many mums choose their last feed or cherish it. I didn’t. I stopped his bedtime feed and slept at the end of our bed so he couldn’t sneak up and help himself in the night. I cuddled him in the early hours when he woke and cried and clung to me, confused as to why he couldn’t have it. It was so hard to be firm, but I know I couldn’t get help if I was still feeding him.
The key factor for me in all this is that I made the decision. Talking therapy helped me to get to that decision on my own. So while I feel a sense of loss of power by getting to this point, making the decision to take these tablets is my way of retaining some control over my broken heart and mind. That in itself is a step in the right direction.
The things that worry me most are dependency and the side effects. Taking antidepressants for something relatively short-term, like my case of PND, is one thing, but this is grief. There is no single day in the future when I will say ‘yes, I’m over it now’. It’s not an illness. But the way I’m (trying to) see it, is that this will help to get me through the post-pregnancy anxiety, the stuff related to having a new baby, not the grief. It may be that my hormones are out of balance or something. This may be the stop-gap to putting anxiety back in its place… maybe…
Will they make me feel better so much so that I won’t want to stop taking them? Will the side effects create new problems for me? What if they stop me feeling sad about Abi, leaving me unable to mourn? What if when I stop taking them it hits me again, like it did before? What if I can’t find my way back to me, without them?
I’ve lived with ‘what ifs’ for too long now. I just have go for it.
This is probably one of the hardest things I’ve shared so far. Why on earth am I even sharing it?! Why expose myself to further judgement? I’m not sharing this for attention. I’m not sharing it so everybody knows my business. The thought makes me cringe! I’m sharing this because it’s real life, real grief.
I know so many of my readers need to hear the truth. They are feeling the same way or have similar fears and want to feel like they are not alone. I feel the stigma of mental illness all around me, nobody wants to be judged, but unless we share our stories we won’t be able to break the taboo.
Do not feel ashamed.
Taking antidepressants is not failure, or weakness.
You’re not crazy.
You can still function.
You can still be good at what you do.
You can still enjoy life through the cracks.
Sometimes you need to give your mind a rest from the negative stuff to let the positive stuff come through. Yes, there are better ways, but sometimes we need more help. I would support any friend who told me they were taking them – so now I need to be a friend to myself.
Here goes nothing!