This blog is based on my own personal experience and is not meant to influence anyone in relation to taking medication. Please talk to your doctor before starting, changing or stopping prescribed medication.
I’ve had such a long journey with my mental health in such a short time on this earth. Maybe some issues are hereditary and maybe others were developed along the way. I have a list of possible reasons for why my head functions the way that it does but I don’t know if I’ll ever find an answer. I can remember the first panic attack I ever had, I was seven or eight years old and I became short of breath, light headed and dizzy. My mother assumed I was unwell and brought me to the ER only to be told that I was perfectly fine. It wasn’t until 6 years later that I described my symptoms to a family friend and she said “oh that sounds like a panic attack!” “A panic attack? What’s a panic attack?” I thought to myself. Later that day I did some online research and felt relieved that I wasn’t the only one suffering. I had a name for my demon and I had some insight into how I was feeling and what was happening inside of my head.
Growing up I was never encouraged to talk about my feelings and I had little to no emotional support. I pushed everything deep down because of this and suppressed my feelings and emotions. Traumatic experiences didn’t seem to phase me too much, they were just memories that I stored somewhere in the back of my mind, never to be thought about again. Unsurprisingly enough this came back to bite me in my teenage years. I became deeply depressed and I didn’t know how to talk to anyone. Talking seems like such an easy thing to do in theory but it’s hard when you’ve never really done it. My mother didn’t know how to deal with my sadness. She came from an upbringing where crying was weakness and from her point of view, I didn’t have anything to cry about. Luckily she did encourage me to see a counselor, I would go weekly to a non profit organization and I went and spoke to a really kind woman who offered me tea and chocolate while we talked. For the first time in my life I felt heard and it was amazing. I remember walking home after my first session and it felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. My time with that counsellor didn’t last, I believe she made a parenting critique to my mother (something along the lines of , you need to communicate more with your daughter) so I was removed from the service and my search for someone else to talk to continued.
Over the years I saw many therapists and started taking an anti depressant called Lexapro. I really started to feel better. I started showering and eating properly, my social anxiety pretty much disappeared and for the first time in a long time I saw a future for myself. Everything was really good until I moved out of home. I was eighteen years old living on my own for the first time. I was trying to figure out how to be a grown up, budget, hold down a full time job and have a social life. I stopped buying my medication and self medicated with drugs and alcohol. I partied every weekend and suffered horrendous come downs throughout the week. My mental health began to deteriorate again, I suffered severe anxiety and panic attacks and the loneliness crept back into my life. I didn’t have any friends who weren’t partying and so I had the choice of going out or sitting at home alone.
After a few years I moved away, I started pole dancing again, I ate really well and I was very physically strong and healthy. I had a brand new group of friends and life was fun again. All was well for a long time until suddenly it wasn’t. Depression reared it’s ugly head again, the loneliness came back and I lost interest in doing the things I enjoyed. I spent a whole winter laying on the sofa in my pyjamas. The only time I left the house was to go to work. The depression was different this time , I didn’t have a lot of sadness but I had zero motivation. I didn’t want to socialise or dance. I thought I was just being lazy so I would mentally beat myself up about it, it really was a vicious cycle.
In the last two years my emotions have been a rollercoaster. I made the choice to start taking medication again to help me get through each day. I hoped it would help get me back to the happy person I was when I moved to Galway 5 years ago. If you’ve taken medication for depression you’ll know it’s not easy. First of all you need to find one that suits you. The trial and error process is cruel, side effects can be anything from nausea or insomnia to increased anxiety and depression. I tried taking Lexapro again but it only scratched the surface. My doctor suggested a drug called venlafaxine (also known as Effexor) a drug which is now banned in the U.S. (*EDIT: Since writing this blog post I’ve been informed that Effexor is still available in the US, it was discontinued but a generic brand was approved by the FDA in 2010, I apologize for the misinformation).
Possible side effects from the drug include:
• strange dreams,
• increased sweating,
• blurred vision,
• dry mouth,
• changes in appetite or weight,
• decreased sex drive,
• difficulty having an orgasm,
• increased blood pressure, and
I’ve had the pleasure of suffering from the majority of those side effects (11 to be precise) but for some reason I just kept blaming myself, maybe it’s because I really wanted the medication to work this time. I’m frustrated that I didn’t listen to my body sooner. Thankfully I did my own research after I became temporarily suicidal again. I couldn’t believe the reviews I was reading! Hundreds of people were suffering because of this drug and were going through the exact same thing that I was. It felt so good to know that it wasn’t just me, I wasn’t a shit human but Effexor had been playing havoc with my body and mind. I’m now in the process of tapering off of the drug. The withdrawal process in the first few days was really hard. Think of the worst E come down you’ve had and then multiply it! I suffered with nausea, dizziness , sadness, restlessness etc but I knew I was doing the right thing for me. I started taking B vitamins , vitamin C and magnesium. I got lots of rest and stayed away from alcohol, caffeine and dairy. I’m finally feeling a bit better, I’ll cut my dosage in half in two weeks time before stopping the drug completely.
It’s not over yet but I can see the old me coming back, Already I’m sleeping better, eating better and I feel like I want to dance again. I don’t regret going on medication because I needed help at the time but I definitely learned a lesson. I’ll do my research next time and listen to my body when it’s telling me that something isn’t right. I guess no matter where you’re at in life you’re always learning about yourself. That’s how we grow and become better people, I’m just in the process of becoming the best version of myself that I can be.