I have been on anti-depressants for half my life. That’s over a decade living with an artificial haze cast over my emotions; nearly thirteen years of wolfing down medication designed to make my mood less palpable, to make me less volatile, all so I can live a ‘normal’ life – whatever that means.
Since my suicide attempt a few months ago the dosage of my various medications has slowly climbed up in strength. It’s now peaked, and I’ve been left feeling like a robot zombie whose AI decided to switch off the interface that simulates human emotions. I’ve literally felt as though I have been watching my life through an increasingly smeared glass window; experiencing the wonders of a technicolor cinematic masterpiece through black and white TV. It’s a water down version of reality; a factory made mood.
Seeing as it’s Christmas, I was leaning toward a more light-hearted subject, but every time I tried to write about anything humorous or trite, I chocked. And seeing as this site is meant to be the platform where I can write openly and honestly, I decided I’d write this as it’s something I know a lot of people across the world also struggle with – and why should anyone be embarrassed about exploring topics surrounding mental health?
Many of us live our lives with the support of medication; we use pills and tablets designed to alleviate crippling symptoms as a crutch. There’s a plethora of nasty symptoms that come with having mental health issues, and we are forced to wrestle with them so frequently that they’re now ingrained into our daily lives. To those who haven’t been on anti-depressants, or anxiety medication, I’ll describe what it could perhaps feel like for you.
Imagine you’re sitting listening to your favourite album; you love this album, it’s won 87 grammy awards in your head. You connect with every song; it hauls out every emotion you can think of. It solved world hunger. It should have a planet named after it. It’s great, life-changing, never been done, ended the Beatles – basically, you really like this album, okay? So, you’re sitting listening to it, only this time it doesn’t sound the same. The slick guitar riffs sound staggered; the vocals seem lifeless and flat, rehearsed album; the catchy hooks are now lacklustre. The whole album has been switched from stereo to mono and it feels as though you’re listening to it in a crowded room whilst wearing comically sized ear muffs. This album is your emotions, all of them, and you can’t experience it properly anymore. That’s what living on these types of medications is like. It must be what older people experience when they realise that the warm, crackly sound of a vinyl has been replaced with a portable jukebox the size of a raisin where you can gain access to any song with the click of a button. These pills flatten and dull everything. It’s like waiting for your favourite meal. The food looks so good, only when you sink your teeth into it a sour metallic taste floods your mouth.
Despite all the negativity I’m hurling at my anti-depressants, there are an array of benefits. I wouldn’t have been put on them if it wasn’t deemed medically necessary. I remember the first day I was prescribed them. It was in the wake of a bad break-up. There were obviously a sea of other underlying issues, but at the time the heartbreak was the catalyst. I came home with my dad, and retreated to my room where I closed the door and sat alone. I read the instructions/information like a scholar does a rare text. I pondered the side-effects and weighed up the pros and cons of starting this. I must have rocked between yes and no for a solid hour before I eventually just braved it and swallowed down the first anti-depressant I’d ever had. I waited for something to happen, for anything to happen, and whilst I did the months bled into years, and before I knew it I was living my life, but it didn’t feel right or real. After trail and error with various medications the urge to hurt myself dramatically decreased. Despite having attempted suicide a few times in my life, these days any thoughts that threaten to mimic that behaviour are fleeting, and almost never get acted upon. That’s what these pills are designed to do, so why am I complaining? Because the side effects are vastly counteracting the benefits.
Having been on various strengths and a cocktail of meds for years I’ve learned to live with these side effects, yet not a single day goes by when I don’t feel that at some point I am simply going through the motions. At social gatherings I laugh, I drink, I interact. I by no means have a bad time, but I never truly feel as though I’m having a good one – because to be honest I don’t feel much of anything. You learn to fake it; you learn social queues and mimic behavioural norms, reacting in expected ways because that’s all you can do.
A couple of weeks ago I made the choice, against my GP and therapists recommendations, that I was going to lower the dosage of my meds. At that point I was on the highest amount you were allowed to take daily, and I felt as though I was in prison. Trapped in my body. Every day there was this internal moan like a little foetus of nostalgia jerking about inside my gut and it was torture, reminding me of what it was like to really feel. It’s been two weeks and even though my mood dips, I can actually cry again. Anyone that’s thrust into this robotic state of nothingness will tell you that being able to cry is heavenly. Even if it’s about something horrible or sad, you can actually express emotions and that is cathartic.
I was growing tired of staring unblinkingly at brick walls for what felt like hours on end, of having to carry out a painstakingly forensic audit of everything I feel to make sure I’m feeling it correctly. Now, since cutting back I can just let my feelings flow naturally. Sure, I am a bit over the place and I’m sure my mood swing will provoke negative reactions from people, but I suppose real friends will understand.
So, what if, like me, others that are medicated weren’t destined to live their life in a factory-made mood forever? What if we could go day-to-day, taking just enough to keep up us upright, with people being understanding and patient, rather than judgemental and indifferent? Feelings things is important, particularly if you’re creative. I want that back.