The decision to medicate
Why I chose my mental health over my contempt prior to investigation
A few nights ago my partner woke me up from what was clearly a nightmare. I was staring straight at him — still asleep at this point — shouting and frantically pulling his arms away from his chest, “Where’s the baby, where is she??”
My point of waking was hearing his voice, “She’s in her cot Emma, she’s fast asleep in her cot”, and I immediately became aware that what I was doing with my scrabbling hands wasn’t necessary, she was alright.
I don’t have any memory of the danger that she was in apart from an overlay of dread that nightmares leave you with. The sense that shit was going real bad and I had been utterly powerless to do anything about it. I got up to check on her and she was smooshed up in a corner of her cot, one arm flung out, little fingers loosely furled. This sight was enough for me to be able to go back to bed and fall asleep. And crucially, fall asleep without imagining the ocean surging across the road and crushing us under a neverending salty swoon of water. Two years ago this wouldn’t have been the case.
You see, I have existed for most of my life in a dysfunctional partnership with my anxiety. I would never say it’s been a comfort to me in times of trouble, rather a fall-back when I have no other way of dealing with my emotional state. Describing it as such almost sounds pithy, like I’m totally blase about it when the opposite is true. But it’s pretty accurate. Whatever event is unfolding in my life, if it presents itself as challenging in any way, be that daunting, stressful or even joyful, I experience these emotions initially, then revert to feeling anxious about it. Sometimes these anxious patches are manageable and remain bound in reality, other times, very much not.
Over the years I’ve thrown a lot of money towards therapy for the anxiety and, plot spoiler, it really works. But I’m writing this to highlight something else I have in my anxiety toolbox (classic therapist speak), and it’s something that I don’t typically talk about publicly. I’m referring to antidepressants.
I stopped drinking and taking drugs about 8.5 years ago and in the intervening years, I’ve been extremely cautious with medication of any sort. Plus I’m a gigantic sceptic and didn’t really think antidepressants would help, or if they did I’d be transformed into a spaced-out zombie. Taking meds was A-Ok for others, hell, I even knew from chats with mates that they’d worked, but for me? Noooooo.
The in 2016 after a particularly harrowing few months where my head was telling me lies pretty much 24/7, I started seeing a psychotherapist. She gently (but firmly) suggested that it might be a good idea for me to take medication. Long story short, most days I was operating at medium-high level anxiety that was spiking when under stress, to acute. I’d been normalising it for so long that I no longer knew any other state, and what I actually needed was someone outside my own head to tell me it actually wasn’t bloody normal to experience ongoing obsessive thoughts and unrelenting anxiety.
They took about 6 weeks to work and it wasn’t like one day I felt overwhelmed by the minutiae of my daily existence, and the next I was skipping through the streets trailing ribbons through my fingers. It was subtle, which gave me a lot of relief. I could still get anxious or stressed about a scenario or whatever, but instead of it mutating into a carousel of atrocities, the anxiety stayed right-sized in my head. The emotion fit the context. And let me tell you, after 43 years of being ruled by my stinking thinking, it has often felt nothing short of miraculous.
I am really lucky that I experienced next to no side effects when I started taking them and this has continued to be the case. I know this isn’t so for many others and I’ve definitely heard stories of the opposite happening. They also haven’t altered any other part of my personality. I was really worried that by ironing out the anxiety, I might also iron out the ability for me to feel an abundance of joy. This hasn’t been my experience with the meds, in fact, sometimes I feel like the pills clear a space in my head that used to be filled with the clutter of obsessive thoughts. Through this chink of light, I get to see things like my daughter laughing as I tickle her toes, and crucially, without an impending sense of doom lurking in the background of my consciousness.
And what about the baby I hear you say. Well. I decreased my dose to as low as you could go while pregnant. This is a loaded statement as I know there’s a shit-ton of people who would really question taking meds when you’ve got another heartbeat to keep alive. And this did terrify and raise questions for me in the early days too. So I did a couple of things. I talked extensively to my self-designated, trusted medical professionals — my doctor and midwife. Who both said it was waaaaay better for me to be on a minimal dose than to be not on them and thus riddled with cortisol while my brain awfulised around every corner. And I gave myself permission to be ok with it, and I don’t regret that either.
Bottom line, I know what it feels to go under the bus with my anxiety and I will do anything in my power to stop that from happening so I can be present and safely mother my child. Hence why I spoke to my doctor (always, ALWAYS speak to your doctor before messing around with your dose), and since then I’ve been taking them every day as prescribed and that’s just the way it is. And I don’t plan on being on them forever, but I’m a ‘one day at a time’ kind of girl so best leave that decision for future Emma to figure out.