The beginners guide to SSRIs (anti-depressant medications)
Disclaimer: I am NOT a medical professional. My story is entirely based on my own experience. Please, please talk to your doctor about your medications and options. Ask questions, do your research, do what's best for you. Hopefully, what I write about just makes the whole experience a little more comfortable for someone unfamiliar with SSRIs.
Are you on an SSRI? Yes
Did your doctor tell you what it does to your body and brain? No
If not, did you ask? Yes
Did you do your own research on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications? Hell yes.
I don't know about you but I just couldn't do it. I couldn't take pills everyday to help with my mental health unless I knew exactly what they were doing to my body and brain. Mostly because I don't like mystery and also because I wanted to know I wasn't just swallowing a placebo. I wanted to know the facts, I wanted to know that something was definitely happening in my chemistry to balance me out and stop me from wanting to throw up every morning with nerves. Nerves about nothing and everything all at once. I had researched SSRIs years ago, for an entirely different reason. One I still struggle to talk about today. Let's just say that SSRIs need to be treated with extreme care when finding the right type and dosage for a person. A wrong move, a wrong prescription, a sudden change or stop can be deadly. I lost someone I loved because of this so, I don't mess about with this stuff.
Through this devastating experience, I had researched SSRIs years ago. How could it go so wrong? Do they even help? Are people kidding themselves when they take them? Quite honestly, quite a few times (when I was resisting and resisting) I had thought they really were only for the very, very unwell people with mental health troubles. I was judgmental too, I knew one woman who told me she took anti-depressants but still appeared miserable in everything she did, nothing seemed to bring her even a flicker of joy. I had to wonder why she bothered, they didn't seem to help her. The flippant way she told me about how she just went to her doctor and asked for them, made me think not much work was done around it. No mental assessment, no mention of counselling, no lifestyle suggestions to complement the medication. Just - ok here's your pill, go well...
This infuriated me at the time. But, I guess my experience might well be the exception. I was careful, I was mindful, I was educated and I was doing a LOT of other work on my mental health at the same time. The pills for me were not the final answer. And, as we all know everyone's journey is different.
I kept resisting, my psychiatrist was happy that talk therapy was enough so I was sure I was making the right decision. Quite frankly, I blamed pharmaceuticals for my loss, I hated them like an enemy, I told myself exercise works better for me anyway. Then I injured my knee. I couldn't exercise properly for 3 months, I got lazy and it turned into 4 months. After 4 months I felt it building. Cue, total mental collapse. I gave in, I went back to my research, breathed deep and asked my doctor for the pills.
When I first started them I had a lot of people say to me 'don't feel ashamed of taking them, some people just need the extra help'. Truth is now, after all I've been through, I'm fiercely proud that I'm taking them and even better, they're doing what they should be doing. They help me. They've convinced me that when you have the right dosage, type and external tools they are actually quite amazing.
Here's my brief understanding of how they work and an awesome cute little video that I found extremely helpful too.
Depression and anxiety can be brought on by many factors, one of which is biological. Which is where pills can help...The most common anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication is called an SSRI - this stands for Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor. In simple terms, it's a traffic warden for your brain and it's function. Standing at one door and giving the correct directions to your chemicals. Wrong way! Turn around! Go the other way dammit!
A person experiencing such symptoms may have low/interrupted levels of serotonin and noradrenaline which are neuro-receptors in the brain (lightning bolts of chemicals, flashing around our complex noggins). Neuro-receptors connect our neurons together which have a gap (synapse) in between. Serotonin is largely responsible for controlling our mood. When working correctly, serotonin shoots from one side to the other with minimal re-uptake from where it came from. When not functioning correctly, there's possibly a lack of serotonin to start with and a lot of the receptors are bouncing back to base, i.e. not travelling on to the next receptors to help us feel happy and content. So to put it in simple terms (and the video goes a little deeper) the SSRIs get their stop sign out and tell the neuro-receptors to turn on their heel and bugger off to the neuron on the other side. They then get absorbed properly and hopefully, we start to feel better.
It's a VERY rough explanation and this is only the biological changes that the pills make. I firmly, fiercely believe in a holistic approach (I know, I know I hate that word too) but they need to be teamed with what works for you. Even if it's just having a hot bath every single night. Your lifestyle needs to give those traffic wardens a helping hand too, they'll appreciate it and you can hopefully feel better for longer.
There will always be surprises. There will be many side-effects you can predict and many you cannot. Keep a diary while you go on the meds, talk to your doctor and understand that sometimes you may feel worse before you feel better. It's OK, don't feel scared. You're doing something most 'normal' functioning people couldn't even fathom. Trust me, I know how terrifying it is not to be in control and for the first 3 weeks I wasn't. I felt like I was going to die, every minute of everyday. I didn't, and now I'm healing and most of the time I feel like a million dollars.
Let me end with this because it's a surprising one for me. One side effect I didn't predict is what I'm now calling the 'truth serum effect'. I had no idea this would happen. So many things I would have previously kept to myself are now rolling out of my mouth - sometimes before I've had a chance to think and stop them. I'm still deciding if this is a good thing. I don't think it is for the people around me who've hurt me in some way. Perhaps a year ago they would never have known they hurt me, or they might have felt satisfied that they somehow made me feel small and worthless. Now? I have this ability to bounce their toxicity straight back at them. I don't want it. Keep it for yourself. My gift to you. Time will tell how this will play out. It's a risk I'm willing to take for the sheer joy I'm getting out of life for the most part now.
Remember, if you want to talk about your experience with meds or just your mental health in general contact me
It can be an anonymous contribution or you can shout your story from the rooftops, like me.
At ease soldiers x