Attitudes have changed towards speaking out about mental health and willingness to learn about the illnesses involved. However I still feel an uncomfortable air and slight taboo when it comes to discussing medication, whether that be prescribed or self-medicated.
It took me 6 years to come to terms with the fact that I had depression and anxiety, and that it wasn’t just a hormonal phase. Growing up my Mum displayed strong characteristics of bi-polar disorder and could snap from calm and smiley, to aggressive, emotional and violent. My first experience with medication after a long struggle to be diagnosed (various doctors, surgeries and psychiatrists), was after I had moved in with my Grandma and was introduced to a beta blocker, which the doctor aimed to target my anxiety and bring down my heart rate. At that point my depression was never acknowledged for medication or counselling, despite feeling hopeless, suicidal and currently using laxatives to lose an unhealthy amount of weight(to the doctors credit, unbeknownst to him).
After moving out as soon as I turned 18 I then decided that I would have to tackle and face the doctors alone, regardless of the unnecessary struggles I would be presented with. I didn’t initially set out with a defeatist and negative attitude of the NHS, this formulated after a succession of stony faced, quizzical (in the most seemingly irrelevant ways) and insensitive practitioners. My journey then furthered to a councillor at University who suggested that Marijuana would be a coping mechanism (I genuinely, hand on heart confirm this to be the truth!), but instead I deferred from University and started on Mirtazapine. Instead of focusing on my anxiety the doctors used Mirtazapine which works by increasing the amount of noradrenaline and serotonin available in your brain. The doctor informed me that it could take up to a month to start feeling any different and to persevere with the tablets. I stuck with these for six months, slowly increasing the dosage, but I didn’t feel any difference whatsoever and was slowly isolating myself in my house. I wasn’t working, I had lost all my hobbies and social life and had got myself into an unhealthy relationship.
The doctor then decided to sign me off work and refer me to Health in Mind for help and support, as well as sending me home with Diazepam. At this point in time I was desperate for anything to help me, when really what I needed was to end the relationship that was piling low self-esteem and guilt upon my already existing depression. Diazepam is basically Valium and is prescribed to calm patients down, however there is much controversy around the prescription of it and its dangers and I was quite surprised I had actually been given this considering my addictive nature and after expressing my desire to not live.
I had the doctor come out to me on a home visit as I had locked myself into the house, I wasn’t eating, had taken a number of the Diazepam pills and wasn’t looking after myself in any regard. I decided it was time to come off of the Diazepam, start up with Open University and move to a different town. New home, new doctors, and I started anew on Amitriptyline which I found to be similar to the Mirtazapine, in that it did nothing for me despite being on the maximum dose and various pleas to my doctor.
My current and most successful medication I have been on is Sertraline 150mg (which ups your serotonin levels), but that’s not to say I haven’t had my issues with it. It definitely takes a while to work and build up in your system, but when I stop on the tablets cold turkey my partner really notices a difference and immediate deterioration, and whilst I don’t want to be dependent on it I am massively encouraged by how well it works. For me personally as I struggle with addiction I did increase my dosage to 200mg without permission from the doctor as I was craving a bigger boost in my mental state, and am forever craving MORE (something I can really identify with those addicted to recreational drugs). I have weaned myself back down to my prescribed dose, but find that when I am prescribed painkillers such as Codeine (which I’ve had recently), I become hooked on the effects, and whilst I am not in pain I am craving the feeling that shakes off my sadness and emptiness. I feel like there needs to be a lot more control on what the doctors will prescribe you, and to actually take a look at your medical history. I of course have a responsibility and strength, but when I am suffering and feeling really low, I can’t stop myself finding that high. The NHS services would be better placed offering counselling and one on one support services, making this clear, where you can contact and give the patients a personal approach instead of print outs.
This is just my personal experience of self-medication and prescribed medicines and think that it’s a difficult battle when you feel mentally unstable to know what is actually helping you.