Not long ago I wrote about not wanting to go to therapy again, seeing it as a sign of my own personal failure. I felt similarly about resorting to drugs. When I came off citalopram last time, in 2014, it was a point of pride for me. I was proud that I had reached a point where I felt comfortable to go it alone, to swim by myself without the buoyancy aid. Without cheating.
Four weeks ago I hit a low and asked my GP for help. I was tearful, weeping every day for no reason. I was melancholy, down, and couldn’t explain why. I couldn’t concentrate, was snapping at Liam, was ruminating about things that might happen in the future. I felt totally hopeless about my life. A failure in my personal life and in my career. An almost constant soundtrack in my mind of ‘you’re worthless, you’re rubbish, you won’t amount to anything, you’re going to fail, the rest of your life will be miserable.’
My brain had been whirring faster and faster in recent months, like a washing machine on its final spin. It had taken over everything. My thoughts. My feelings. My perceptions. My work. My relationships. It felt out of control, and I was getting frustrated. I have my therapy ‘toolbox’ of exercises from my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) courses. I use mindfulness too, and practice yoga several times a week. Nothing was helping anymore.
That’s when it clicked and I remembered something. Something is physically wrong with my brain – the synapses, the chemicals, I don’t know – and it’s not something that’s ‘my fault’. I can do yoga every day, but it won’t always fix those biological breakdowns.
It no longer felt like ‘cheating’ to ask for antidepressants, just like a diabetic wouldn’t see at as cheating to ask for insulin.
I recently read the inspiring Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. One of his points is that depressives often feel guilty about their illness because their life is ostensibly great. They have people who love them, great jobs, money, and so on. Why should they feel down? They should feel grateful, not melancholy! But depression isn’t necessarily ‘about’ anything like this. You don’t have to be poor or lonely or unemployed to be depressed, it hurts people from all walks of life. It’s also the double blow of depression that people who have it feel even worse because of this guilt.
So I stopped feeling guilty, stopped blaming myself for a moment. It’s not my fault I’m not coping, I realised. And there’s no shame in asking for the help I need.
My GP prescribed me antidepressants along with an online course. Four weeks later I feel ridiculously better. It’s like someone’s turned the soundtrack off. Sometimes I hear it, quietly, but I can almost always turn the volume down to just a faint hum. I’m smiling more and I feel more upbeat. The worries about the future are coming less frequently, and are less all-consuming and terrifying. I’m calmer. Things that felt like they meant everything – like what my career will look like in five or ten years – are now just things I’m curious about; they don’t define me or my self-worth.
When I feel like this – light, comfortable, normal – it’s almost impossible to remember what depression feels like, or what my brain was up to just four short weeks ago. I frequently forget and take for granted how fantastic it is to feel this way. Not happy, not sad, just… free.
If you’re fortunate enough never to have had a mental illness, consider yourself blessed. And if you struggle with it, don’t blame yourself for struggling, ask for help, and never feel guilty about it.