As soon as I got my prescription and was making my way to the pharmacy, I warily googled what population percentage of the world was on antidepressants. Well I could not find an exact figure and I was certainly ambivalent that I had joined that throng; I popped my first antidepressant later that evening.
My antidepressant journey kicked off with major dietary issues (my appetite went through the roof and I ate so hoggishly I’d lose my breath resulting into a medley of gasping, lip-smacking and ruminating), blurry vision, constipation and persistent migraines that made me wonder if I had an undiscovered malignant brain tumour.
Sheesh, anxiety is really a blast when trying out meds for the first time! The first indication that something was up came in the next couple of days when I woke up to go to school but my legs were barely working, I was in the grip of convulsive shudders. I was also in a state of extreme dissociation that felt like I was entirely present in the world yet feeling extremely detached from it. I had drifted into mental autopilot. This drug-induced fugue was even more intense than what I experienced when it was happening naturally. Being on meds made my depression worse because it now graduated to what bordered stupor.
Over the weeks I pondered on stopping my meds cold turkey. Of course I was aware of antidepressant withdrawal syndrome. The leaflet that came with the drug warned that in the first days you might find symptoms that you are trying to counter, come back even more strongly. But I was overwhelmed. It was like playing symptom whack-a-mole, except that you are whacking bits of your psyche and sanity. I was on the brink of giving up all hope. And honestly comments like, “Uko na ugonjwa ya wazungu… “ coming from my folks were just adding salt to injury. I discovered I hadn’t known enough despair when one of them actually advised me to tuck my meds in a discreet pocket so as to hide it from plain view, and to only take them once I bolted my bedroom door and ensured no one was looking! They were sure just protecting me from the stigma but my paranoia imagined maybe they just didn’t want our smugness to be tainted by a mood disorder. (I know this is super mean of me). That was a terrible blow to my blue devils though. But I came to understand that they were totally innocent and just a mirror of the societal stand on mental illness. They meant the best for me. It is amazing how now they form my astounding, solid support system.
Tenacity is key. I eventually hit the antidepressant jackpot in about 6 weeks! Dawn came. There was a bright side, the much awaited breakthrough. It pushed me to be more cognizant of how I felt emotionally, physically and mentally. Everything that was careening out of control came to ease. I beat the intense anguish and debilitating lethargy that had for many years lingered over the surface and spilt into nearly every facet of my life. I was completely stunned. I found myself constantly wondering if that was what “normal” felt like. Well if that was it, then it sure tasted like sweet heaven!
Why am I writing this?
- I am writing this because society carries a lot of stigma about antidepressants (and psychotropics) judging by what I see represented in art. I want to break the notion that humans are over medicating themselves and therefore medication should only be limited to “more serious” illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. Get it from me, antidepressants can be a GODSEND, and the channel to finding oneself. Of course the weight gain associated by it sucks, but in the grand scheme of things, it is not so bad. The pros far outweigh the cons.
- I am writing this to create awareness that not all pain is physical and not all wounds are visible.
- I am writing this, not to be treated special, babied, judged or fawned over, but for this to be matter-of-fact.
- I am writing this because May is Mental Health Awareness month.