Today is #TimeToTalk day, a day for shouting loud about all things mental health. The campaign is run by Time to Change and their aim is to help us all start conversations about our mental health, to break the stigmas surrounding mental illness and to raise awareness of what living with a mental health condition is really like. If you regularly read this blog then you will know that I have suffered from post natal depression and severe anxiety, it first began in late 2016 after the birth of my second child. If you are a really avid reader then you will also know that I didn’t start taking any medication until my son was almost 18months old, way over a year after my symptoms first began. It has now been a year since I first started taking anti depressants and I thought I would share with you what the last year has been like. I am going to try my best to give an honest account of what life on sertraline is like, I am not going to hide anything behind any dark corners or avoid talking about when things have been tough. After all, the point of #timetotalk day is to have honest conversations about mental health, with 1 in 4 of us experiencing some kind of mental illness, it is important that we speak the truth to help each other to feel less alone.
One year on anti depressants – my experience of taking sertraline
Alex was born in October 2016, by early December that same year I had been taken into the vice like grip of postnatal depression and my anxiety was causing me to have hundreds of intrusive thoughts every day. I was terrified something awful was going to happen to my children, thoughts of them lying dead would pop up into my mind at the most unexpected times. I’d see them drown in the bath, suffocate in their bed sheets, their pram roll into the road, strangers snatch them in the park and them choke on their food or own sick, turn blue and die. Except, of course, I didn’t really see any of this, none of these horrific things actually happened. These thoughts were sprouting from the deep rooted anxiety inside me that my babies were going to be taken from me.
Over the first year of Alex’s life I cried more than was normal. I struggled to enjoy my baby, I loved him fiercely and protectively like a mama bear loves her cub but I couldn’t bond properly, I was always so scared something bad was going to happen. I was too busy living a life that didn’t really exist in my mind instead of enjoying the small every day moments with him that should have made me burst with happiness. Every day was covered in a heavy dark cloud, there were obviously happy times but there was always this fear and sadness shrouding the moments we spent together. Postnatal depressions stole that precious first year from me, it is something I still struggle to accept and I will probably grieve that snatched happiness and the joyful memories I don’t get to relive for a very long time (maybe forever).
Last January (over a year since symptoms of my mental illnesses first arrived), I saw an understanding and kind GP who urged me to start taking anti depressants. I decided to listen to her, I put my fear of mind altering medication aside and I did what was best for me and my family. The first month was hard, I didn’t experience many side effects but it took a while to adjust to the sertraline in my system. A couple of weeks after I started taking the anti depressants I did have a few days where I felt worse than before: uncontrollable crying and constant suicidal thoughts plagued me. This, thankfully, did not last for long and after about six weeks I felt the old me start to return. The clouds slowly parted and although there wasn’t a rainbow bursting through behind them, the skies atleast looked clear.
As the months past, more and more of my old self returned. I physically felt the weight lift from above me, I felt like I could breathe and move freely again. I could stretch my arms out to the sides, take a deep breath and feel grateful for my life, when not so long before I had felt so pointless and such a mess of a mother that dragging myself out of bed each day felt impossible. Smiles were no longer forced, laughter was no longer fake, I felt love and joy radiate from within me, burning down the house in my mind where all the dark thoughts lived. The shift was slow, I didn’t wake up one day and feel ‘fixed’, repairing the damage was more complicated than fixing a leak or changing a lightbulb. My whole sense of self had been compromised when I was depressed and I had to go right back to my foundations to build myself back up to the person I used to be.
There are still dark days, days when the storm feels like it is coming back with a vengeance. I’m stronger now though, I am armed with a raincoat, umbrella and supportive homes to run to for shelter, I no longer stand alone and afraid in the downpour. Speaking about my mental health struggles was hard at first, I worried what people would say and what repercussions admitting I was so unhappy to my family would have. Now though, now I won’t ever keep quiet again because talking helps, it doesn’t completely solve your problems but it is a vital part in the healing process. I would urge any of you reading this to talk to someone, to share your problems with a supportive ear, to stop letting the depression win by allowing it to keep control of you. Speak up, don’t be embarrassed or scared. Remember, you are 1 in 4, that’s how many people struggle with mental health problems so you are not on your own, there is someone out there who knows what you are going through.
I am still taking my anti depressants after a year of first being prescribed them, they are small little pills that keep me going, that keep the anxiety at bay and have managed to help me see all the good in life again. Sertraline helped me to see that death isn’t the only way, that although life can be overwhelming and scary at times, it can also be wonderful and joyful and amazing. I now know more than anything that I want to spend every day of this glorious life with my family and if I need to take anti depressants for the rest of my life for me to continue to feel this way then I will. As for the intrusive thoughts, all I can say is intrusive thoughts who? I don’t witness my children dying in horrific ways several times a day anymore, I don’t fear leaving the house with them both after worrying all morning about the dangers of the world outside our front door. I can’t say I never have them, but they are mild in comparison to what they were, now only a scene from a PG kids scary film instead of a whole entire 18 rated horror film. If one pops up, which is very infrequently, I just think oh, hi intrusive thought, I sit with it for a second before carrying on with my day. A couple of years ago the intrusive thoughts and depression held me in their unyielding grasp, now I hold the power again: I am the one in control.
The depression has been obliterated. The anti depressants have reset the balance of serotonin and other chemicals in my brain and this have given me the strength to grab back onto the positive side of my personality with both hands. Of course there are days where I feel down but these days aren’t debilitating, I can make it through them and see the hope in a better day waiting for me tomorrow. Anxiety has been harder to shift, it still appears again in stressful situations but I am able to stop myself falling into a black hole of ‘what ifs’ and catastrophising. I am pregnant again, with the positive result on the home pregnancy test came an onslaught of anxiety and fear that lasted intensely for the first couple of weeks of my pregnancy and has only really started to ease over the last month or so. I accepted this small relapse, how could I not be scared after the postnatal depression I went through last time? How I could not fear the future when there is a possibility it could consist of more storms and sadness? Like I said repeatedly through this post, I am stronger now. I feel like a have a full arsenal of tools and knowledge to help me if the worst does happen again. Postnatal depression might try and get me once more but I fought it once and I am fully prepared to fight it to the bitter end. Talking, medication, support networks and sharing honestly are what has helped me through and I am ready to do it all over again, if I have to.
A year on anti depressants may sound like a long time to those of you scared at even the idea of contemplating taking medication but I have made so much progress over the last year and I will be forever grateful to the doctor who gave me the gentle push I needed to start taking them. Dr Terry, you saved me and you helped me find myself again when I thought I was lost forever. Thank you.
If you feel like you may be suffering with post natal depression here is a list of resources and charities that can help and support you.
If you are feeling suicidal or need urgent help please ring 999 or speak to The Samaritans 116123
You can find many honest posts about postnatal depression in the mental health section of my blog.
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