I first went on antidepressants when I was about 17. I had been battling depression for about a year which came with a host of other difficulties as is usually the case with mental illness. At the time I was put on Citalopram I certainly wasn't at my worst. I had been worse and I was going to get worse but I was at a place where I had the strength to give them a go. The terrible irony with depression, anxiety and other mental difficulties is that the thought of taking chemicals to treat these conditions usually makes them worse to begin with. Your anxiety is raised with the fear of what these tablets are going to do and your depression feels worse because you feel beaten by it. The tiny pill in your hand seems to scream "you couldn't fight this on your own, you have failed'. At least this was the experience for me.
The first day I felt nothing but heightened anxiety. The second I felt extremely dizzy and unwell. By the third I was in hospital and had lost the ability to move.
When my legs first started to fit, my dad quickly phoned for an ambulance and tried to keep me calm, as if he was trying to keep a fish from swimming. If I tried to stop my legs from shaking my muscles screamed in pain and allowing them to shake was uncomfortable, exhausting and terrifying. Apparently the paramedics came in minutes but of course it felt like hours. After convincing them that yes, I was having a panic attack but no, it's not 'just' a panic attack I was finally carried to the ambulance.
For at least six months after I was in hospital I would have a panic attack every time I heard an ambulance whether it was in real life, on the television, or something that I imagined to sound like an ambulance. The sound of sirens still sends my heart racing and causes my skin to prickle and heat up. Just another thing to add to my list of things I have deemed 'dangerous'.
They got me a bed and said they needed to take bloods, quickly. I had a really bad phobia of needles. Once they had found me a more private bed with curtains around as a barrier between the Saturday night drunks and my terrified screams they came in with the needles. I turned the music up louder in my ears and told my mum about my favourite scenes in Harry Potter, anything to take my mind off what was going on. By then my whole body was fitting and my skin felt like it was on fire and I couldn't help but think how they were going to get the needle into my shaking arm. When I thought it was all over I was flooded with relief only to be told they couldn't get the vein and I had to wait while another 2 nurses came and tried. The last one took some blood and finally left me to rest although warned me that it may not be enough. I think I waited about an hour and in that time my muscles had stopped fitting but were beginning to tense up and I had an intense pain in my neck and the worst feeling of pins and needles over my entire body. A doctor came back in and told me what I'd been fearing, they hadn't managed to take enough blood.
There have been countless occasions in the years that followed where I have found myself trapped on that hospital bed in the cage of my terrifying mind. As if enduring the event the first time wasn't enough. The mind can be cruel.
By this time I couldn't move at all. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to go somewhere far away. I walked up and down the same staircase in a holiday villa in Spain over and over again, the same way I had countless times before to get me through hour long panic attacks in school. Eventually my mind slowly drifted back to my current reality of the hospital and the tear-stained faces of my parents. "It's over", they said. A few hours later, I was able to stiffly move my limbs and refusing a wheelchair, I slowly walked back to the car, held up by my parents.
I have only flashing images of memories from the following days. It felt like my depression had spread past my mind and had infected my body too. My muscles took it in turns to cramp up, I couldn't stand up to brush my teeth without my legs cramping and fitting, I couldn't do stairs without someone helping me and I couldn't dress or wash myself on my own. When all I wanted to do was cry, my tongue and throat would cramp up and I would be left trapped in a panic of pain with the tears forcing their way out of my eyes, inside I was screaming with the excruciating unfairness of it all. My fitting legs wouldn't let me sleep and my tongue and throat wouldn't let me eat. I felt stuck inside an eternal hell, an internal war between my mind and body.
The doctors think I probably suffered serotonin syndrome and although my body had recovered within a week, my mind would take more time.
My difficulties with mental health have been persistent and have continued to come and sometimes go, presenting themselves in different forms with different faces and I have come to realise that they will always make up a part of what makes me, me. A couple of months ago I felt a strong feeling like it was time to try medication once more. Although I was terrified I listened to what I felt my mind and body was trying to tell me and started the journey again.
On a different type of medication my experience has been both similar and different and something I will talk about in a future post. I don't want this post to put people off trying medication as I know it is incredibly helpful for some and my next post on it will be more positive. I've decided to publish this post to help sort my feelings of the experience finally in my head and to share my experience and urge you to not take the decision to start antidepressants lightly. I also wanted to acknowledge that I came out the other side of this experience and was able to try again when the time was right.
This happened, it was awful, and it was real. I did it, and became stronger because of it.
"You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering it rather than allowing it to master you." Brian Tracy