Last week The Guardian asked readers to write in with their experiences of using antidepressants, and of course I had to take the bait.
Here’s my two penn’orth, where I speak about my 2008-09 episode. Writing this brief piece has made me realise I have quite a bit to say about that period, so I might go into more detail in further posts. It was a hellish time and has left me with some permanent scars.
You can find the original here.
Antidepressants and me, like depression and me, go back a long way. I’ve been on them, on and off, from being a teenager (Prozac), through university (paroxetine, citalopram), and into my working life (citalopram, sertraline).
The first few times are undramatic and, I suspect, uninteresting – as were my depressive episodes. Often, once I’d got better, I’d convince myself there was nothing really wrong with me. I’d just been silly, I had been lazy, I just needed a bit of positive thinking and self help books and I could be on my way. Each day is a gift! Every day in every way, I am getting better! Happiness is yours to have if you just reach out and seize life!
(An aside – high neuroticism is a personality risk factor for depressive disorder)
2008 put an end to that.
It’s a curious feature of depression, how much is fills your world with static and gauze and paints gargolye expressions over people’s faces. Looking back, I see how worried colleagues were for me, how concerned my weekly counsellor was. She suggested a visit to the GP, and I came back with a prescription for citalopram. I swallowed them, 20mg, once a day. I had no hope. You don’t, when you’re depressed.
“Can you remember being happy in the past”, she asks.
The question’s a cruel joke. Everything’s a cruel joke. I must have been happy once, rationally, I know I must have been. But I can’t remember. The idea is absurd.
“What do visualise in the future?”
“Grey mist. Nothing”
I go to sleep each night, wishing I could just die peacefully, no morning, no more. And wake each morning, howling inside; I’m still here, it still hurts. Cruel joke. I take the pills. I have no hope.
Sometimes, blissfully, I stop. Just, stop. One morning, stood half naked and holding a sock limply in my hand, I just stop. Half an hour maybe, maybe more. Stopped. And it was peaceful.
I’m seeing the counsellor twice a week now, taking the pills every day. Nothing’s happening; only the pain increases, I have to stop it, I know only one way how. To the extent that I can think, I think about suicide; to the extent I can feel, the thought is tantalising, terrifying. My counsellor knows how to spot the transition from thought to action, sees my howling desperation one morning. I’m sent to hospital, who order me off work but are reluctant to have me as an inpatient. I have good friends and good family, who can watch me. My plans involve jumping, not overdose. Keep with friends and don’t go near bridges.
I go home. I take a break from London and return to my parents, who do a fair job of hiding their frantic worry, their wits-end desperation for a son they can’t watch over any more. Me, face a permanent grimace, my mum trying to help.
“And what about affirmations?” she asks. “Every day in every way I am getting better”
I hate her. I hate her stupidity and her ignorance. I hate how lonely and isolated she’s made me feel. And most of all I hate myself, some cruel, selfish bastard of a son who’d put his own mother through this, some ungrateful wanker who could feel such hate to his own mother, because I love my mum, and I hate her, that she’s made me hate myself. Cruel joke.
I keep taking the pills. I am not getting better, in any way.
My GP, notified of the hospital visit, ups my dose. 40mg, every day. I have no hope. I am going to die, soon. If not this year then the next. Each morning, howling inside. I’m still here. Why am I still here?
I return to work. I’m not ready but people will be talking about me, they’ll hate me even more now that I’ve been off sick, being lazy. I must return.
The increased dose makes my teeth chatter and my body sweat, my eyes shiver in my skull. My mouth dry. Three weeks, this fades.
I cry at work, often, looking at photos of my family on my phone, smiling faces. They tried so hard for me to be happy, I’m not happy, I’ve failed them, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I’ll be gone soon, it’ll hurt you but it’s for the best, it’s better than having me as a son, a useless wretch. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry I couldn’t be better.
Cruel joke, I know not to trust this. I wake one morning and I’m not howling, and it doesn’t hurt. It looks like it’s going to be a beautiful May day. Cruel joke, I know not to trust this. I go to work, go to bed, fearful for the morning.
I keep on being fine. A week, I’m fine. I sing in the shower, baffled, delighted, joyful. Happy. It is a beautiful spring day.
“Can you remember how you felt, when you spoke about suicide?”
But I can’t remember. The idea is absurd.