Antidepressants saved my life, I am sure of that. But I am also certain they made my mental illness much worse too. It has taken just under two years from my first very dark thoughts to me feeling sane and — largely — back in control of my mind. That’s not merely because it takes time to heal, but because it took at least six months for the doctors to work out what pills to give me.
My symptoms of anxiety and depression started in the spring of 2016, and the first few drugs I was prescribed didn’t work. In fact, they really did just make things worse. The GP listened to me describing my symptoms, and handed me a course of Citalopram, a very common antidepressant. Counselling would be essential too, she said, but the local NHS was so overstretched that it could take a year before I’d get any.
I started having private counselling and waited for the drugs to work. They didn’t. In fact, I realised that I was becoming more paranoid and agitated. I grew convinced that I was going to be sacked from work, that my friends hated me, and that my new partner was on the brink of leaving me. The constant feeling of panic was exhausting, and to top this off, I couldn’t sleep. The doctor doubled my dose and told me to keep going: sometimes these things took a while to work. By the early autumn, I was struggling to make it through a couple of days — let alone a whole week — of work, and spent most evenings in a blind panic about my personal life. I still couldn’t sleep.
The doctor suggested adding another drug, Mirtazapine, which would calm me down. This medicine did what it promised, but it calmed me down so much that not only did it take me an hour before I could even crawl to the bathroom in the morning, it also slowed down my metabolism and I gained a stone and a half in a month. I had been the same size and weight since I was 21, but now I was swelling like a marrow.
And still I wasn’t improving. In fact, by this point I had become too ill to work, breaking down totally at the Conservative party conference and needing emergency sedation. I went back to the doctor again. ‘I’ve never worried all that much about how I look,’ I said. ‘But if I keep on taking this drug I might start. Plus I’m now off work and I’m frightened that I’m never going to be able to go back.