Around one year ago in the summer of 2014, just before the new academic year started, a host of personal issues had begun to coalesce and worsen; if strangers (friends of housemates) were in the kitchen, I'd go without food or water; if I needed something from the shop around the corner I'd order takeaway instead to limit human contact. Hardly the healthiest options both physically or financially. Finally I decided enough was enough, so I stamped my little foot (in my mind) and set out to do what needed to be done (in my mind and in reality). Now I have a tendency to research most anything before I go ahead with a decision and bless the Internet for having the answers to damn near anything (I now know which part is the mortar and which is the pestle). But this wasn't quite a black and white set of questions and answers that the font of all knowledge (Wikipedia) or the oracle (Google) could answer, they could only take me so far. These were personal experiences that would differ for everyone. Add to that the fact that nothing was genuinely happening to me to trigger anything; maybe I was just lazy or shy. That's when a little blue bird came to my aid. The connections I had made on twitter allowed me to broach the topic of anxiety issues with people I knew to be vocal and open about their experiences. Through those conversations and a determination to get to the bottom of things I made an appointment with a doctor (at a time I knew there would be few, if any, people present for their own appointments) and unloaded my concerns upon their medically trained mind. I wasn't scared or concerned about doing so, on the contrary I was looking forward to getting a real opinion, in fact I was more worried that the good doctor would say I was mentally sound and send me on my way. How do you contend with the fact that you're just bad at functioning in day-to-day life? As it turned out I was diagnosed with a triple threat of mental health issues, albeit very mild ones compared to what I had learnt in my research: Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), and that ol’chestnut Depression just for good measure. The pun-loving me got a kick out of being depressed and SAD at the same time. And so my 8 month love affair with medication began.
Meds are a funny thing. Personally I don't like taking anything unless I really need it. Headaches and the like can be toughened out. A cold can be reasoned with if you have the time and patience to do so. If things get bad enough then sure have a painkiller or what have you, but that just isn't me; I like to know my body is doing its job without external stimuli because I’m stubborn like that. That day in the doctor's office though? Well I'd had enough. Put me on medication, doc, because I don't have the patience for therapy, not yet. Picture it all dramatic like if you want. Maybe some sweeping orchestral score playing over the proceedings. The good doctor went through the possible forms of treatment and allowed me to make the decision of chemical enhancement (makes it sound cooler) over therapy with regular check ups on my progress. Later that afternoon I popped my first antidepressant and went about my business. They worked too. Eventually I was calmer, less irritable, perkier (which I get makes me sound like a cheerleader or something and lord knows my calves would really pop in those skirts). Even the doctor noticed at my check ups. Dosage ran out, prescription was repeated, pill popped, happy days. They even let you do it all online now. No people! Bloody brilliant.
Towards the end of that academic year I placed a repeat order and waited for the confirmation that comes a few days later. And waited. And...waited. I begun to ration my remaining meds assuming a glitch had prevented the confirmation. Eventually I realised I may well have none left and rationed them just enough to wean myself off with as few withdrawal symptoms as possible. Withdrawal hit it's peak for a few days resulting in some irritability and flu-like symptoms, yet before I knew it I was med-free. Almost a month after my meds ran out I was notified that I needed a regular check up again and was given "28 days worth of medication to fulfil the time while I scheduled an appointment". That was pretty funny. Now I know I could have gone into the health centre and followed up on things but that isn't exactly straightforward for someone who won't even go into their own kitchen sometimes. Plus I was curious, you know? Was I any better? Did the meds allow me to confront things or simply blanket the issue in a ‘no tears, only dreams’ type scenario? Were they genuinely making a difference or was most of it in my head? My penchant for research and natural curiosity kicked in and I had to know. As of writing this I can say for certain they were doing something right. Since being free and clear of them the old habits have begun to rear their ugly heads only now I'm more vocal about them, no longer content to suffer in silence. The most interesting thing though is that I swear I feel more off the meds. Emotionally I mean. More specifically I experience negative emotions more now. Anger, fear, envy. I can't remember ever feeling so much of it over so prolonged a period of time while I was medicated. Which sounds awful, sure, but I also didn't do anything creative while I was medicated either. I hadn't written a single piece of fiction, poetry, or whatever in that entire pill-induced state of so-called normalcy. And as of now I'm not sure what's worse: to be complacent yet content, or to be creative and suffer. I want to be a writer. I love stories. Not creating anything and not even caring just seems...wrong.
It’s summer again. Summer 2015 when hoverboards are supposed to floating around instead of just pollen (curse you hay fever!). Summer is the hardest time of year for me mentally; the hot weather means wearing less clothing so my BDD raises its voice; the longer days and sunshine mean people want to be outside more so my SAD and BDD engage in some sort of harmony that no one asked for but can’t do anything to stop (kinda like Michael Bay and the Transformers franchise); and of course depression just tags along because depression is an asshole and gets a kick out of anything you do or don’t do. All in all it’s an unpleasant time. When did my meds run out? Start of Summer. So really I’ve chosen the toughest time to run the gauntlet without any pill-induced superpowers. But I’m doing it. This article, blog post, whatever, is the first non-academic thing I've written since my pre-diagnosis, pre-chemical enhancement days. The past twelve months have been something of a learning experience in what can be triggering and what can be coped with. I know full well that what I went through, am still going through, is nothing compared to people I spoke to during my research and I have profound respect and awe for them. A veil has been lifted on the stigma surrounding mental health and those under its heel as well. Unless you’re vomiting from one end and/or the other, in a cast or sling, or are literally leaking vital life sauce from an unexpected hole in your meat sack, people will treat you as a testament to good health. For me that becomes irritating. For those going through worse? I can’t imagine how to react. Yet those few I spoke with keep soldiering on, possibly secretly wishing the nay-sayers/unsympathetic step on Lego or cross paths with every shin-level coffee table in a room. As for me I'm finally writing again. But I’ll always miss being able to use my favourite Simpsons' quote:
“I get me brain medicine from the National Health!”