This week is mental health awareness week, so I thought I would share some of the bits of my relationship with depression that might not immediately spring to mind when you think about mental illness. The range of treatments available is so broad, and the approach of some doctors so narrow, that before you know it you can be dependent on some addictive drugs that might cause more problems than they solve.
Four years on (about five years after I started needing them and couldn’t admit it to myself for a year) I’m still on a standard dose of the same old drugs whose side effects include literally every single symptom I might be taking them to prevent. How am I supposed to know if they’re helping when I can’t distinguish the effects of the drugs from the effects of my illness? I might be exaggerating; they stop things, usually, from being as extreme as they used to be, and that’s positive because it helps me across a line beyond which I can drag myself out of bed and through life. But I hate being dependent on something that’s known to be addictive; I hate knowing that even if I do one day come off the drugs even that will be a torturous process.
There are more mundane side effects too; I have indigestion a large proportion of the time, which is tedious and uncomfortable and usually accompanied by a nagging feeling of resent towards the medication. This is stressful. Perhaps worst of all, the list of things in which I have no interest has grown to include sex, which causes tension in my marriage and is generally no fun. I’m often anxious, to the point where I panic if my husband takes too long saying goodbye to me in the morning because then I might be late for work and everyone will hate me and I will have to stay really late and my boss will be angry and everything will go wrong. The carefully constructed facade of competence will come crashing down.
In spite of the real effort I make to do a decent amount of exercise, I am often physically very weary. I get achy and tense and spotty, I pull out bits of my eyebrows and pick at my spots and get headaches that last for days. And all of these things make it harder to stay upbeat and give me a constant supply of things to be angry with myself about and keep fuelling the depression. Sometimes I manage not to direct the anger inwards but then it just goes outwards and hurts other people who don’t deserve it. For an illness that’s all in my head it produces a hell of a lot of collateral damage.