Photo Credit: Natasha Dulyhiier via Unsplash

Antidepressants and me

By Becca Luke

Becca Luke shares her experiences with antidepressants, and discusses the stigma that still surrounds them.

Antidepressants saved my life. Whilst I find myself joking about my “dependency” on a box of happy little pills and I acknowledge that by no means were they a miracle, overnight, magic pill, Mirtazapine gave me my life back. When I was in a constant battle with my own head, antidepressants gave me some respite. They have allowed me to finish my degree, get a job and maintain relationships with my friends and family. These were all dreams that in December 2020 seemed impossible.

I would be the first to admit that I held my own stigma around antidepressants. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated what they could do, and recognised how helpful they had been for many, but fundamentally I saw having to take them as a sign of weakness. To me, someone who has always been desperate to be in control, having to take medication to help with mental health was admitting that you weren’t “strong enough” to control your own thoughts. 

I think it’s important to highlight that none of this was me thinking mental health isn’t real: it was me thinking that accepting help was admitting defeat. It’s me spending the entirety of my second year of university never getting out of bed, finding it difficult to concentrate on my studies, drinking far too much alcohol, and feeling absolutely miserable. By the end of the year, I had scraped through the academics and was barely maintaining a social life. But I made it over the finish line without ever getting any sort of support, without ever actually admitting to anyone that I didn’t have the energy to even brush my teeth most days – and that was what mattered to me. Pride is a dangerous thing. 

So, what changed? 

In November 2020, I stopped sleeping. My childhood eating disorder returned and I was not coping with online university. Isolated and feeling completely out of control, I spent more time crying than I did on academics. This time there was no hiding it. Deadlines passed me by and I couldn’t concentrate on anything. My memory went and by the time we reached December, I was averaging two hours of sleep per night. 

I was told by a doctor that Mirtazapine would help me sleep, and so with little thought, I started taking it. Honestly by this stage I was so sleep-deprived I think I would have taken anything but there is an important distinction to be noted here: I was taking an antidepressant to help my sleep, not for my mental health. Or so I thought.

Over a six-week period, my sleeping pattern began to regulate again. But I did not. Mentally the repercussions of spending the first semester of my final year being utterly miserable had left me deflated, exhausted and with serious trouble focusing. The feeling of knowing you would not be graduating with your friends, if at all, combined with another lockdown would have been incredibly difficult for anyone to come to terms with. I really struggled. Then one day the doctor asked me how my mood was. I was surprised and answered honestly: ‘pretty shit’. He recommended increasing the dose of my tablets and something in me changed.

It’s now November 2022 and I have been taking Mirtazapine for nearly two years. While I am no longer entirely reliant on these tablets to be able to function, they allow me to have a healthy sleep pattern and stabilise my mood. I still have down days but they are the exception instead of the rule. Truly, antidepressants have given me back to myself. The shell of a human that I was in late 2020 has been replaced with someone with a personality, interests, friends, a boyfriend, a job, and a place to study for a master’s degree. More importantly, I have become passionate about helping to destroy the stigma around mental health, and I am someone who is significantly more understanding about struggles of others. 

Truly, I believe the world is beginning to move beyond the stigma – finally. Don’t get me wrong, when I recite medication as the reason why I don’t drink, I won’t tell my new classmates what medication I am taking. But when I walked into my first lecture of the year, the girls around me were discussing how anxious we were feeling about the year. Within my own friendship group, we talk about antidepressants like they are football teams we support: how are your tablets getting on? Oh, you support Mirtazapine? so do I!

Overall, my advice would be to not be afraid of accepting help. Talking to a friend or medical professional, going to therapy, or even taking antidepressants is never something to be ashamed of.


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