Coping with the Stigma of Antidepressants

Why is it still difficult to remove the stigma of medication
for depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles,
while so many are experiencing these disorders?

Coping with the Stigma of Antidepressants - The Last Krystallos

When we talk about eradicating stigma we’re trying to normalise or accept something that has been deemed a sign of social unacceptability: the shame or disgrace attached to something regarded as socially unacceptable. In general, society is becoming much more compassionate and educated about mental health, and the stigma is relaxing. However, we still have a long way to go and even those of us fighting to remove the labels can have trouble accepting.

I’ve lived with clinical depression, anxiety, and panic for most of my life, and dealt with it in many ways. I’ve had success overcoming it using natural ways, and I’ve had many times when I’ve needed medication. Accepting medications has always been difficult. Nobody likes to admit they’re not in control of their own bodies, let alone their own minds.

Sertraline-antidepressant-Coping-with-the-Stigma-of-Antidepressanthe-last-krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

I know many people on antidepressants, and many who refuse meds, so how do you know if medication will help you?

I didn’t want to be on antidepressants for the long term and I believed meds would only offer the placebo effect after so long. I chose to take six month courses, weaning myself off by nine months, believing the serotonin, the meds, and my biological body would work together to rebalance.

tears-Coping-with-the-Stigma-of-Antidepressants-the-last-krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

So, what happens when your plans don’t work, when your body doesn’t do what you want it to?

Sometimes you have to allow your body to take its time.

Teddy-suicide-Banksy-Coping-with-the-Stigma-of-Antidepressants-the-last-krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

The last few years have been tough, culminating in a psychotic episode almost exactly ten months ago last week. An episode I wasn’t sure I’d return home from. It scared me and my family. The following week got worse, and eventually my GP prescribed Setraline and got me on a waiting list to see a counsellor.

I was scared of where I was and with a history of self-harm and suicidal tendancies I sought out private counselling. This helped greatly with learning coping skills and discovering how to deal with my demons. However, medication does a funny thing. I saw an initial counsellor who saw me in a terrible state, tears, panic, and reflections of the psychosis, and she referred me to a therapist closer to home. By the time I saw my new counsellor, I was a couple of weeks into my antidepressants and despite the side effects they were working. I was calm, relaxed, intelligent, and totally understanding of my mental health state. We worked hard together for seven months – and I felt fine.

Demon-Coping-with-the-Stigma-of-Antidepressants-the-last-krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

You know you often hear about people stopping their meds because they’re okay now? Yes, that. You truly believe you’re fine, and sometimes completely forget that medication is what’s at work.

Granted, I had many more tools in my mental health coping strategy tool belt, but I didn’t realise how well the antidepressants were working. I spent my seven months on them and (disliking the side effects) decided to lower my dose (with my GP’s say so). I halved my intake and within days I noticed the difference. My proposed weaning off from seven months didn’t go to plan. I became erratic, anxious, and paranoid. And when I experienced my second psychosis, my GP insisted I upped the dose once again.

I am now in what I call ‘no-man’s land’. I haven’t ever been here before and I don’t like it. I feel reliant on medication and I don’t want to be. I feel like I failed. Why didn’t my mind/body stick to my usual plan, the six month – nine month course that always worked before? I don’t want to be dependent on medication and I am stigmatising my own mental health.

Barbed-wire-Coping-with-the-Stigma-of-Antidepressants-the-last-krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Here I am, championing mental health awareness and trying to eradicate the stigma, yet I’m scorning my own need. There’s truth that mental health conditions mess you up – it’s what they do. And accepting that you’re not in control is incredibly hard. I’m a control freak, so there’s that too. I know that I need to be on medication to stabilise, and I don’t know how long it will take for my brain and my biology to do that. I can’t treat it like a broken arm. I can’t time it, or give myself expectations, and I can’t hurry it up.

So, instead, I work on myself, I work on acceptance. I work on loving myself and giving myself time. That’s all we can ask for. For ourselves and those around us also living with what seem like insurmountable health conditions. It doesn’t matter if you have mental health issues, cancer, a broken limb, or any other health condition, nothing should stigmatise what we’re each coping with. Compassion, education, understanding, and love should flow. More so, when governments are assessing and stigmatising conditions and people who need help.

I have no idea how long I will be on medication for, and that’s okay. While I’m on it, I’m fairly stable, and I’m mostly me, and that’s what matters.

Many health conditions are tough to deal with
when all we want are bodies that work the way they’re supposed to.
How do you deal with your health problems when they don’t go to plan?

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6 thoughts on “Coping with the Stigma of Antidepressants

  1. Miranda Kate 💜 (@PurpleQueenNL)

    I loved the last paragraph the most. Accepting that this is how it is now is such a large part of it, and also letting go of thinking about it in the long term, forcing yourself only to reside in the ‘one day at a time’ mindset. It’s hard work. It is much the same with injuries. When I had my slipped discs in my neck, I had to accept that this is it now, this is an injury I will have to manage for the rest of my life. I am going to have bad days/weeks/months, but as long as I can keep a good level of maintenance, I should be okay. And mental health is the same.

    When I started therapy in the early 90s I had to fight the stigma of ‘going to a therapist’- especially in my own family, who shunned the idea. But I said to them, if your car isn’t working right, you take it to a mechanic, a psychologist is a mechanic for the brain! … and no, it didn’t really make a difference. They still didn’t want to talk about it or know about it. But I refused to be ashamed of it or hide it.

    As a parent, when my eldest son needed medication for his autism (it was ADHD meds though) to help him with his overwhelm, I felt bad about it, that in some way I had failed as a parent if my son needed medication. But I realised it was about him and not me, and if it improved his life that is all that matter. And also having a friend who had been on them as a child explaining to me what a difference it had made in their lives, helped me to make the decision. My son was on them for several years, but is off them now. And there are times that he still struggles, and his anxiety particularly shows up more now. But I remind him that if things get bad, we can always go back on them, even for a short period of time.

    My ex boyfriend was on anti-depressants and he did a test run of them, when he stopped it was like watching a balloon deflate, and his doctor saw that too. So he put them back on them. It is what he needed to do. I have a friend here in Holland who had a psychotic episode, complete break from reality for 3 days, and for years after she resisted anti-depressants. When she finally realised she needed them it made such a difference to her and her entire family. She was able to be the person she knew she was.

    Big hugs!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Shambrook Post author

      Thank you, Miranda, it helps so much to have people who understand on your side.
      This time it really upset me that I couldn’t stick to my normal plan of meds, but I’ve had to learn that each time depression or anxiety overwhelms me, there are different triggers and different lengths of time to heal, or process, or overcome… and when meds disguise the fact that there’s still something wrong, you can easily decide you don’t need them when you still do.

      It’s a slow process sometimes, and acceptance is probably the only way to go xxx

      Reply
  2. Woebegone but Hopeful

    You are showing a great deal of bravery and determination and I wish you all the very best.
    After, I guess about 50 years of coping with mentally engendered problems I have heard much in the way of contradictory advice and of course sweeping generalisations. And I’ve been with medications for about 35 years.
    It would seem at the end of the day, a person does the best they can, as they can. If the medication works, good. If the person can function, good. Next step, let the person feel better about themselves for functioning, that is winning, and from there they can thrive.
    Best wishes to you on your journey.
    Roger

    Reply
    1. Lisa Shambrook Post author

      Thanks, understanding and acceptance is paramount. It’s a tough journey, isn’t it? So when people help and accept you out can only make it easier. Hugs to you x

      Reply

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