On anti-depressants.

I went back on anti-depressants the day that a Conservative majority government was elected.

This was correlation, rather than causation. I do find the concept of this new, ideologically extreme Tory government hugely depressing for very good reasons (I am not using the terminology here in a flippant way), something I’ve written about elsewhere. But the 7th of May was an important day because it was the day I went into my GPs office and said “I need help.”
I’ve been seeing my GP about depression for years now, but my experience of anti-depressants was on and off. I was initially put on citalopram, which I managed for about a week before the side effects stopped me in my tracks. I felt constantly numb and listless, which, when you already have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, just makes life that little bit worse. I was then put on flouxitine. I managed with this for four months. The side effects were still debilitating – my mood was generally lower than normal (counter intuitively) and I was overcome with wave upon wave of exhaustion. I told myself I should try to stick with it – anyone who has taken anti-depressants before will know the compulsory drudgery of getting used to them and the often awful effects that has on one’s well being – but in the end of the fatigue got too much, I became effectively bed bound and was unable to get to my GP for another prescription. By that point, I gave up, and have been drug free for almost 6 months. 
The decision to go back on anti-depressants was not one I took lightly. I felt uncertain about it as I was handed the prescription, even more uncertain about it as a I stood awkwardly at the pharmacy counter while a staff member fetched a big box of Sertraline, wrapped it in one of those ubiquitous paper bags with the NHS logo. My uncertainty reached a dizzy peak when I perched on the low wall outside of Kings, opened my third can of Monster of the day (it was a good day) and took out one of the tiny white pills. It measured less than a centimetre, and could easily have been paracetamol. Happiness, apparently, in minute form. Watching it, my mind meandered off into a Woody Allen esque fantasy, where I popped that pill in my mouth, and it release thousands of tiny workers, armed with brooms and pots marked “positive mental outlook”, who would swarm from my throat to my brain and get to work sprucing the place up. Instead, when I did swallow the pill with a mouthful of sickeningly sweet energy drink, nothing happened. I sat for a few moments and stared into space, wondering if I’d suddenly feel an electric surge of positivity shoot up my spine and cause me to start dancing in the street and singing “Oh, what a beautiful morning.” Precisely bugger all happened. A dog came up and sniffed my shoe dismissively. I went back to work.

If you ever have to take anti-depressants, I’d caution you against reading that terrifying little leaflet which comes with your medication. Unless, like me, you happen to enjoy the black humour of it briefly before your inner hypochondriac gets its act together and clocks in some overtime. According to this sheet of paper, I could expect the Sertraline to give me mood swings. I’d lose my appetite. I’d probably have trouble sleeping. But also sleep too much. I might also find a massive increase in attitude. Erectile dysfunction and inability to orgasm was on the horizon, as was “persistent unstoppable erections” (which, let’s face it, is the last thing you want to be burdened with when you work with children). Similarly, I might also suffer incontinence, constipation, frequent urination, lose control of my sphincter, experience forgetfulness, enhanced memories, and “possibly fatal heart failure” (which at least gave me a fighting chance.) I was vaguely disappointed that the side effects didn’t do anything interesting, like allow me to turn green and muscular when angry, or fly or shoot webs from my wrists or, better still, suddenly give me the keys to the Wayne Manor and access to their bank account so I could live my dream of being a bearedier, communist Batman. Perhaps more worryingly, a common side effect of my drugs was “debilitating anxiety and depression” which was probably the most self-defeating statement to make about an anti-depressant.

It’s been 13 days since I started taking the medication. I’ve noticed that I am being affected by it – I keep forgetting things. Little but important things; I’ll leave my house without headphones, which for a misanthrope is utter hell because I actually have to talk to people. I’ll become convinced that I’ve sent emails when I haven’t, and only realise this when I get irate messages demanding to know what I’m doing with my life. I have been writing blog posts where after two paragraphs or so I’ve completely forgotten what I was meant to say. I forgot to meet friends, to go to meetings, to brush my teeth in the morning. I even found myself struggling to remember how to roll a cigarette the other day, and one would have thought that years of remorselessly kicking my lungs with nicotine would have made that into pure muscle memory. Apparently not.

Mood wise, my GP warned me in stern tones to phone her immediately if I felt suicidal. I have, thankfully, not felt that way, but I have been finding myself taking a rather blase mental attitude to my health and well being. Again, sitting on Kings Parade today (I spend far too much time there, puffing on my e-cigarette and glaring at passers by in the hope that one of them might take pity on me and offer some sense of existential purpose. No I don’t know what I’m on about either), I watched a few delivery vans drive by. I speculated what it would be like to pop myself out in front of one of them. Enough to get clipped and knocked over, not seriously injured. That would get me a few weeks in hospital. Probably the closest thing I’d get to a holiday. Sorry, can’t deal with your problems, other people, I am ill. Look, I’m in hospital and everything and I’m crapping in a bed pan. Best holiday ever, man. In the end I didn’t, because it wasn’t a suicidal urge as such, more just the desire to have a break from it all, so I wondered back to work and listened to Whitechapel until I felt better, or least the closest approximation of better that I can get these days.

I wonder if I’ll stay on anti-depressants. Perhaps swallowing a little white pill will just become a part of my daily automatic rituals like tying my boot laces or deliberately choosing my most disgusting death metal t shirts on the days when I know religious schools are visiting college. Perhaps something will kick in and suddenly I’ll be able to feel a bit less like I’m wondering down a preprepared path of mediocrity, which, while not the worst thing in the world, will suddenly wind up with me sitting alone in a pub at 2pm in the afternoon, aged 50, showing signs of lung cancer and wondering what the hell happened.

Or perhaps I’ll just figure out what the hell I’m doing with life.

I dunno. 

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