I’ve had a few significant life changes occur in the last couple of weeks, the major one being the next step in the journey to mental wellness I have been on for the last several years, but more intensely this year. I’m putting this out there to let people know what’s up because the next couple of months (at least) are going to be pretty odd, and I’m not sure what to expect. As with most things in my life, I tend to joke about things that are difficult or scary, so I thought I would take a moment and discuss it honestly and seriously.
During the summer, especially after I completed my training at work and removed that stress from my plate, I started to be aware of some chronic symptoms that I felt were keeping my from feeling my best. I was frequently tired, my body felt like a weight and I was irritable. I felt a “fog” at all times, and I had to force myself out the door to do things. I could have fun or be happy at events or out with friends, but sometimes I had to fake it a little. This faking it was my first warning sign. I have been drinking more and more coffee to help mitigate this malaise. I kept track of this for a few months, and noticed it getting more frequent. My thoughts often drifted to worry or anxiety about my life, my art, my friendships, my relationships (or lack of) and most anything else that came up. I felt like I went from swimming or treading water to being pulled under and having to fight my way up for a breath before going back under again.
Two weeks ago, I saw my therapist and the focus of our session was “what does happiness feel like?”, which seems like a simple enough question, but even though I feel more emotionally grounded than I ever have I wasn’t sure I was actually happy. In discussing it with her, and looking back on my history, she suggested that there was a possibility that my brain may not be making enough serotonin and that this may have been the case for a long time, perhaps since childhood. Given my issues with anger, rage and feeling emotionless through most of my 20s and 30s, I was open to the idea. At her recommendation, I made an appointment with my doctor, who after a long consultation wrote me a prescription for an anti-depressant. Even with the script in hand, I didn’t know if I was going to begin the course of treatment because there was one other major consideration – my job.
Part of my employment is having a valid medical certificate from a Transport Canada doctor. The use of antidepressants would mean a “grounding” or revoking my medical certificate for such time until the doctor and the medical office was certain that I was fit for duty. There is no concrete amount of time, and to be frank there is no guarantee that I ever get certified (though that is fairly unlikely). Could I be off work for an undetermined amount of time, with no control over the process of getting my medical back at any point, if at all? I made my decision on a Sunday morning when I woke up with a particularly intense case of the “fog” and irritability, I had to make a change for myself and I took my first pill that morning.
The other consideration was the stigma around depression, and medication. While I didn’t have judgement for people who were on meds, I was also “proud” that I was able to work through my therapy without them and I believe this was a misunderstanding on my part of what depression is and what its’ causes are. As with anything, you get a much better understanding through experience, and the stigma that exists is unnecessary and counterproductive. I have no shame about taking medication to boost my serotonin. If your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones, you take medication to boost it. Why would the brain be different?
So where am I now? I’m off work for an unspecified amount of time, I’m going to begin the process of filing paperwork to try and get paid through one of the long term programs at work, I have a bunch of hoops to jump through for the Transport doctor including a full psychiatric evaluation, and I’m working with my doctor to determine the correct dosage of medication. I’m 10 days into the treatment today, and so far I feel a bit better than I did 10 days ago, although these meds can take 4 weeks or so to really begin to work. Luckily (and again, it’s early) I have had very few side effects so far, minus some bouts of feeling kind of spacey in the same way you can feel when taking a couple of cold pills. I don’t know where this all ends up, maybe I’m on them for a short time, maybe forever. All I know is my primary goal is to get myself as healthy as I can be, and that is more important that any job or paycheque. I am also surrounded by such supportive people, and I’m filled with gratitude for that. Knowing I’m not alone makes success seem that much more possible.