The decisions to start taking any kind of anti-depressant medication can be very daunting, especially when you may not know much about the drug your GP is prescribing or recommending. Most of the time, in my experience, you don’t even really make the decision at all – your GP does.
And although Doctors/ GP’s are intelligent and educated people, they don’t always gets it right – much the same as us. Sometimes they forget that there is a human being attached to their diagnosis and treatment plan. It’s for this reason that I recommend always double checking a few things, and even perhaps getting a second or third opinion, before blindly beginning a long-term medication.
MY PRESCRIPTION STORY:
Visiting The GP.
When I decided to visit my GP on the suspicion that my depression and anxiety was getting worse, this is (step-by-step) what happened:
- I was asked how long I had felt the way that I did
- I was asked to explain why or what was making me so sad and stressed
- I was asked to fill out a generic questionnaire/ mental health assessment survey
- I was told by my GP that I was most likely suffering from the effects of depression and anxiety
- A Mental Health Care Plan was organised for me
- I was prescribed an Anti-Depressant medication and told to take one daily
Is that all?
All of these questions, and diagnoses, were completed by my GP within 20 minutes. And a lot of people have the same sorts of stories. So for starters, let me just note a few things here:
- I was 18 at the time
- I wasn’t asked about my Mental Health history by this GP at all
- I wasn’t referred to a Psychiatrist for any kind of evaluation or diagnosis
- I wasn’t offered a choice of who I wanted to see or asked if I had anyone in mind
- I wasn’t told I had a choice about whether to take the medication I was prescribed
- I wasn’t told of any side-effects that I might experience if I did take them
But wait! There’s more!
Every GP you see will be different, but just remember that if you have any questions, or doubt what your GP might be saying or prescribing, remember you have every right to ask questions. It is your body, your mind and your life.
You do not have to go into any details with your GP about why you’re feeling the way that you are – they are not a Psychiatrist. You have the right to ask to be referred to a preferred psychologist, or be referred to a psychiatrist.
You are within your rights to not take any medication without seeking a second opinion – this type of medication can sometimes be very hard to come off of, so it’s important you know what you’re getting yourself into. And you should always ask what the side-effects may be.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT:
Within an hour of leaving the GP’s office, I had been to a chemist, had my prescription filled, and had taken my first pill, and that was that. Or so I thought.
When I hopped in my car to head home after visiting the chemist and doing a bit of shopping, I realised something was really wrong. I drove halfway up the street before I had to pull over. My head was spinning, my vision was blurry and I felt lethargic, like every muscle in my body was working in slow motion.
I rang my GP straight away and explained my symptoms. I was told this was completely normal, and that I would be okay in a day or so. I managed to get home safely, thank goodness.
But that information may have been better received before I tried to drive home.
Research, research, research!
I can not stress the importance of researching your medication enough.
The first night, I went to sleep very early. I woke myself up about 10 times that night grinding my teeth. By the morning, I was exhausted, my head hurt and I felt terrible. So I decided to look up the product information for my new medication, to see what else I might be in for.
It was hard to tell which possible side-effects I might experience, because there were quite literally hundreds of them.
And the GP never told me about a single one of them.
Why wasn’t I told?
Beginning a new medication without being warned of the things I might experience, like common side-effects, was really upsetting and confusing.
Not only was I dealing with the issues I had before I began taking the medication, I now had a plethora of other sub-issues to contend with.
At one point, I was even prescribed a higher dosage of the same medication, when I explicitly explained the side-effects I was suffering from to a completely different GP.
It’s been over seven years since I was first prescribed my Anti-Depressants. I am still taking them, and I do still suffer from a lot of side-effects. I’ve learned to manage most of them, but more importantly, I’ve learned how important it is to question your GP’s opinion if something (no matter how small or how silly you think it seems) doesn’t feel quite right.
Anti-Depressants can be very dangerous medications, so it’s important you ask questions. For me, this medication rules my entire life. When I first started taking my medication, I wasn’t told much, so I thought I’d compile a list of a few things my GP didn’t tell me about:
My GP didn’t tell me much about the side-effects of my Anti-Depressant. The way they described it, I would take the medication, and I would feel better.
But I didn’t feel better, necessarily. I came to realise that the medication simply numbed my emotions. On the one hand, I wouldn’t feel very depressed. But on the other, I wouldn’t feel very happy, either.
It’s taken a long time to adjust to feeling very… well, bleak. Not too sad, but not too happy. Just existing, some days. Yes, not having overwhelming sadness is good. But not being able to feel joy and excitement can sometimes be hard.
A very common side-effect of Anti-Depressants is having a constantly dry mouth. And one definitely not worth overlooking. Dry mouth can lead to infections, soreness and a bunch of other oral-related nasties, including bad-breath.
While there are other factors involved in gaining weight – lifestyle, work, levels of activity – since beginning my Anti-Depressants, I’ve gained around 15kg. That might not seem like a lot to some, but weight gain can cause serious self-esteem issues and can make you feel even worse about yourself.
I would say that I was about average when it came to being sexually active, but as time has gone on, I’ve noticed my disinterest in sex. Which is another thing my GP failed to clue me in on. Sometimes I really have to force myself to have sex, and it’s not a nice feeling.
On the occasions where I do feel like sex, I also have to battle with the fact that it doesn’t feel as good as what it probably does without medication. It can really drop yours (and your partner’s) confidence, and it can be difficult to connect without that intimacy.
The right person will understand, of course, but it can be an incredibly difficult thing to bring up.
This is the biggest challenge I have with my medication these days.
If I go even six hours without taking my medication on time, the withdrawals start. And they’re not pretty. I wind up feeling like a full-blown drug-addict coming down, and I’m not over-exaggerating.
I get headaches, lose concentration, feel dizzy and nauseous and sweat so much people notice the marks under my arms and on my back.
If I go twelve hours without it, my anxiety kicks back in with a vengeance, my heart races and everything around me is suddenly overwhelming – too loud, too big, too close. The fine balancing act my brain plays on a daily basis is derailed and I become a nervous wreck. Every noise is terrifying.
Twenty-four hours without my medication is agony. The only reason this usually happens is if I forget to get a prescription filled and the chemist is closed for a public holiday, or I forget to pack it if I go somewhere.
It’s horrendous. I get brain-zaps, which are basically described as a feeling as if your head, brain or both have experienced a sudden jolt, shake, vibration, tremor, zap or electric-shock. You can find out more about them here.
Along with the brain-zaps, I start to get so wound up I can’t sleep, can’t talk properly and every muscle in my body is tensed. I don’t eat and I become paranoid. I can’t even begin to explain to you how much pain you experience, having to go through this.
And my GP never told me about any of it.
Even though my GP knew I was studying at university, they still failed to mention that a possible side-effect of my medication would be that my memory could be affected.
I became forgetful, unfocused, lethargic and wasn’t able to remember basic things, like what I did the night before. I couldn’t describe certain things – my mind would go blank. It was an awful feeling, realising my memory was becoming hazy. Even now, I struggle with words, remembering small things and even people’s names.
Again, you would think that the GP may have mentioned to me that I might get sudden urges to swerve my car into a tree, purposely do dangerous or risky things (like drugs) or think about how utterly pointless existing is on a daily basis. Nope!
Suicidal thoughts are a common side-effect of Anti-Depressant medication, and it’s hard work, reminding your brain every day that you don’t, in fact, want to kill yourself. Especially when you’re getting urges to do just that. Not to mention, it’s pretty disturbing and can feel incredibly invasive.
There have been loads of times where my medication has made me question my own sanity.
Every person will experience the effects of their medications slightly differently. You may find that you experience things I haven’t noted here, or perhaps there are things you don’t experience, that I have noted. There’s no right or wrong answer.
Deciding to take Anti-Depressants is a personal journey, and that’s why it’s so important to listen to your body, and ask questions.
Remember to keep an open mind, ask questions, don’t overlook your concerns, and remember that Anti-Depressants aren’t going to fix you. You need to use them in conjunction with therapy, healthy lifestyle habits and in a responsible way.
If you, or someone you know, wants to find out more information, there are plenty of places that you can reach out:
Black Dog Institute
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation
Q Life (LGBTI+ Specific)
Headspace: 1800 650 890
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
QLife: 1800 184 527
Why Mental Health & The Workplace Go Hand-In-Hand.
5 Signs You’re in an Abusive Relationship; My Experience & What I Learned.
Mental Illness: Surviving & Thriving
A Beginner’s Guide To Self Love
You Are A Miraculous Work Of Art.
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