Friday, August 18, 2006

Ditching the dastardly anti-D’s

I have been taking anti depressants (Citalopram to be precise) since October last year. Following the bombings I carried on as normal for a couple of months, then finally fell apart in September. I was off work for 2 months and it was during this time that I eventually realised that help was required. It is a natural human instinct to resist help, to feel it is an admission of weakness and to, consequently, try to battle on alone. This was my scenario to a tee.

Fortunately, and somewhat fortuitously, an old university friend, who now lives in Malaysia, was in London at the time. We met for a drink and I happened to mention my lack of success in getting any psychological help from the NHS. The psychiatrist that my GP had referred me to told me I not suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She could tell this, she said, because PTSD tends to seriously disrupt your life. Apparently the fact that I had already been off work for a month and still did not feel able to return, was not disruptive enough to qualify. She said I was just anxious, and needed to practice deep breathing. Despite having no previous experience in this field I had a gnawing feeling that she was wrong.

My bosses were putting pressure on me to seek private help (whilst not offering to pay) but I was resisting strongly. I was worried that a private psychiatrist would dive in and start to analyse my entire life. “Why are you 38 and single?’ ‘What’s your relationship with your mother like?’ and so forth. I felt that it was, clearly, in their best interests to make you feel as messed up as possible so that you would continue to make appointments whilst lining their pockets. The NHS, I rationalised, had endless waiting lists and the pressure to get you sorted and out the door would ensure they only concentrated in the job in hand. This was my somewhat cynical and misguided train of thought at the time.

During her years at school in the UK some friends of her parent’s had acted as guardians to my Malaysian friend, they had all studied together at medical school. Mike had visited her whilst we were at University in Edinburgh and taken the two of us out to dinner. That evening of opulence shines out like a jewel amongst those sometimes freezing, sometimes starving, always drinking, student days. We picked our lobsters live from a tank and I tasted, for the first time, the sickly pleasure of sweetened wine with home- made pudding.

Some days after meeting my friend, she sent an email saying she hoped I didn’t mind but she had mentioned my situation to Mike. He had told her he knew just the man for the job, I really should talk to him she said. Later I called him and we fondly remembered that evening 20 (yikes!) years ago. He was calm, matter of fact and stood no nonsense. ‘You won’t get better on your own’ he told me. ‘With professional help, however, you will most definitely recover, but you do need to get some help, and an old friend of mine just happens to be the best in the business’. ‘I call him tomorrow’ he said ‘and make you an appointment’. And that was that, no questions, no choice, I was going.

It was the best chain of events which could have occurred under the circumstances, and Mike was right, I don’t think I would have made it here on my own. He was well briefed this shrink of mine, ‘I’m not going to ask you about your mother’ was his opening line, immediately I relaxed and settled into the space. He quickly diagnosed me with medium to severe PTSD, he still says it will be another 2 years before I am rid of it. After a couple of appointments he brought up the dreaded anti- D’s. I was wary but desperate. I honestly didn’t think I was capable of getting myself out of that darkened tunnel alone. My worry was that they would hinder my recovery. I thought they would numb my emotions in such a way that they would just be putting off the inevitable pain. Once I came off them, I thought, the terror and the fear would come flooding back.

My shrink assured me that this was not how they worked. The anti depressants may well numb my emotions, however my brain would continue to process the traumatic experience; eventually filing it into my memory along with other, less traumatic memories. This can be a long and painful process and the anti-D’s will just make it easier he told me.

They took, I think, about 3 months to kick in. I was hoping to be bouncing off the walls after a couple off weeks with a permanent grin plastered across my face. The affect, however, was extraordinarily subtle, and sometimes I wonder if they have done anything at all. I have certainly improved and am feeling inconceivably better. I have had no perceivable side affects. No nausea, vomiting, headaches, or tremors. My sleeping patterns were not great, but that could be put down to the trauma rather than the pills. I underwent a drastic down turn during the first few weeks of taking them. Days and nights of ‘what on earth is the point of my life? What have I achieved? Nothing!’ Again, that could have been my natural mood before the chemicals had started their work. I don’t believe my emotions have been particularly numbed, I have laughed myself to tears and cried myself there too.

Now I feel the time has come to see how I fare without them. It is a liberating whilst frightening prospect. I may plummet back into those blackened depths, or continue to skip between the days of my life. I am terrified of disappearing back underground, whilst at the same time desperate to live without them. I will not feel as if I have truly recovered until I am back to my medication free self.

I am now biting my 20mg pills in half every morning. I intend to do this for a month then throw in a few quarters along the way. I will let you know how it goes.