I felt like I’d been sailing a tiny rowing boat through a storm in the middle of the ocean. It was almost impossible to stay afloat and the threat of my boat sinking due to a poorly plugged hole played on my mind constantly. I can’t exactly pinpoint why I was depressed. A lot of it was stress from work and the feeling that my mind was slowly slipping away into a nearby abyss. To be honest, when I look back after 16 weeks on 40 daily milligrams of prescribed “salvation”—AKA the SSRI antidepressant Citalopram – I think I’ve probably been rowing through this storm since I was about 12-years-old. I’m now 22 and trying to commandeer some kind of ocean liner after battling with an antidepressant conflict recently. It all came to a head four months ago…
Generally I’ve had bouts of depression all my life, but I’ve always managed to claw my mind back from the clutches of the dark beast without ever having to step foot inside the doctor’s office. This time, though, it was different. This time I couldn’t carry on beating the beast back into its pit. I was wading through a bayou with concrete boots on—even walking upstairs was like pushing a boulder up a mountain. I couldn’t concentrate and found it impossible to write anything coherent, which is what I do to make money. I was a journalist without a brain (actually there’re plenty of those!)—a woodcutter without an axe.
I felt ashamed yet still reasonably defiant, but after noticing the detrimental effect my mood swings were having on my missus and our daughter, I bit the bullet. The doctor read a quick questionnaire out to me. Questions such as “do you ever feel like you want to take your own life?” and “have you ever harmed yourself?” were reeled off. It hadn’t got that bad, but I “scored highly” for everything else. Feelings of intense sadness, random bouts of self-loathing, a complete lack of concentration…
The doc told me I could be bipolar but to instead “try these pills first” in case it was just a standard bout of depression. So off I went. I was now a diagnosed depressive after a five-minute appointment.
I felt defeated—I’d lost the battle and the Citalopram would now move in and start dropping bombs on the state of depression for me, all because my one man Solid Snake type espionage mission had failed. I was wounded. But at the same time I started to feel a sense of relief. Finally, all this strange behaviour had a name and a little white pill would solve all my problems. Or so I thought…
After taking my first dose of Citalopram I felt as if my brain had been hit by lightening. Within an hour I was hoovering my house at high speed, shirtless and humming to myself. I felt energised but at the same time completely out of my mind. An hour later I crashed and fell asleep. When I woke up I cursed the medicine but carried on taking it any way.
I’ve never been keen on the idea of taking medication to heal any kind of mental problem, but the reasons I continued was because without it I felt helpless. I’d given up the fight and the drugs gave me a helping hand until I could get back on my feet.
After 2 months I began to feel… better, I guess. My mood wasn’t lifted but it was more stable. Things that made me irrationally angry before (such as running out of milk, burning my toast, slow internet) weren’t such a big problem on meds. But then again neither was somebody pushing in front of me in a queue or talking to me like I was some kind of idiot—I began to lose the “edge”. I felt as interested in life as an accountant (I joke, thanks for the cheques guys!). In life, you need that “edge”, whether it makes you swing violently in and out of depressive moods or not, I believe that you need to have some kind of “ok let’s go” mechanism, and the Citalopram dampened mine completely. I was a zombie without bloodlust – pointless. I was either miserable or “meh”.
The zombie feeling subsided a bit after a while and I began to feel more confident and less paranoid. Before medication, I would scope out every location for potential weapons and escape routes. The Citalopram put my mind at ease slightly, I began to realise a clandestine ninja death squad probably hadn’t been sent after me which was a relief.
In turn, this newfound confidence made me look past the depression and at myself again. Something had lifted. If it was the Citalopram that made me realise I was in fact Solid Snake with an unlimited ammo bandana on (well, in terms of fighting depression at least), and yes, I could beat depression on my own, then for that I am grateful, but as soon as I began to feel better within myself, the medication tried to put an immediate stop to it.
It’s like learning to become a successful personal trainer. Of course you want to help people get fit, but at the same time you need to make money. Capitalise on this by teaching people how to get just a little bit fitter each time, that way they’ll always need you and come back for more. But I didn’t want that. I wanted to be shown how to dead lift and squat then be told to clear off and get strong. The conflict worsened.
By the fourth month I had time to get back into the gym three days a week, which made me feel on top of the world but as soon as the endorphins died off, the cloud returned – a total lack of interest in even opening my mouth to speak. Then came the anger. I’ve always had anger issues and was sent to anger management when I was 17 (something I stopped attending when the counsellor presented me with a “rage gauge”), but now fury was back with a vengeance. I just wanted to fight. Anyone.
Sick of feeling constantly exhausted, angry, confused and completely unable to organise anything, I decided it was time to put the Citalopram to rest. I weaned myself off slowly by going down to 20mg a day then 10mg every other day (approved by my GP). I’ve now been free from Citalopram for a week, and although I’m having mood swings worse than ever, the highs are welcomed and the depressive episodes are much easier to deal with.
So how do I feel about the future? Well hopefully I never have to get back onto any kind of SSRI again, but I wouldn’t completely rule them out as, at its midway point, Citalopram did help me. And maybe the conflict it brought me is actually what saved my mind from giving into depression, making me mentally strong enough to move off the pills and away from the darkness. I don’t know, but for the moment I feel like I’m slowly winning my war.