Every day, I take medication. This medication allows me to go about my day as a normal person, able to cope with the world. For my chronic pain, I take painkillers so that I’m able to work, to play with my son, to leave the house and not cry in pain. For my depression, I take antidepressants, which enable me to come out from under the duvet and interact with others. I work in a field where I am constantly talking to people – the idea of shutting myself away just isn’t sustainable to my earning power. So, each day I take these tablets, I get on with life and all is as it should be. I’m not ashamed of it. Not anymore.
Al Porter was on Brendan O Connor’s “Cutting Edge” chat show last night speaking on this topic. As a public figure and a comedian, he bravely came forward on national television and declared that to regulate his own brain chemistry and his mood, he takes antidepressants. He spoke of his shame at having to take them initially – from going to a doctor outside of Dublin, to hiding them in his house and not telling friends or family. I can relate quite a lot, as I’ve been in his shoes. Seeing him speak out like this on national television was inspiring, and hopefully will start to remove some of the stigma that people do hold about taking medication to help with depression and mental health issues. You can check out what he had to say here.
It’s taken me a long time to be as okay with this as I am. In the earliest days of my depression I was so ashamed, so unable to communicate my feelings with those around me. The only reason I told my parents about my initial diagnosis was that the counselling service asked for an emergency contact, and I didn’t want their first telling of me being mad to be after I’d fallen and broken my two legs. One problem at a time. So, I told them.
I was afraid they would look at me differently, look at me as attention seeking, as making it up. To myself I hadn’t quite come around to the idea. Yes, the idea of a diagnosis was comforting – there was a doctor telling me I wasn’t losing my mind, and that we could manage this. It still didn’t get rid of the feeling of “If I was stronger I wouldn’t have to do this”. Those were the days before medication, when at the time talk therapy was the prescription. It worked at that time, as did copious amounts of sleep and self care. I was an 18 year old college student with all the time in the world for self care, I was able to put it into place and had no responsibilities bar myself.
When I was diagnosed with postnatal depression five years later, I’d gone through recovery from the initial episodeÂ of depression, and had one or two anxiety incidents which had been treated short term by medication. My baby was five months old, getting three hours of sleep in a row was considered a luxury and I was far from the carefree 18 year old I had once been. I was seeing a doctor I trusted implicitly, so when she recommended medication to manage my mood, to balance out the chemicals in my brain, I agreed readily. It wasn’t choosing the easy option. I was choosing the option that was the right one for me at the time.
It is hard to parent with depression. It’s hard to reconcile that I have to take medication to make me the happy parent my child needs, to cope. It makes me feel like a lesser mother and it’s an internal struggle that I’ve had to make my peace with. Endless articles have informed me just how damaging my depression is going to be on the mental wellbeing of my child. I worry about the impact of it on my relationship with my child and his father, my partner who has been endlessly supportive. There is all of this worry that comes with depression that simply isn’t spoken about – it’s not just about the feeling depressed, you then get the slap of guilt for Being Depressed. It can be difficult to communicate it without seeming like you’re out for attention.
Antidepressants don’t make everything 100% better straight away. There are side effects which have to be taken into account – for me, hot flashes which rival any stereotype of menopause, issues with concentration and a lowering of my libido have had to be taken into account. It’s not a decision I make lightly, to continue taking medication every single day. I do so in conjunction with regular check ins with my doctor and my psychiatrist.
I’m one of the lucky ones to have a support system around me that I trust implicitly.Â Of course, the first lot of antidepressants aren’t always successful. It’s important to check in with your medical professionals regularly to ensure that your prescription works for you. Some can make it worse before it gets better, it may require different amounts to be successful – I’ve changed doses three times in two years, all under careful consideration. For some, the first one works a charm. It’s all down to the individual case.
Antidepressants are not my only attempts to cure the internal arguments I have with myself, talk therapy is also a regular feature, as is attempts at self care and time to myself. That last one is easier said than done with a toddler who has issues with boundaries – does getting to pee alone count as self care?
The suggestions rattled out in the media for those with mental health difficulties – exercise, talking it out, getting enough sleep – are all well in good when you’re able to devote time to them. We live busy lives, and as a working mother of a toddler who abhors the idea of sleep at a reasonable hour, it can be difficult to balance prioritising myself over my family. As a result, I’ve found myself falling down the rabbit hole more than once in the last year.
Talk therapy is fantastic – I’ve recently started seeing a wonderful therapist who is very helpful – but it’s also draining, emotionally, mentally and physically. I leave some sessions and feel like crawling under my duvet and not coming out again for a full 24 hours. The child bouncing on me shouting for Paw Patrol does not allow for such things. That is the impact of the sessions with the antidepressants. I know from experience that without them, the desire to recoil into invisibility is much stronger.
My medication is kept safely, my child doesn’t, as far as I know, notice me taking it. What he does notice is Mammy being able to play with him, to enjoy his company, to not cry every time he throws a tantrum. Being medicated makes me a better mother, not a bad one. Speaking out about it can hopefully help others who are ashamed or afraid to admit it that it’s not a bad thing. It’s just a thing, a fact of life, and one we should feel okay to speak about. One day it won’t be considered brave to do so. Right now it is, and so I commend people in the public eye like Al, like all those who come out and speak about the different ways they need to treat their mental illness to normalise it for others.
It is by talking and telling our stories that we will normalise mental illness to be an illness like any other – one which people understand that different treatments work for different people. Regardless of what works for you, there should be no shame in choosing the best treatment option your medical professional offers. We can just hope as time goes by that this will become a non-issue. Until then, I will continue to speak out and encourage others to do so. Medication does not make me a Bad Mammy. It makes me one who cares about her son and family and herself and wants to succeed and be the best she can be – and it helps me to do so.