When you look at the picture here, what do you see?
I'm all of those (yes even the young bit, thank you very much) but I'm also someone that happens to take prescribed medication for a mental health disorder. Something I imagine I'll be doing for many more years to come.
And you know what? I'm ok with that, but I haven't always felt so accepting.
Let's start from the beginning of my mental health journey. And before you throw your phone across the room or shut your laptop in frustration at reading the word journey, please know that I hate the word journey as much as the next person. However, it does kind of explain what it is, so I'll go with it just this time if you don't mind?
I can vividly remember the day back in October 2010. My GP suggested that I had post-natal depression and that medication may help.
It was like she had rubber stamped a problem that I now officially had.
I'd been feeling flat since the day we arrived home from hospital with our firstborn, ten months earlier. It wasn't an earth shattering depressed feeling, but more like a grey, Sunday evening feeling that hung over me; except it was most days, not just on a Sunday.
Why this happened I'll never truly know, but I think it was a combination of tiredness, boredom, stress, hormones, underwhelm, overwhelm...and some more tiredness thrown into the mix. I left the doctors and went home to think about her suggestion.
After a few days, I decided to give medication a go. But honestly? I was scared and felt defeated, as if I had somehow given in. I remained on this medication for about a year and generally felt ambivalent about it. I also went to talking therapy which helped and the two, in combination, pulled me out of my low mood.
Fast forward to when our second child was born a few years later, and things took at turn for the worse when he was a few months old and I began developing obsessive patterns of thinking.
I'd started to spend hours of my day ruminating, thoughts turning over and over in my head; Was I making the right decisions for my new baby? How good a mother was I compared to others? What were others thinking of me? But things began impacting me more severely when I started to notice alarming and intrusive thoughts pop up in my head to do with my children's wellbeing.
These thoughts would seemingly come out of nowhere and whoosh! they'd send me into a spiral of panic, shame and despondency. The despondency part was because I felt so alone in this experience and believed I was a bad person for having such thoughts.
I was back at the doctors again. I only said that was I was feeling low because I couldn't contemplate discussing the unwanted thoughts that I was actually having. I was offered anti-depressants again.
Which I took, again.
I felt sad that I was back here, again.
But this time, I desperately needed to talk with someone as I felt anxious in a way that I didn't know which way to turn. Only to be told that the waiting list for therapy was months. I needed help NOW, so I decided to find a therapist privately, one that specialised in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
So it was, in 2013, that I was officially diagnosed with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I nervously unloaded many of the thoughts that had been spinning around in my head to be told I was normal by the new therapist.
Normal? I'd never been so thrilled to be described in this way!
OCD was explained to me, about how anxiety and stress feeds it and in turn, the OCD worsens. You can read more about my experience and understanding of this disorder here OCD & ME (and how I stop it from spoiling my day)
I stayed on medication throughout this period of therapy and gradually became less anxious and the thoughts started to fade away. However, I had another relapse in 2018 which saw me wind up in A&E early one Friday morning after begging my husband to take me. The intrusive thoughts had started up again - seemingly out of nowhere - and I didn't know what to do with them.
I felt desperate. I think the lowest point was leaving the house in my pyjamas at 7am and driving aimlessly in the car, just to get out of the house; I genuinely thought that my husband and children deserved better than me.
In hindsight (which of course, is a beautiful thing) I now realise the increasing stress that I'd put myself under at work had been allowed to build up like a pressure cooker, and this is how it showed up for me; an inability to move on from unwanted thoughts that became stuck and hugely anxiety inducing, to the point of desperation.
From A&E, I was referred to an acute mental health team and was put under the care of an amazing clinical physiatrist who specialised in OCD. He recognised my patterns of thinking, the anxiety, the desperation. He said I was text book OCD. Being told I was text book was so very comforting.
He changed my medication to something he felt was more appropriate and increased it to the maximum dose over the course of a few weeks. I was also prescribed another drug to help ease the anxiety. With his team's help and further CBT I recovered from this episode over the following two years.
Unfortunately it took me until that point to receive the help I really needed and to be given the right medication. I feel a little bit of sadness when I consider all the time I lost to OCD, but equally grateful I met the doctor who finally got me on the track to recovery. It's a truism that until you've hit rock bottom, things don't ever properly change. And so it was the case for me.
Four years later and I'm still on the same medication, albeit a lower dose. But rather than resenting or feeling an ambivalence toward it, I've realised that medication is part of a bigger picture. A picture that involved therapy, the knowledge gained through this therapy (I'm now an expert on my own illness), self-care, the understanding shown to me my professionals and support from close friends and family.
The medication and therapy were mutually supportive of each other; I probably couldn't have successfully taken on and implemented the techniques that were taught to me if my mind wasn't functioning in a slightly less frantic way that the drugs afforded me.
Even though there have been moves in recent times to take the stigma away from the mental health struggles that people often experience in silence, I think the subject of medication for mental health can still be a sticky and tricky one to talk about.
Why? I wonder if it's because there can be a feeling that if we take medication for mental health reasons, it then makes it official: it rubber stamps it, labels it as a condition that needs fixing, and as a human beings, I think we can find that hard to accept.
But if I look at treating a physical ailment with drugs, I know for a fact I wouldn't have attached the same level emotion, questioning and resentment to it as I did in the earlier days to that of my mental illness. But it's really no different.
I think in some ways I was embarrassed and would hide the fact that I had to take these pills. But I know now that taking them doesn't make me weak. It's nothing to be embarrassed of. It's treatment for a health condition like high blood pressure or diabetes. Who I am, as an imperfect human, means I need help in certain areas. Some need help supporting the regulation of insulin, I need help increasing the level of serotonin in my brain.
I'm not sure what the future holds. I may be on medication for the rest of my life. I may be able to stop taking it. But I know for definite that I never want to return to some of the places I've found myself during the last 12 years. And if medication helps to prevent that, then that's absolutely fine with me.
Book: Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts : A CBT-Based Guide to getting over frightening, obsessive or disturbing thoughts. From Amazon