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I was 13 years old when I started taking antidepressants.
I was 15 years old when I started puberty.
I was 18 years old when I started taking birth control.
In other words, for 15 years my mood has been medically modified, and for 10, my hormones have been artificially altered.
While both medications were taken for important reasons; namely, to treat severe OCD/anxiety and prevent unnecessary teenage pregnancy, my body has never known its baseline level of functioning.
As you may know from previous posts, last year, after extensive consultation with medical professionals, including multiple appointments with a psychiatrist, I made the conscious decision to go off antidepressants. I was in a good place mentally and felt that I’d reached a point where I was strong enough to give it a go. I mean, how could I possibly know the medication was actually working if I had nothing to compare it to?
So, the morning of July 11, 2018, I woke up, showered, brushed my teeth, and didn’t take my medication.
…and that evening I got into a car accident.
It was a pretty straightforward accident. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t see it coming. Some guy wasn’t paying attention enough to realize that traffic had slowed for a car to turn off the road. He came barrelling towards me at 90km an hour and when he realized I was there, only just taking my foot off the brake, it was too late. BAM.
At the time, despite the fact that my car was definitely a goner and I was kind of in shock, I couldn’t fathom that a rear end collision would have such a significant impact on my life. I immediately went to the doctor; I went to physio, chiro, and massage therapy. I hired a lawyer. I got a new vehicle. The things everyone tells you you’re supposed to do in events like these. With a diagnosis of Grade II Whiplash, I was encouraged to believe that given my age, level of fitness, and circumstances of the accident, I’d have a speedy recovery. I was hopeful.
But, they were wrong.
The fact that I’d gone off medication the same day was simply a floating thought, somewhere far in the depths of my mind.
In October, 2018 my neck and back had shown very little improvement. I was going to physio and chiro weekly, and both providers were shocked by my lack of progress through treatment. My summer – that should have been chock-full of climbing and hiking and backpacking – had instead been overshadowed by endless appointments, financial expenses, and pain.
Naturally, given that my primary coping mechanism is exercise coupled with nature, my mental health had started to significantly decline.
…And so back to the psychiatrist I went.
As much as I advocate for seeking help in times of need, I viewed it as a personal failure. I’d spent 15 years on antidepressants and I barely lasted three months off of them.
When I went back on medication, it was different. Sure – my mood was slightly more regulated; my heart rate kept at bay when the inevitable tightness crept into my chest; the expanding lump in my throat not as suffocating; and the nausea not quite so sickening. However, within weeks, the negative side effects kicked in.
Night after night, for months – I’d awake to drenched sheets, hair plastered to my face, soaked clothes, shivering. Navigating through the darkness, I’d groggily grab another pair of pyjamas, lay my yoga towel over the dampened sheets, and try, usually unsuccessfully, to sleep again. The process would repeat itself – one, two, three times – depending on the night. During each instance I’d inch a little bit closer to my partner and her warm dry side of the bed (thanks babe!).
The doctor told me it was probably stress, or the temperature of my room, or the fact that I was adjusting to sharing a bed with another person. He said it was unusual for the medication to have effects this enduring. I tried everything. Different blankets. Different pyjamas. Window open. Window closed. Fan on. Fan off. Door open. Door closed.
How much sleep can you really get when you’re tossing and turning in a literal pool of sweat all night?
It was exhausting…and my god did I do a lot of laundry.
In the midst of adjusting back to life on antidepressants, I’d given a lot of consideration to taking birth control. If I had to be on something for my mental health, perhaps I could eliminate something else that was drastically altering my biology. Getting pregnant is hardly a concern when you’re dating a woman…
So, in January 2019, I went off it.
This inevitably made it difficult to discern whether the symptoms my body was experiencing could be attributed to life back on antidepressants, or life off of birth control.
Regardless, coming off birth control was accompanied by its own set of challenges- unpredictable cycles, emotional instability, horrendous cramps, low energy, and nausea. Who said being a woman wasn’t fun?!
The night sweats ensued, but I wasn’t convinced there was a connection.
This all brings me to July of this year.
The injury prevailed, my mood was all over the map, my anxiety was at an all-time high, and I was still doing way too much laundry.
I figured that the antidepressants may not be making it worse, but they sure as hell weren’t making it better.
So I went off them…again.
Incredibly, two weeks later the night sweats stopped – cold turkey (pun fully intended).
I’m not going to pretend that going off antidepressants and the pill has been some magical experience and I feel better than I ever have in my life.
Because it definitely wasn’t, and I definitely don’t.
There are endless moments when I wonder if I’ve made a mistake. When I feel like perhaps I’m voluntarily sabotaging my life; that my relentless anxiety and insecurity will be the downfall of my relationships, the demise of my work ethic, and the destruction of my self-worth.
In these moments I try to remind myself that 15 years is a long ass time to have your biology controlled by external factors, and that it’s probably not going to stabilize right away (or anytime soon).
To give myself some additional credit (a thing I’m trying to do more often) this year has been filled with an abundance of challenges and change. Albeit, some good, they were adjustments nonetheless. Beyond the accident/injury and coming off medications, this year I came to terms with my sexuality, started a future oriented relationship with an amazing woman, moved in with said woman, and started a new job – all combined with extensive financial stress, failed friendships, and family adversities.
In lieu of the medication, I’ve implemented other strategies to support my mental health. I’ve gone back to counselling, I’ve started an active rehab program for injury recovery, and I’ve recently signed up for a local women’s mental health group that starts in October. I also happen to have an incredible girlfriend who has been extremely kind and patient when confronted with my terrible moods and unpredictable tears (really – thank you).
It hasn’t been easy, and maybe I’ll need to go back on medication at some point, but all things considered, I’m proud to be riding the waves, the highs and the lows, even if it involves crashing face first into the water a few times (or more).
This post is not a testament to the ineffectiveness of medication. I truly believe that antidepressants can be very useful to many people (and in the past they have been exceptionally useful to me).
I guess I’m just trying to give myself a fair chance at life without them.
Sans night sweats.
One. day. at. a. time.
theobsessivekat posts regularly at theobsessivekat.wordpress.com
This is a place to see shared stories and experiences submitted by young people. It represents the truth of the people who submitted their stories.