For the past couple of years, I’ve had a consistent low mood; not showering, eating junk food, staying in bed all day. Yeah, I’m single boys, come and get it. However, despite all this, it was also kind of manageable. Dry shampoo and Blackboard slides were my sweet, sweet crutches.
This year however, things slipped. I became heavily depressed.
My breaking point came on a Wednesday afternoon, crying into a dry sandwich at St David café. Sandwiches are the worst thing you could ever buy from a café; you can make it yourself at home, why the fuck are you paying $5.70 for a slab of cheese and mayonnaise? So I found myself, sobbing in public and chewing multigrain bread, just because I wanted to feel something. I know that it doesn’t sound that bad, but trust me – it was a bad sandwich. Of course it was. It was a sandwich, after all.
After a year of counselling, suddenly it just all seemed kind of pointless, because I was too depressed to listen to a weird meditation app or write my thoughts in a diary. So off to Student Health I went to get a prescription for antidepressants. I’d been avoiding the option for some time. “I don’t want it to change my personality,” I’d moan to my friends, fully aware that depression had changed me into a whiny little bitch. Medication still has a huge stigma around it. That whole “blue pill, red pill” stint from The Matrix really fucked me up, man.
I talked to Dr Tangney, a local GP, on behalf of anyone wondering about exploring the option of antidepressants. She recommends that patients ask for a 30 minute time slot when booking an appointment, rather than 15 minutes, because often people exhibiting symptoms of depression say things like “I’m tired” or “I can’t sleep” or “I can’t concentrate at work,” but they haven’t put it together in their mind as depression.
Antidepressants are usually only prescribed for severe depression, as more mild cases are better treated by counseling and mindfulness strategies.
Dr Tagney says that when she prescribes antidepressants, it’s likely tapping into the placebo response, which is thought to be up to almost 30% for some medicines.
“Often, I wish there were better medicines available to treat depression than what we currently have – ones that have more evidence of effectiveness behind them. Despite this, some people really do seem to respond to antidepressant medications and say that they think that they’re really helpful.”
I was prescribed fluoxetine, a common selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) that is prescribed when someone’s motor skills have been reduced, where they feel stuck, they don’t want to get out of bed, and their energy levels are low.
The first two weeks were odd. I was still depressed, but with side effects. It’s a bittersweet kind of irony, because most people only seek help for antidepressants at their breaking point (or in my case, due to sandwich-related incidents), and then are told it’ll take two weeks to kick in.
The first side effects are usually gut-related. Comparable to the morning after a big night out, your stomach will be cramping, you’ll be shitting out your arse, and you will generally hate yourself for every decision you’ve ever made. It’s manageable, just something to watch out for. I was advised to take my medication at night to try and sleep through the cramps. This however, resulted in some crazy dreams and patchy sleep. Although, is a sex dream with Dora the Explorer really a negative side effect? The jury’s out. She really does love to explore.
The biggest effect I noticed was my decreased sex drive. Thankfully I remain blissfully unloved in this fleeting world, so I wasn’t letting down a boyfriend – just my fingers. It was harder to reach orgasm, but I also just wasn’t really in the mood for one. But I had better things to do in bed, like wallow about my several failings as a daughter and a friend. When I did find myself having sex with a guy, I felt like a 40-year-old woman; all I wanted him to do was give me a hug and a kiss and then leave me to sleep. We had fully clothed, silent missionary sex. Shockingly, I didn’t cum. Even more awkwardly, I couldn’t even semi-convincingly fake orgasm; I was as dry as a $5.70 sandwich from St. David café. That didn’t stop me trying like a champ, though. Thank god for lube and for darkness. If someone finds out how to communicate in a cool, sexy way to your one-night stand that the reason he can’t pleasure you is because you’re on antidepressants because, oh god, did I mention how depressed I am,then please tell me.
However, if it’s a weigh up between my sex life and my mental health, mental health wins every time. Mainly because sex is so rare and fleeting, like the gratification you receive from an Instagram like. For the most part, my medication has worked. That’s not to say I still don’t have bad days, or I’m not still depressed. It’s just taken me to my baseline of questionable hygiene habits and leaving assignments to the last minute. I can be happy and fuck around with my friends, but then get so tired or anxious that I don’t leave my room. But I can live with that, because the good moments? They’re really good.
A couple of weeks ago, my depression got bad again. It’s kind of obvious for my flatmates because I tend to curl up in blankets on the lounge floor like a dying worm, but it took me a few days on the floor to fully figure it out. Rather than just going back to the doctor I self-medicated by drinking heavily. One night my flatmate returned from holiday and came into my room: “Is the grapefruit juice in the kitchen yours?” (Yes, because grapefruit juice is delicious, and I had recently changed my vodka chaser from pineapple to grapefruit). She went into her room and returned with her own box of antidepressants with a big sticker on the box saying, “Do not drink grapefruit or its juices”. So, that’s a thing. Not exactly sure why, but apparently drinking grapefruit juice with antidepressants is a bad idea. So, I stopped that, and after a few days my depression was back to a regular, good ol’ fashioned level. I now chase my shots with milk. Life is full of compromises.
Going on antidepressants is full of little compromises like that. Maybe you can’t sleep round at that boy’s house because you need to go home to take your medication. Maybe you have to watch your drinking for a while because you’ll get drunk easier initially. Maybe you have to actually establish a routine of taking them rather than just passing out in your bed. These are all things I learnt to work around, and trust me, it’s worth it.
Overall, going on medication was the best decision I could have made. I’m not saying it’s cured me, I’m not saying it’ll cure you, but it hashelped me reach a place where I’m able to function and enjoy life more. There’s a huge stigma around antidepressants when, in reality, a lot more people take them than you think. Maybe your parents, your netball coach, or your best friend. That doesn’t make those people any less wonderful or kind. Everyone needs a little bit of help now and then. Maybe your idea of help is smoking a cigarette or venting to a friend. Mine is a little green and yellow pill (they really need to sort their colour scheme out.) Mental health is a really important issue, don’t be afraid to speak out and get help. It gets better.
If any of this resonates with you and you are concerned about your mental health, please call Student Health on 03 479 8212 to suss out an appointment ASAP.