“Tell me one last thing," said Harry. "Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?" "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
I guess this conversation between Harry Potter and Dumbledore has been my biggest takeaway from my battles with mental health.
The first time I was suggested medication for my mental health was nine years ago, when I was in college. Still a medical student, I eyed the psychiatrist with utmost doubt as she handed me the prescription. “No way. Not me. I am not taking this,” I told myself with conviction. And it wasn’t until years later that I softened my stance.
Despite being a doctor, I had not only missed the signs of depression in myself, but I also avoided any discussions about medicating for it like the plague. That is, until about a year ago.
I woke up one Sunday morning in June 2018, paralysed with anxiety. I couldn’t move, it felt like the walls were caving in on me, and I felt completely hopeless. It was at that moment that I realised I was ready to do anything that would help.
It was the first time that despite what I’d been told by society, I realised that this wasn’t something I could just “snap out of.”
So where did this resistance to medication come from? So many people I knew had taken medication for mental health issues, and had told me how much it helped them. When the psychiatrist I first saw in college handed me the prescription and told me that I was showing signs of clinical depression, I didn’t believe it. It didn’t make sense to me that this was the answer. “I’m not weak,” I kept telling myself.
And years later, armed with better understanding about mental health, it’s what I found myself repeating to my dad: “I’m not weak. Having a mental illness doesn’t make a person weak; if someone assumes that because I am depressed and on medication means I am weak, that is their problem and not mine.” And this time, I truly believed the words that I spoke.
A lot has changed since college, including my vehement refusal to start medicating for my mental health.
The first time I met my therapist two years ago, I had been having palpitations and panic attacks for months. She sent me to a psychiatrist because these symptoms were keeping me from functioning altogether. At the time, I had just been “self-treating” my anxiety by going running every day (not the best long term plan in retrospect).
I trusted what my therapist told me though, and when my psychiatrist started me on anti-anxiety medication, I didn’t know why I had been avoiding them for so long! I was also put on a high dose of antidepressants. While I eventually weaned off the anti-anxiety medication, I initially refused to take the antidepressants after one day: the side effects were too difficult for me to deal with while juggling my journalism course, the night shifts I was still doing at the hospital to make ends meet, and my mental wellbeing.
I did have relentless support from friends though. Many had been in the same boat as I, and they remained available for me on call at all times. They were the ones who encouraged me to push past the first few weeks: indeed, the side effects can seem overwhelming enough to keep someone off the medication. I was grouchy and moody, and my sleep cycle and eating habits were all affected. It took me a lot of effort to sit down and focus on anything. At so many points, I was ready to quit on the pills, because it seemed easier to handle what I’d grown accustomed to by then.
I was lucky in the sense that I didn’t have to change the medication a lot to figure out what worked for me. There were adjustments made to the dosage, and that trial and error did cause the side effects to flare up. There were days I felt like a zombie, had absolutely no energy, and my mind remained clouded and foggy for days on end. Eventually though, we found what worked for me.
Today, I am still on medication, and I can feel the difference. I’m a lot more active and energetic. I still have my bad days, but I know how to handle them – or at least I’m learning to.
Above all, I have hope. Medication has given me a way to cope with my mental health and has become an essential ally in my fight against depression.
Views expressed are the author's own.
If you are aware of anyone facing mental health issues or feeling suicidal, please provide help.