I’ve been very pleased to see the current push for people to talk about mental illness. I’ve always been very open about my disabilities. Having been in a wheelchair my whole life it’s just a part of me and not something I can hide. Most people are ok about that although very rarely I’ll meet the odd person who has a problem with it. The occasional suggestion that I remain optimistic or that there’s no need to be that specific when I mention my access needs is more common.
Ten years ago this month I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Realistically I was depressed for at least a year before then. One of my friends was pushing me for months before that I needed to go and talk to my doctor but it felt like it this really big deal and something that only people much worse off than me need to do. Eventually I hit the point where I knew I couldn’t go on as I was and I did go to the doctors.
That was a tough thing to do and I can still remember the words I used to start the conversation with the doctor. The fear of sitting in the waiting room wondering if I was starting something I couldn’t control. The relief that I felt when she took me seriously and gave me a prescription. The invisible label I imagined being stamped on me as I took my first box of antidepressants from the pharmacist. Now I didn’t just bear ones saying “cerebral palsy” and “wheelchair user” I had “mentally ill” to add to my list.
The reaction others had to me being diagnosed was mixed. One family member was told and immediately said “oh god why?” I had been really good at hiding it and I heard many comments like “but you’re always laughing.” Other friends expressed sorrow or quickly changed the subject.
What really surprised me was the sheer number of people I told who then shared that they also took antidepressants – or that they had done in the past. That label I’d gained was still there but suddenly I wasn’t the only one who wore it.
I was told that treatment guidelines stated I’d need to be on the medication for at least six months. I’ve actually been on and off of antidepressants for the last ten years – more on than off – and my current GP thinks it’s possible I’ll never be at a point to come off of them properly. I’m not writing the idea off completely but it’s not a major goal. And that’s ok.
What I found harder to come to terms with was the year+ I wasted before asking for help. If depression and other mental health conditions had been talked about more at that time I might have found it easier and gone sooner. I don’t regret the delay but as soon as the meds kicked in I wished I hadn’t waited so long. And my friends who had the courage to share their own diagnosis with me might have had it easier too.
Ten years later and at the moment I’m taking antidepressants and needing them. I’m in a very good place in my life but after a recent short break from my meds it’s clear they play a part in keeping me there. It feels slightly easier to be open and share my depression diagnosis but the fear still pops up when talking about it with some people. I won’t hide it away though because that doesn’t help me. And more importantly it might stop others feeling as alone as I did.