Last summer I made the decision to come off my anti-depressents.
I’d been taking citalopram in various strengths (40mg, 20mg and 10mg) for 18 months, and whilst my occupational health advisor had assured me that I could take them for as long as I needed, for the rest of my life if need be, the time just felt right.
She also, just FYI, said she knew of women who had conceived on citalopram and had gone on to breastfeed on it – albeit on a low dose, but it gave me hope, it made me realise that if depression was going to linger for way longer than it was welcome at the Hannah Gale party, then at least it wouldn’t ruin all of my life’s dreams and ambitions.
I’m pretty sure I’ve struggled with depression for as long as I can remember, but sadly, when I first approached my GP about it when I was 16 he dismissed it. In fact, and wait for it because it gets even more patronising and fucked up, he pulled a book from a shelf and opened it a few pages in and said ‘this is how much of your life you’ve written, now go and write the rest.’
I mean, it’s a cheery quote when you’re in a bad mood because you’ve had a shitty day at work and a boy you like hasn’t text you back, but when you just want help, any help, someone to take you seriously and make everything OK, it feels a bit like someone’s stuck burning hot needles and swords into your soul.
Cheers for that pal.
I was diagnosed a few weeks before Christmas 2013. I hadn’t met Chris, I hadn’t moved to London. I was sharing my best friend’s bed and spending 4 hours of every day on trains between Sussex and London. Life, despites what it sounds like, was really fucking good. I’d finally got my foot on the post-graduation career ladder with my job at LOOK.co.uk which I loved, my Dad had got the all-clear from cancer and I was surrounded by some of my favourite people day in and day out.
But something just wasn’t right.
At work I was Hannah, and then I’d come home and just feel this heavy emptiness take over my whole body.
In those few weeks leading up to booking my doctor’s appointment (this time with a new guy at the practice) I was erratic, withdrawn and unpredictable.
I invited all my friends over for a 1st December putting-up-the-decorations party and then proceeded to go to bed at 8pm and lie and stare at the wall in the dark whilst they swapped looks of WTF.
I dropped my phone at the station and cracked the screen in a minor way. My best friend then came home to find me sobbing on the lounge floor just staring at the wall an hour later, still with my shoes on, still with my bag over my shoulder.
I spent a lot of time just driving down to the sea at night and staring out at the waves. Anything that could calm me and help me breathe slowly and deeply, anything that would give me an excuse to sit in silence and do nothing but watch.
I think the difficult thing for depression, when suffering with it and as an onlooker, is the inability to snap out of it.
Once the dark clouds in your head have appeared it’s gameover. You lose all energy, all motivation, all desire for life. And, even if you stay in bed, the idea of reading or even watching TV is too overwhelming, your life becomes a vicious circle of staring and thinking every negative thought that your imagination can conjur up.
If you’re in bed and letting your mind take the respite from the world that it’s begging you to, then you’re crippled by thoughts of guilt of all the things you should be doing, thoughts of stupidity because you’re such a fucking idiot for not being able to get out of bed, and thoughts that maybe you’re making this whole thing up, that maybe no-one believes you anyway, that maybe they’re all laughing about how dramatic and attention-seeking you are.
Your brain becomes your own worst enemy, and it is the one thing that is impossible to remove.
When I had that doctor’s appointment and he prescribed me medication, he made me do a standard test in order to diagnose me – questions about my self worth and energy and thoughts of suicide.
Afterwards he told me that he believed I was suffering from a combination of depression, stress and anxiety. He also took a blood test to check for low iron and thyroid problems.
One of the weirdest symptoms from my neat little cluster of mental defects, and one which I sometimes forget ever happened, is the sweats and chills.
I’d wake up at 3am several times a week drenched. I’d have to change my pyjamas, they’d be soaked and I’d be shivering, even in the thick of winter. It was a weird thing to get used to, but in some sense it was nice to see a physical symptom, something someone else could see, something which I couldn’t have made up.
My overwhelming emotion whilst watching that doctor write that prescription was joy. Someone had believed me, someone had given a name to what I was feeling, it was real and it wasn’t in my head. It was somthing that could be fixed. And it felt like a little beam of light was suddenly visible in my brain, it was good.
Over the next year or so I had stable periods, I saw a doctor every month or two for new prescriptions, I saw an occupational health therapist at work who sent me 57864587 emails if I missed or cancelled an appointment so that I couldn’t avoid her, and I had some less-than-stable periods.
I was signed off work for a week with stress. A week that was entirely fuelled by pop tarts and crumpets because cooking? Nah ta.
A little while later I met Chris, I moved out to Leytonstone on my own and I bought Rudey. And then, a short year after that, I came off the meds, moved to Ipswich and set up business.
I am not cured. I am recovering. That, is something I am very sure of and something that I feel like I need to remind myself and naive strangers all the time.
Stressful situations and change bring some of my old emotions rushing back to me like a giant tidal wave and they make me feel weak and engulfed and like a sad little lost teenager again.
But I am stronger now. I am more aware of myself and my moods and I know my triggers and I can recognise the signs that suggest I am not OK in my head.
Growing up, my friends would joke that I was bipolar because I would either be talking 100mph, singing to Rihanna and suggesting that we buy a litre of vodka and had a spontaneous night out, or I’d be sobbing in my car, unable to function. But I’m not that person anymore, not the way I was before.
Social media and lack of human interation makes me anxious, and sometimes I have to remind myself to step away, to take time for Hannah, to stop worrying about how people perceive me.
And sometimes, mostly when I’m tired or I’ve been travelling too much and feel out of control, the feelings of depression come creeping back. This little fog that says you can’t do anything, you’re an idiot, you don’t deserve any of this, you’re worthless.
But now I know these little demons are there, waiting in the shadows for me to fall, and I can keep an eye on them. I can keep them at bay.
But more than anything, whenever one of those moods possess me and threaten to make me a hyperventilating shell of myself, I remember that I’ve tackled it before, I’ve come up from way worse and I can do it again.
It is the belief in myself and all that I can achieve and all that I can battle, that keeps me sane, keeps me mentally healthy and keeps me feeling like me.
We are all so much greater than we realise.