So the title of this blog makes it pretty clear. The only diagnosis of mental illness is in my head(!)
Aside from my experience aged 14, I’ve pretty much kept going without seeking help. The first time I actually asked for help from a doctor was the day after I crashed my car. My ex had left me three months previously and my parents had just split up. I was 27.
So I’m there in the doctors. “I’ve just crashed my car and I think I need some help. Mentally. I’m not doing so good”. He asked me to fill out a standard questionnaire. Upon review of my answers, he frowned. “You don’t really fit the score for depression, here you’ve indicated that you rate highly for enjoyment of activities for example”. I looked back at my answers. I had answered as highly and positively as was possible for those kind of questions. But I was having a great time. A really, really great time. I didn’t feel depressed, I didn’t feel anxious. I just had an incredible desire to do many reckless things (and was doing them), was hardly sleeping, and was seeing and thinking all sorts of things that weren’t real. I just shrugged.
He suggested he sign me off sick from work for two weeks, maybe I might want to look at some counselling, and did I want anti-depressants? I gladly took the sick note (I had been falling asleep at my desk and making big mistakes anyway), but rubbished the other suggestions and off I went.
My sister was the only person at that time who knew how erratically I was behaving. It’s hard to go into any detail because it’s pretty damn embarrassing, but let’s say areas of recklessness included driving dangerously, walking around alone in unsafe places in the dark, going to random guys houses who I had met online, drugs, sexual promiscuity, spending money I didn’t have, and a general disregard for consequences of anything. Over the next 6-8 months this continued, and to my shame included drink-driving at one point. I can’t emphasise enough that I had never done any of these things before, and went against the morals and values I had been raised with. I had been a sensible, rational person, but something else was in charge and was keeping my foot firmly away from the brakes.
It was almost two years later I went to a doctor again. This time I was with my boyfriend (who I loved deeply), lashing out at him and I was thoroughly and utterly miserable. This time there was no doubt I met every criteria for depression. I was signed off sick, to my shame I quit my job, and started taking Sertraline. During the first three weeks I suffered many of the common side effects, plus some of the less common ones. My left eye puffed up and remained that way for several days, I became terrified to leave the house, and was rather obsessed with the colour blue.
I went back to the doctors and said I couldn’t continue. He frowned, and asked if I was having trouble sleeping. “Well yeah I guess that’s one of the things”, I said, somewhat surprised by the question as it was the least of my worries. “Right we will switch you off Sertraline and try Mirtazapine”. I went along with his advice.
Within 24 hours of taking it, I could barely stay awake. I was drinking coffee at work (a new job), taking caffeine tablets at the weekend, and sleeping at any opportunity I got during the day. For someone used to 6 hours being a good nights sleep, this was unprecedented. I couldn’t function. I went for a walk with my boyfriend and had to sit down after a few minutes. I was absolutely beyond exhausted. After I’d had a near miss on the drive to work, I rang the doctors for advice. I’d been taking it about a week. Their advice was “just stop taking it”. I asked if I should taper off somehow, their response was negative. All in all I had spent approximately 8 weeks on anti-depressants and they had made things so much worse. I was completely put off seeking any further help, and it was almost a year later I went back to the doctor.
I’d moved house so I was with a different doctor this time. After telling him my previous experiences, and confessing that my lashing out at my boyfriend was starting to escalate (to his absolute credit he is still here, loving and caring for me more than ever), I was prescribed Fluoxetine. This time I got lucky. The side effects consisted of extreme nausea and dizziness for about two hours after taking it, this lasted several weeks, then all side effects stopped. My periods did change quite a bit, but I persisted. The lashing out stopped. After about six months it finally had the effect I’d been hoping for. I felt like a child. Someone turned on the colours again for me, and instead of every day being an epic battle to the finish line, it was, somehow, just living a day. The sleep I was getting, plus no longer wanting to die, plus no longer in a rage/guilt cycle with my boyfriend, was magical.
I went back for my six month review and the doctor asked if I felt like I used to before I became depressed. I looked at him with dumb surprise and answered honestly, “I haven’t felt this way since before puberty”. He blinked at me and prescribed me another six months worth.
So here I am, 13 months after starting fluoxetine. I’m not too sure I like the idea of this long term relationship, but it has changed my life. By fluke, rather than careful assessment and diagnosis, I am where I am now.
Supposedly I’m on a waiting list for an NHS psychotherapy team assessment, after I told the doctor the absurd anxiety I am living with (scanning every room, obsession with knowing every detail, paranoia and seeing things I know not to be real). The fluoxetine definitely shifted my main depressive symptoms but did little for the rest. It’s enough for me that fluoxetine is my success story.