How Therapy and Antidepressants Helped Me Reclaim My Life

I remember waiting for the bus to go to school every morning when I was 17. Once I boarded the bus, the sharp, cold air relentlessly stripped away any ounce of warm comfort left in my being. I felt vulnerably exposed, anxious, fearful of everything yet nothing at the same time, which manifested into stomach aches and even nausea. I felt like crying every single day. Soon, I skipped school frequently and hardly functioned as a normal student. You may ask, why? What happened? Well, I am uncertain that I can provide you with an answer at all. 

As the experience of mental health differs from person to person, the discourse around mental health is challenging to grasp. We all experience mental issues in deeply personal ways that only we ourselves can comprehend and make meaning of.

I knew there was something not quite right with me, and that I probably needed to seek help. But for years and years, I brushed this thought aside because there were “more important” things to do and tangible goals to be accomplished — like getting good grades or securing a job interview. There was simply no time to pay attention to the lame monsters in my head, so I allowed them to dance around every night and play games in my mind freely. How bad can that be? 

Real bad. 

Last year, for the first time, I experienced the harrowing pain of heartache following the end of an eight-year-long relationship. One negative thought spiralled into a million more that caused an endless cycle of ruminations — of my failures, inadequacies, regrets. I survived on half a kiwi a day, depriving myself of an actual meal because the taste of anything instantly made me nauseous. I slammed the back of my head on my bedroom wall, I bit the inside of my cheeks till they were sore with teeth marks. I spend my days alone at an ice skating rink, doing nothing but watching random people skate round in circles endlessly, as endless as my toxic ruminations. I realised I was not just grieving over the end of my relationship. The heartache was a trigger that released a ton more unresolved mental issues throughout my life. I felt as though the lights in me had been switched off and I would remain in complete darkness for a long, long time. With this, I sensed that it was time for me to seek professional help, as I knew that I could never proceed to live this way, like a hollow shell of a person. 

Finding a therapist can be tricky. It’s like dating — you need to feel a connection with the right one for yourself to trust and experience personal healing through meaningful and healthy conversations with them. The beautiful thing about therapy is that the right therapist will patiently and gently lead you to discover the solutions to your problems within yourself.  I was lucky to have found a great therapist quickly, whom I still meet regularly and confide in till this day. She eventually suggested medication to aid my healing, which I had no qualms with taking. I remember thinking: I am at the lowest point in my life; medication will hardly make things worse. At the very least, even if the medication does not take effect, I have absolutely nothing to lose. 

Having read up on antidepressants (SSRIs), I was prepared to experience a plethora of common side effects: nausea, increase in appetite (leading to weight gain), lethargy, vivid dreams, etc. I eventually did experience all the aforementioned ones for the first week or two as I started taking them nightly. However, with medication, I was not so lucky on my first try. The first SSRI I was prescribed gave me extremely vivid dreams that robbed me of well-rested nights. I switched to a milder SSRI, hoping for better results (and less disturbing side effects). The skeptic in me thinks it’s maybe a placebo effect, but after 2 months, I truly realised that the lights in me started to flicker. Things didn’t look so dark anymore. Suddenly, I was living better. I was eating well. I was even hanging out more with friends. I was doing things I never envisioned I could do a year ago, or ever before. I was still me, still sad at times, but I could function again. 

Were the side effects of the medication challenging to endure? I would say, probably. Nonetheless, I am willing to take all of those, all at once, over and over again to feel so much lighter, better and at peace with my mind. With that being said, antidepressants are never an absolute or quick fix to improving your mental health. Self-reflection, self-evaluation and self-awareness are necessary for personal healing; and visiting a therapist is a healthy way to approach that direction. 

We currently inhabit a greatly challenging time, especially for women. More than ever, we now need to protect our mental health as best as we can. Part of doing so is acknowledging that it is okay to experience mental illness and to seek help. Help may come in the form of friends and family, a therapist, a day or two of leave, or even a small white pill that you take every night. Never feel guilty or fearful of seeking help, for it is not a sign of weakness but a form of courage and resilience, which makes you more beautiful than you already know.