It’s perhaps no coincidence that Mental Health Awareness Week is now. October is a tricky month, her early golden promise sludging all too quickly into ruthless rain, dark evenings and the long slide into winter. The awareness week brings a welcome chance to be mindful of our mental health and that of others, but the emphasis is still very much on the talking bit. Is it just me, or do antidepressants remain the last taboo?
Scroll through social media and there’s a lot of fabulous content about having a chat – to a friend, to your GP, to the marvellous Mind. But medication? Not so much, unless it’s yet another ‘brave’ post from someone choosing not to take the tablets in favour of a better way of dealing with it all. The upbeat language is commendable and I thoroughly understand that the drugs don’t work for everyone. I also know that antidepressants aren’t a magic cure; in isolation, they don’t work miracles any more than a couple of paracetamol can free you of hangovers for life (you might need to cut down on the Prosecco for that).
But all the positivity and bravery and determination leaves a little bit of a problem for those of us who choose to accept the meds. With each anti-antidepressant post, my concern for anyone who’s plunged through even the mildest of fogs sinks a little further, as if we’re not trying hard enough or not being brave enough or just need to get our boots on and go for a good sploshy walk.
Here’s the thing. At two points in my life – ‘now’ being one of them – a low dose of daily Mirtazipine has made the difference. Not the difference to me being here or not; I’m blessed I’ve never had thoughts much darker than “I’m really crap”, and my heart is utterly with anyone whose thoughts get perilously close to pitch black. But the difference between being a distressed, teary mum and a mostly happy mum finding the humour even in a teen giving my dinner to the dog? Yes, absolutely.
Now, you may have noticed I do a lot of the sploshy walking as well. And that’s my point – antidepressants are just one of a number of marvellous tools that can make us feel better, or at least ok. So here, in a completely interchangeable order depending on the day, the time of the day and how Wales are faring in the Rugby World Cup, are my best medicines for positive mental health and kindness to yourself:
I used to go for a nice long hike ‘when I had time.’ I had time thrice a year and wondered why I didn’t feel very well for the other 362 days. Now I write ‘Go hiking’ a lot on my wall planner and fit all the other stuff around it. If it’s raining, go hiking in waterproofs. In between the long hikes, get outside and look at trees every single day. If you think you don’t have time, try switching off the TV. You’ll be amazed by how many hours there are.
Thanks to a careful selection and elimination process, fermented over two or three decades, I have the best. When they ask if they can help me, I trust that they want to. When they ask if I can help them, I do, hopefully unfailingly. We laugh a lot, especially over the things geared to make us cry. Talking to friends is a whole lot better than watching TV.
And lots of it, even if that means going to bed at the same time as the teens and watching less TV. Wrap yourself up in a wonderfully soothing sanctuary full of books and maps and free of screens and people who make you sad (you may have to get divorced to achieve this one).
Because sometimes, the best medicine is, well, medicine. It isn’t always, but learn to accept when it is, for you, for now.
In 2010, I stopped sleeping. I am, of course, exaggerating wildly when I say ‘stopped’; I was simply down to three hours a night, so that was fine. I cried a lot, often on the kitchen floor propped up against the washing machine, but, in between the crying, I was fine. I got rather thin, but as I hadn’t perfected my process of friend-elimination at that point, I had a lot of people telling me that was marvellously fine too.
One day, I emptied the Dyson into the big green wheelie bin and saw that the cylinder was literally half-full with hair. I wondered who on earth all that hair belonged to and can still feel the sick realisation that it was my hair, which I’d been hoovering (Dyson-ing?) up as it rapidly fell out all over the place. I sped straight to the most wonderfully kind GP, cried a lot in his surgery and started taking the gently-offered Mirtazapine.
Lately I’ve been in need of it again, and that’s a whole lot finer than hoovering up more hair and sobbing into Lionel’s water bowl. For now, I need to take a daily tablet as much as I need to be outside, sleep well and laugh with my friends. I’ve got one eye on winter, but I know I’ll be ok. “The darkest hour comes right before the dawn,” Bob Dylan tells me and oh, did I mention? ‘Listen to a whole load of Dylan’ is number five.
There are many wonderful people and organisations out there offering brilliant support and understanding. A great starting place is your local Mind, where lovely folk will be able to help you themselves or signpost you to the right place.