Antidepressants

When I was younger, I wasn’t particularly as sickly child so never took any sort of medication or went to the doctors regularly. Since I was diagnosed with panic disorder in 2012, I have taken various medications on repeat prescription, starting with betablockers, for various medical problems. Some people prefer holistic therapies, but on the whole, noone would really question any of my medications and understood why I took them. This was until last year- until I started taking antidepressants.

I was reluctant to take them at first as there is a stigma surrounding their use which I feel confused about. Noone would question a diabetic taking insulin to bring down their glucose levels or someone with a broke leg taking painkillers to block pain receptors, but taking an SNRI (as I take) to increase Serotonin and Norepinephrine is frowned upon. I think they main areas that concern people stem from 2 issues: 1. The fact it is used to alter chemicals in the brain and 2. The fact it has been linked to increased risk of suicide in young people. I’m going to address these 2 issues below.

Chemicals altering the brain

Consider the following: A person has a chemical imbalance the body and there is an approved medication that can be used to raise the levels of this chemical in the body and help them feel better. Most people would say, give them the medication, surely? Add in the context: A person has clinical depression and there is an antidepressant that can be used to raise their serotonin levels and help them to start on the path to feeling better. Then people suddenly become caution. The fact is that it is the mental aspect that scares people. It is what makes a person them and adding chemicals to change that is why people dislike this. I felt similar, in fact I’m weary of taking any new medication, but that all changed for me. I had been through a family loss and was not only depressed but anxious and had OCD (but didn’t realise the latter). Confused about what was wrong with me, I saw my psychologist who advised me to try the antidepressant I was being offered by my doctor. This made me turn a corner as she was not big on me using medication for my panic attacks in the past. I realised that if she thought I needed it, then maybe I did. A medical professional and a qualified psychologist were advising this as the best course of action for me. They are informed and educated on the topic and how it works, so if they have no doubts, I do not see why the public should. Some people will read this and say they could manage without the medication, but I think it takes you to reach a certain place before you realise how difficult that reality is.

 

Increased suicide risk

I completely understand this fear. There are known risks of young people or people who have experienced suicidal thoughts in the past having an increased risk of having suicidal thoughts when they first start taking antidepressants. This is known as a paradoxical reaction. I understand this fear as I have experienced it first hand. When I first started on antidepressants, I was prescribed an SSRI. 3 hours after taking it I was awake shaking and for the next 3 days, my anxiety, OCD and depression were so bad I ended up in A&E. I just wanted everything to end and couldn’t sleep for the shaking. As there was noone to prescribe anything strong enough to counteract the effects in the hospital, they considered voluntarily admitting me to a psychiatric hospital. Realising this was not the best course of action, I was prescribed something by one of their psychiatrists and sent home for the drug to wear off. All in all, this was a completely terrifying experience for both me and my mum. I don’t even think my GP knew how bad the reaction could be. It was genuinely a dark place and stuff of nightmares, especially as I’ve never even considered harming myself let alone wishing someone or something  would just end my life. In some ways, taking that SSRI was the worst decision of my life. In other ways, it was the best. Without trying that SSRI, I would not have got put on my medication that works now, but most importantly, I would not have faced my anxiety and dealt with my OCD as well. I have learnt so much about my anxiety and OCD, what triggers it and when it is worse. If I hadn’t been that low, I don’t know if I ever would have confronted it. Some will think this is nonsense, but I have had a brilliant year at university since and I know I’m slowly getting better which is enough for me.

Overall, I might be on antidepressants for life, I might come off them next week, but I know that the good they do for people who are depressed or suffer from another mental health problem is most important. Some will never understand why you would want to take a drug that alters you brain chemistry, but I am certain that without it, in combination with CBT, I would not have just had the best second year at uni and met such great people on my course.

Below I’ve added some picture of things I’ve done in my last year on antidepressants…

 

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Approaching 21…

It’s currently the night before my last exam of second year of uni. I’m feeling a little bit sick because I’m worried about the exam. I can’t motivate myself to feel prepared for the exam, not because I’m not anxious, but in some ways my anxiety is misplaced.

Approaching my 21st birthday has made me reflect on my life and I can’t help but feel down at the fact I still feel lost about where I’m going in life and how everything is going. I can see how far I’ve come since the paradoxical reaction to an SSRI last year, but I’m now better off now than I was at the end of sixth form- in fact in some ways I feel worse.

At the end of sixth form, I was starting at uni with my panic disorder under control and a close knit group of friends. Now, I’ve got my panic disorder under control still, except now my friends (rightly) have their own lives, I’m only just starting to grow close to a group of uni friends and I have OCD. Not exactly what I planned. This is really what I feel anxiety falls down to- the fear of the unknown. The whole life I’ve been anxious for things to go well, but because I didn’t know I would worry and then I get stuck in a vicious circle.

Someone said to me in September I should have a boyfriend and it made me think. May be I should, but I don’t even really have uni friends, maybe I should have some of them. Hang on I don’t really know what I want to do and where I’m going in life and this has played on my mind ever since. This throw away comment to have a dig at me had a more profound affect on me than I thought. Yes, I should ignore them because I have been through so much in the last 5 years that there’s a reason why I don’t. On the other hand, my anxiety about the future and craving to be like everyone else says they are right and so this vicious circle of worrying about the future continues.

So, as I approach 21, I want to remind myself and others that, we cant predict life, we can’t see into the future and I have wasted so much time worrying about my own future that I’ve sort of forgot to have a life in the present. To be braver and make new friends, to go out more, to focus on my work, but also have a good time.  If anyone reads this and relates, you are not the only worried about what your life will be like, but spending your time worrying won’t change what happens, so your energy is being wasted on such a negative outlet of anxiety.

This post is more a reminder to myself not to stress about the future, but I want to reassure others that such worries are not just confined to you

Online Help

I’ve been struggling with anxiety pretty much all my life without realising it. I was always a strict rule follower as a child and not sticking to the rules really got to me. On reflection I’ve probably suffered from different forms OCD since the top end of primary school and panic disorder since about Year 9 in high school. I’m now just about to turn 21 and I still struggle to find really good support for my anxiety or information about different therapies and medication with immediate access. Below I’m going to put my favourite resources on anxiety and videos I have found really help with a sort reason why. I hope they help other people too:

  • Mind-

Not only does mind have an extensive list of mental health issues, but also discusses therapies, medication and advises friends and relative’s on how to support you.

https://www.mind.org.uk/

  • NHS-

They explain in really simple terms about different conditions and what you may be advised is best for you. I always want to stress that self-diagnosis is not a really great idea and if you think you suffer with anxiety to see a doctor.

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/panic-disorder/

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/

  • Youtube-

This is genuinely the most accurate video I’ve seen on anxiety and depression. I can 100% relate to this more than someone sat in a glossy TV studio discussing the matter without having experienced it

There was also a great article on different people’s stories of their OCD, but I can’t find it.

I’ll add to this list in future when if I find any more websites I find really useful

What to do for the best

Knowing what to do for the best is one of the hardest things to do with anxiety and sticking with what you know is the easy options. This last year has taught me that this isn’t always for the best. Knowing when to be brave and make a change is one of the scariest things to do and can bring some of the greatest rewards.

After finishing my first year at university, I was forced to take a year out due to illness and my anxiety. This was the worst year of my life so far (no understatement- I don’t like to say this verbally to people I know because you don’t know what everyone else is going through, but it really was horrible) and realised that sticking with what you know is maybe not always for the best. I had a great time at sixth form with my high school best friend and we met other people too, but going to university near home had not worked out. This was when I decided to take the plunge and try change.

My psychologist and doctor suggested I try an antidepressant for my anxiety and  low mood that had developed due to my awful year. BIGGEST MISTAKE EVER. I had an awful reaction and ended up in A+E with crippling levels of anxiety. I’m not going to name the medication as it really does work for people, it just didn’t suit me. This didn’t exactly convince me change was a great thing, as it took me until my third antidepressant to find one that suited me.

Then I had the greatest reminder change is not always bad. I changed universities and I have never been so happy with a decision in my life. The support I receive at my new uni is amazing. The staff are helpful and I have both friends new and old nearby who I can talk to and rely on.

The point of this post is really to say, hindsight is brilliant- I could have gone to my new uni at first, but then I wouldn’t have found my new friends, or I could have not taken the first antidepressant, but then I may have got more depressed for not taking anything. Basically, noone knows what to do for the best, but don’t be afraid of change because it can bring about some great experiences and opportunities you would never have otherwise.

General Life Update

Apologies for neglecting this blog for so long but a lot has happened in the last few months. Sooooo, here goes…

In the lead up to my exams I wasn’t really going into university because I was anxious about going in and a bit annoyed about how I was being dealt with and I felt lonely realising I only had one friend on my course next year. I also found out I was iron deficient at the start of the year and that was making me super tired. So, I self-taught myself about 8 weeks of work and sat my exams and somehow passed them (I genuinely don’t know how).

When I had finished my exams I went on holiday and had my birthday just before that and I was really happy because all my friends were home. After my holiday it sort of hit me- all my friends go back to uni in September and I’m going to be all alone all day. I’ve started to get quite low about this because I’m really stressed that they’re all so clear on what they want to do and I have no clue. I know I’m taking a year out for the next year, but in the meantime I need a job and it’s stressing me out. This isn’t helped by the fact that, once again, I am tired all the time, but this time I’m Vitamins D and B12 deficient. It’s all so stressful and I just wish I had a set out plan 😦

So I’m now going in to the next year with no plan, no job and unable to get one until I get better. Current mood- scared, confused, sad, anxious, stressed…

Questions people want to ask about panic disorder but don’t

This post is going to be about answering some of the questions that, I think, most people without panic disorder want to ask, but are too scared or are uncomfortable to ask. I’m no doctor, so this is going to be simplified down big time, but here goes:

What is panic disorder?

My psychologist explained panic disorder to me like this: When we were cavemen anxiety came in useful because if we came across a big woolly mammoth, it would give us the fight or flight response we needed to protect ourselves. Nowadays, there is little need for anxiety in everyday life because we’re not under threat from woolly mammoths and other predators. Nowadays, for some people anxiety can get in the way and panic disorder sufferers are some of these people. What happens with panic disorder sufferers is the body misinterprets changes in the environment (for example, for me these include changes in light or room size ) as a threat and sends out adrenaline to trigger a fight or flight response. As a rational person, you don’t leave and there is nothing to fight so you carry on with whatever you are doing, but this means your body needs to respond to the adrenaline and the fact your heart is pounding in some way and so you suffer an anxiety attack. I also experience anxiety attacks in stressful situations such as public speaking.

What does a panic/anxiety attack feel like?

I think this is a difficult one because I don’t think everyone feels the same. Personally, I used to think I was going to die because I couldn’t see past the second I was in. I feel like I don’t exist because everything in front of me doesn’t feel real. I get waves of dizziness and heat through my body and it even feels as if there is nothing behind me and I’m just going to fall backwards. It is so difficult to explain if you have never experienced it, but it feels like I’m not in my own body if that makes any sense. I sometimes feel like it is difficult to breathe and I just feel uncomfortable in myself.

How can you tell if someone is having a panic attack?

Some people expect to see the classic hyperventilation but that isn’t the case with everyone. My pulse is racing but I, personally, don’t hyperventilate, although sometimes all the colour does drain from my face so I go quite pasty. I think it is easier to identify a person’s safety behaviours. These are actions they do to try and make themselves feel comfortable (but usually don’t really help).  My safety behaviours include squinting and closing my eyes, shouting for someone in the house and fidgeting (although I am meant avoid doing these as part of my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). Other ways you may spot some is having a panic might be if they are performing some relaxation techniques.

How long can panic attacks last for?

They can last between 5 and 30 minutes.

If it is an involuntary response that triggers the panic attack, why do you suffer an attack in the same place more than once?

Once you have had an anxiety attack in a place once, you might be inclined to feel anxious about returning and so you suffer and anxiety attack.

Why do you leave the room when you are having an anxiety attack?

Not only is the fight or flight response still telling you to leave, but you want to leave the situation which is causing you distress.

How can you treat panic disorder?

I think it is all about managing the condition. I use medication and psychology to do this because, unfortunately, there is no quick fix to solving this.

What triggers panic disorder?

I don’t think everybody can pin their panic disorder down to one single event. I have absolutely no clue what caused me to begin to suffer form panic disorder, but we guess it is because I left my worries about family problems build up and never talked about them.

I hope this answers some questions you might have on panic disorder and I might do a similar post some time on general anxiety…

Great night

Last night, I had an amazing time going to watch one of my favourite bands. I travelled to Leeds, from my hometown, to go watch 5 Seconds of Summer with my friend and they were brilliant. No gimmicks, just them playing. I could easily make this post about how great the concert was and why I think they a gift to the music world and why voodoo doll is easy my favourite song, but I’ll not.

I bought their first album after hearing She Looks So Perfect and enjoyed it, but was not hugely into them. I started to read more about them and bought they’re second album anyway. I never really got the whole, “I can relate to that song,” thing until I heard some of they’re second album. Some of the lyrics in Jet Black Heart and Permanent Vacation just stuck with me. I know one of the band had had mental health struggles and I feel they may have drawn on that in some of their songs, because I can 100% see myself in what they are singing. I find this pretty rare, because I spend a lot of time, when my anxiety flares up badly, complaining that nobody understands. It’s pretty refreshing to listen to someone or something and think “Yes, that’s how I feel!” (another example of this is when I read an interview with Zoella-I’ll put in a link at the bottom of this post).Then, I found out about what they wanted to convey through their music to their fans. I’d like to applaud them really, because the way they have encouraged strength and promoted individually into their teenage fan base is something to be admired. When I was younger I always wanted to be one of the ‘cool’ kids and never was. It took me a long time to figure out that being ‘uncool’ at school is not some form of social suicide (you don’t have to follow the crowd to be happy in yourself) and I think this is a lesson that some teenagers of today haven’t really learnt, but it would be reassuring for them to know. I find what they are trying to put across, through their music, really responsible and admirable, which is on of the reasons why I’m a fan and was so excited to go to their concert.

So, the night was great and I had a fantastic time. I had a slight panic attack (the irony, for all the 5sos fans, is that it was in Jet Black Heart) but had such a good time I didn’t really care. I have another concert coming up soon, but in a larger arena, so I’m hoping my panic attacks don’t flare up then…

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Really blurry photograph :/

Zoella article link- http://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/features/health-fitness/2015/zoella-vlog-anxiety-column-anxiety-video-and-advice