A fortnight ago I wrote about my experience of depression and diagnosis of it. The post was quite well received and some interest was shown in a follow-up about treatment. I like to indulge my adoring public so you have only yourselves to blame for the following!
Once I was diagnosed the question of treatment came up. My GP didn’t want to put a teenager straight on antidepressants so he referred me for ‘talking therapy’. Now, I can talk. I can talk and talk and talk. I can even talk about personal and embarrassing stuff like the time I threw up in a bin at school, or the fact I thought ‘fatigue’ was pronounced ‘fat-ee-goo’ when I was at Uni doing an English degree, or about how my right boob is considerably bigger than my left. I’m not so good at really discussing private thoughts and feelings. I’m British; I don’t really do all those icky emotions.
However, the Wolf emphatically pointed out there would be no point in me going if I wasn’t going to be completely open and honest so I answered all questions truthfully and in detail: thoughts I obsessed over, personal admissions and – indeed – all the icky emotions.
The whole time I was talking the therapist seemed…disinterested. Perhaps I’d watched too much TV but I expected him to pick out something I’d mentioned and focus on discussing it. Or, perhaps, he’d just show some amazing insight into my psyche from all I’d told him and so be able to cure my depression. Or we’d strike up an unlikely but humorous friendship and both end up learning something about ourselves. Unrealistic, perhaps, but it was called talking therapy. I was expecting there to be an emphasis on the…you know…talking!
It’s not like there was anything shocking in all I’d told him; I’m fortunate enough to have had a relatively uneventful life free of abuse or hardship. Still, I wanted some acknowledgement that I had spoken, that I was an individual. Instead, he showed me a booklet I was to fill in and sent me on my way. It was obvious I could have told this guy absolutely anything and his response (handing over the booklet) would have been the same. So why had I even bothered?
The booklet was a CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) self-help style book to be filled in. I know more about CBT these days and have heard some really good things about it. Back then, I knew about Pavlov’s dogs and that was about it. Really, it shouldn’t have mattered how much I knew because my therapist should have given me all sufficient information and built up some sort of rapport with me so I placed a little trust in him. The actual information he did give me coupled with his general attitude just meant I felt dismissed and patronised.
|Of course, these days I’m used to that.|
The booklet itself was very basic and seemed to me to be condescending. I’d researched depression pretty thoroughly before going to the doctor in the first place because the last thing I wanted was to be told I was talking nonsense. The booklet just seemed to reiterate everything I’d already read and offered very little I couldn’t have found on Wikipedia. It was literally along the lines of, ‘when you start to feel sad, try to think of happy things.’ I thought, ‘If it was that smegging easy nobody would ever have depression in the first place!’
|Thanks for that.|
Next appointment, I told the therapist all this. I thought he could suggest an alternate approach or even just talk through the merits of the book. Perhaps there was a different book? He told me it had to be simplistic to be understood by anyone who might need it and that was that. I was to carry on with the book and he’d see me next week.
The third appointment I told him I felt much better and didn’t think I needed to come back. He accepted this, no questions asked, and I went home feeling utterly hopeless.
|Actually, this kid’s book is a little weird.|
Months later we moved into a new flat and changed GPs so I decided to try the new doctor and confess my depression hadn’t gone away. The GP I saw suggested antidepressants almost straight away. Again, I was relieved I was again being taken seriously…until she she told me she could only prescribe me a week’s worth at a time because it probably wasn’t wise for someone in my mental state, ‘to have lots of pills lying around.’ Then I wondered if she was taking it a little too seriously and I wasn’t sure whether I should tell her my suicide ‘plan’ – for want of a better word – had never involved an overdose…
|I wouldn’t electrocute myself either but, seriously, this book is odd…|
Depression can make you paranoid. I was convinced, to start with, the GP had given me a placebo (though, why she would be so worried about all those pills ‘lying around’ if they were sugar pills I don’t know) but the side effects I got for the first week convinced me they were the real deal.
I felt…stoned. Sort of, anyway. I just felt incredibly spaced out and slow. I had a part-time job as a sales assistant and I was convinced my boss would call me into the office to tell me there was a discrepancy in my till during that first week. I’d get to the end of my shift and have almost no memory of serving any of the customers who’d come to my till.
The Wolf and I went to play badminton and as soon as we started he just laughed at me. I thought I was moving at normal speed but he said it was like I was moving in slow motion. Imagine a not particularly sporty 19 year old probably wearing the same pair of Skechers trainers I’ve owned since I was about 14 or 15 (they’re still the only trainers I own), a pair of purple tie-dye short shorts and a baggy t-shirt with Tigger on the front drifting around the badminton court (are they called courts in badminton?? – told you I’m not sporty) and trying to swing at the shuttlecock at half the speed necessary to make contact with it. It probably was quite comical.
The last thing I want to do is put anyone off getting treatment for depression. The side effects from antidepressants can vary pretty wildly from person to person and – as I said – this fuzzy state didn’t last long.
After a couple of weeks the tablets started to help. It’s hard to describe in what way they help, in much the same way it’s hard to describe how depression feels in the first place. The severity of my depression varied from week to week anyway and I think I felt a bit better as soon as I’d been prescribed the antidepressants just for the fact I was doing something to help so it was hard to tell when the tablets kicked in. It wasn’t like I felt amazingly happy overnight; I wouldn’t say the meds even take away the depression, as such, but they level me out enough that I can deal with the situations and thoughts that made me feel depressed.
I guess it’s like – and bear with me here because I’ve said before I’m crap with metaphors – if depression is being lost in a forest in the dark then the antidepressants don’t take you out of the forest but they do provide you with a torch and…compass (not that I’m sure a compass would really help me if I was lost in a forest…maybe a map…or a mobile phone?) so you can find your own way out.
Since then I’ve been back to the doctor to say I’m depressed again – and been put on antidepressants again – three more times. The only regrets I have around taking antidepressants is I stopped once I felt better (normally after about three months) without consulting my GP. The last time I went back the doctor told me I should stay on for at least two years for the best chance of avoiding another recurrence. I’ve been on them now for perhaps nine months and other than changing the kind I was taking because these treat anxiety better (something I’ll perhaps write about another time), I’ve taken them consistently and plan to carry on doing so for at least the next year.
And that’s okay, actually.