Written by previous contributor, Mr X.
Disclosure: We are not – in any shape or form insinuating that antidepressants should be the primary treatment for eating disorders. We are, however, encouraging those effected by mental health problems to try any treatment that may help them.
1. THE BAD THOUGHTS ARE QUIETER
Just over a year has passed since the word anorexia came crashing into my life. It knocked me for six and hit my loved ones just as hard. The human brain is a weird and wonderful creature, and I was duped into believing what I was doing was “healthy” and “normal”. Those little habits and nuances became all-consuming. Desperately clinging to controllable outcomes which, ironically, leads to losing a grip on reality. My perceptions were warped and suddenly I was unable to prevent disastrous thoughts. But that’s where the tablets come in. For about seven years ago I’ve been on antidepressants called mirtazapine and often, when the thoughts are building and just about to become intolerable, I can feel a subtle fog halting them in their tracks. A little bit like ever-so-slightly dimming a screeching, bright light. It doesn’t turn it off altogether; just makes it a little easier to see.
2. IT HELPS ME SLEEP
I used to tell people that my daily pill was just, ‘a little something to help me sleep’. At one point, it got to a stage that I almost started to believe my own falsities. One thing is true, however – my pre-bedtime fix does help me to sleep. I only have to think back to the couple of occasions I’ve not had a pill to pop to hand. Cue the end of the world (in my head) and a sleepless night.
3. IT FORCED ME TO FACE MY FEARS
I’m not sure why I’ve never admitted to myself that I was on antidepressants. I suppose I feel an odd sense shame; a fear of being judged perhaps. What would people think? Will they take me seriously anymore? But, once I admitted to people the true function of my medication, I moved on from feeling ashamed of being ‘weak’. Honestly, I can’t tell you how liberating that feels. Its clichéd to say that a weight has been lifted from my shoulders but it is god’s honest truth. And once I was able to face one fear head-on, well, it made the rest of them just that little bit easier.
4. I TRIED TO COME OFF IT & THINGS GOT SHIT…
In fairness, I did at least try and follow protocol. I cut the dose in half for a few weeks, and then I went on to one every other day for a couple more weeks, which is what doctors usually advise. But almost immediately I started to feel the knot in my stomach creeping back in -the anxiety levels shooting right back up. All of a sudden, I was sweating the small stuff again. I’d convinced myself that I had put on too much weight, so I was starting to cut food. Old habits die hard and it is a slippery slope that I don’t want to tread again.The disproportionate irritation and the fear of the world kicked back in. I became grouchy, snappy and unable to concentrate. I lasted about a week.
5. …BUT GOT EASIER WHEN I WENT BACK ON THEM
Fortunately, I retained capacity to make rational decisions some of the time. One such decision was to return to the medication at the prescribed dose. Within hours I felt the knot start to lift. A few days later I was feeling much more balanced. Whilst they are in no way a miracle cure, they give me distinct advantage and put me in a position where I can really tackle the anorexia. In order to keep being successful on this front I need to be at the top of my game. That’s where the meds kick in.
6. YOU HAVE AN ILLNESS
When I told people about my eating disorder the number of people that said to me something along the lines is “you wouldn’t be embarrassed to tell me you had [insert physical illness –often cancer or heart disease here] so you don’t need to be now”, was in the hundreds. And they’re right, of course. The same rules apply to taking medicine for mental health problems. If you have a headache, you take paracetamol; if your tooth aches you go to the dentist and if you experience depression you take uppers. It’s a simple as that. I’m no doctor, but as far as I am concerned, all treatments – conventional, alternative or whatever – try to restore the body to a healthy functioning state. The mind is part of the body and so if there is something out there that can help ease the pain then why not take it? Plus, for me at least, they really do help. Care must be exercised and sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to get it right. Just take it one day at a time.
7. YOU CAN CHANGE THE DOSE TO SUIT YOU
The psychiatrist who diagnosed me with anorexia immediately put me on a pretty high dose of duloxetine. So high in fact that my GP disbelieved me and had to consult his medical bible. But as the months have passed, and I noticed what felt right for my body and my mind, it was decided that the dosage would be dropped, and I’m down 50% from where I started. If I start to feel worse, I can discuss a heavier dose with the doctor, and if I’m feeling comfortable enough to try my luck without them, that’s my shout too. Either way, the decision is YOURS. No one else’s.