Tuesday 22 August 2017

The biggest mistake I have made is deciding to stop my medication for depression

Acceptance: Sinéad O'Callaghan
Acceptance: Sinéad O'Callaghan

'Medication has played an important role in my recovery from depression and severe anxiety. I am now at a stage in my life where I can function and hold down a job.

Looking back, the biggest mistake I have made over the past 10 years is deciding to stop taking my medication on a number of occasions. I have done this so many times - I get through some bout of depression that has knocked me for six, and finally life starts to get back to some sort of normality. I start to feel hopeful again, and think 'actually I don't need my medication any more. I'm well again'. So in my infinite wisdom, and without checking in with my GP or medical professional, I just stop taking those pills every morning with my breakfast. And wait to see what happens next, because I'm well now and don't need the medication any more.

Let me tell you what happened to me. Every single time I did this. Bang, crash and burn. Abrupt and sudden removal of the medication can trigger terrible withdrawal symptoms and make you feel unwell both physically and mentally.

Think of the worst hangover you ever had, and then multiply by a ­hundred, and you get the general picture of how bad I felt those times I stopped taking my medication. Add into the mix the horrible anxiety that came flooding back and you can see why this was a terrible decision.

Looking back now, I understand why I might have made those decisions and decide to risk the horrible withdrawal symptoms time and time again.

Let's be honest, taking heavy doses of medication for any illness isn't fun for anybody - no matter how well the drug may suit you. Some side effects are bound to happen, and this can be incredibly annoying and frustrating on a daily basis.

For me, the most persistent side effect I have had is a dry mouth. This may sound like a small thing, but it leads to a constant daily battle of drinking litres of water and getting through boxes of mints in order to feel comfortable.

Obviously, alcohol and medication don't mix very well and this can be another annoying reality of being on medication. And for women, the time may come when they start to think about having a baby and this may mean coming off or changing ­medication.

However, important caveat here, for anyone thinking of coming off ­medication for whatever reason, the only safe way to do this is under ­medical supervision. The only person who should be helping and ­supporting you to determine if you are well enough to come off your tablets is your doctor or consultant.

Personally, I am very happy to put up with my dry mouth for as long as I have to. For me, the biggest part of my recovery has been accepting that I have an illness and that is nothing to be ashamed of.

I always thought that needing medication was a sign of weakness and I fought against it. I fought against it so hard, using all of the energy I should have been using to just get well. I've finally realised that I am just a person who has an illness, and like any other illness, I need to do everything I can to manage it. In my experience, this means looking after my body, eating well, exercising and also taking those tablets with my breakfast. If this means I can get up every morning and face the world, then that's a sacrifice I am willing to make."

Sinéad O'Callaghan (35) is from Cork and lives in London. She blogs about mental health issues at anothervoice.me

A version of this piece first appeared on alustforlife.com

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