Lucy Mangan: “Why I’m no longer ashamed of my antidepressants”

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Lucy Mangan

Stylist’s Lucy Mangan initially viewed her antidepressants as a “weakness”. Here, she explains how she overcame the stigma attached to mental health medication – and urges others to speak to their doctors if they find themselves experiencing symptoms of depression.

Was it when I found myself crying on the plumber that I realised things had to change? Or was it when I found myself secretly going back to bed once everyone else had left the house and trying to sleep the day away? Or when I met up with friends I hadn’t seen for a year, thought I was doing a wonderful job of acting normally, but couldn’t fail to notice the concerned glances they were exchanging over my head?

It was probably the plumber thing, to be honest. That was what made me realise that there’s a difference between being ordinarily sad and anxious about the world – which is my default setting – and slipping into a much darker and more profoundly unhealthy mindset. That is what made me realise that there is a limit to how far you can haul yourself out of a mental pit by your own bootstraps, and that when your mind is set against itself, you need outside help.

So six months ago I tried a therapist, but I was so frightened that I literally ran away – got up from my chair and ran out – when she started asking questions, as therapists do.

Reluctantly I then went, creeping like a snail, to my GP. She listened as tears poured down my face and a river of apology poured from my mouth – about not being able to deal with life, even though I had no real problems compared with other people, about my inability to find light and shade any more, or to roll with the punches of Brexit, Trump and moving house, about not being able to control the thoughts that had settled into obsessional grooves and travelled unstoppably, all day every day and long into the night, round my mind… and so on and so on, more than I can tell you, more than I’m ready to admit to.

She talked to me and advised me to try anti-depressants. I didn’t want to. What a weakness, I thought, not to be able to cope with standard life events. What a cop-out. I should stay in my self-induced misery and suffer for it, shouldn’t I? Yes, yes, I did mean suffer for it. You must be punished for letting these things in.

She let me sit with that remark for a while. Then I agreed to try taking the shameful pills. 

“This time last year I could hardly face Christmas”

As my GP warned me, the antidepressants didn’t work fast. But they did work. They gently broke the bad, negative circuits that had formed inside me. I was restored to myself. Still a weepy, anxious self, but definitely one I recognised. I told the doctor I was now coping. She said we could do better, and upped my dose slightly. And, as the months wore on, I began to be able to feel happy again. It was an odd, and at first frightening, feeling that I mistrusted. Depression makes you think you are finally seeing the truth. When it lifts, and you see clearly that it was lying to you, the recalibrations you must make can be dizzying.

This time last year I could hardly face Christmas. It has been a hard time, for me and the friends and family that tried to reach me, and to them I can only apologise. There were times when I didn’t see how I would enjoy anything ever again. And now here I am, able at last to write about it, to enjoy opening my advent calendar. And although I’m no more reconciled to Trump or Brexit, I’m now looking forward to the New Year.

If I’ve said anything here that you recognise, please go looking for the thing that will restore you to yourself and make you… not happy, per se, but capable of happiness again. It’s out there somewhere, I promise.

Depression, according to Mind, is a low mood that causes us to feel sad, hopeless, or miserable about life; these feelings last for a long time, and usually affect our everyday life.

Psychological symptoms include:

* Feeling upset or tearful
* Finding no pleasure in life or the things you usually enjoy
* Feeling isolated and unable to relate to others
* Experiencing a sense of unreality
* Finding yourself unable to concentrate
* Feeling hopeless, empty, or numb

Physical symptoms include:

* Losing interest in sex
* Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
* Physical aches and pains with no cause
* Feeling tired all the time
* Moving very slowly
* Having no appetite and losing weight, or eating too much and gaining weight

However, while there are many signs and symptoms, everyone’s experience of depression will vary. As a general rule of thumb, mental health experts advise that you visit your GP if you experience symptoms of depression for most of the day, every day, for more than two weeks.

You can find out more information – including a series of approved self-care tips – on the Mind website.

Images: Pina Messina / iStock