As we enter a new decade, Stylist’s columnist Lucy Mangan is taking a big step regarding her mental health. She wrote previously about how she’s no longer ashamed of her anti-depressants and now she feels ready to try coming off them.
Happy New Year! And not just a new year but a whole new decade. There are those, of course, who insist that the new decade doesn’t actually start until next year. I looked into it and discovered there’s no way I can deal with that level of reasoning and so will be sticking to the tried and tested formula of calling anything that ends with a nought the beginning of a new something. So, Happy New Ten-Year Period!
Like most of us, I always make the standard new year’s resolutions – take up an improving hobby, get fit, stop pushing Mars Bars into my face like logs into a saw mill, that sort of thing. I like the collective energy behind them, the rare sense of communality in our varied endeavours. There is comfort in the ritual and a greater chance of success in solidarity rather than solitude.
And the start of a new decade is a chance to aim bigger than usual. A friend of mine has used it as a spur to hand in her notice at a job she’s had for 12 years and go freelance. Another is going from omnivore to vegan, leapfrogging (no amphibians were hurt in the construction of this sentence) right over vegetarian. And I have decided to come off my antidepressants.
I have been on them for nearly four years. I’ve written before about what a life-saver – possibly literally – they were. They weren’t a chemical cosh. They didn’t make me either an unfeeling zombie or a relentlessly happy person. But whatever was missing from my brain, whose lack prevented me from feeling anything other than despairingly awful, they restored. And that gave me the chance to work on all the things that had caused my brain to stutter and seize and fuse and become altogether unhelpful to me.
For the last year or so, I’ve felt not just free of depression but free of the feeling that it lurks around the corner waiting for me to let my guard – chemical, psychological, whatever – down. And I’ve unlearned the deeply ingrained habits of mind that have always led me down dark, spiralling paths towards misery sufficiently so that I no longer revert to them, even at times of extreme stress.
Now it is time to try and do it without pills. To see if I can sustain my progress, be this self without ingested support. My doctor thinks it’s time, too. I wouldn’t contemplate doing anything about it without medical approval and if anyone reading this is in a similar situation, please, please, please don’t go it alone. It’s a tricky and lengthy business and you need to consult your GP or other professional first.
I was – I am – so frightened. I don’t want to go backwards and I can’t know yet that I won’t. The idea of slipping to where I was makes me panic and want to run away in five directions at once, like some crazed cartoon character.
But, if I do start slipping, there is something there to catch me. If I need to rejoin the four-million-strong army of long-term users of antidepressants that exists in England alone, so be it. My doctor has promised me that I can, and I have promised myself that I will if I need. Even if my brain tells me I shouldn’t, I mustn’t, that I should stay mired in despair because I deserve the suffering for some ever unknown and unspecified sin, I’ll start taking them again. And I will not feel guilty or condemn myself as a failure for doing so, any more than I would dream of condemning anyone else for doing this sensible, self-preserving thing.
So wish me luck. And a happy new year without help.