It has been roughly one year since I stopped taking anti-depressants. In this time, I have learnt a great deal about my relationship with my mental health. So I write these words in the hope of helping anyone else who is struggling.
I stopped taking sertraline because I felt I was ‘over’ depression and anxiety. At the time I chose to stop, I felt great. But within a few months, I learnt that depression and anxiety are not things that you simply ‘stop’ feeling.
That is not to say I regret stopping taking anti-depressants, I don’t. Depression and anxiety are subjective, and different ways of coping will work for different people. If they work for you, then of course take them. I used anti-depressants to reach a point where I could envisage and pursue a future where I wasn’t reliant on Sertraline.
Anti-depressants like Sertraline numb your emotional reactions. I elected to experience the full range of my emotions by getting off anti-depressants. And I am happy about this. I have learnt that I experience very intense emotions, but as scary as that intensity can be, I want to feel that, rather than live a life that is emotionally limited.
Sertraline is only a moderate anti-depressant, and I was not on a particularly potent dosage, but even so, the withdrawal effects were surprising. For a couple of months after weaning myself off them, I was still feeling on top of the world, with added confidence as a result of ‘beating’ depression and anxiety. This confidence imploded the first time I felt truly sad again. I was immobilised by the force of it. I had to go home an hour into my shift at Tesco after I couldn’t stop crying on the checkouts. I looked broken, asking if my unfortunate customers if they would like a bag whilst tears streamed down my absent face.
I decided my sadness was due to being stuck in Somerset in summer, when I would have rather been elsewhere. However, after I moved to London, the sadness lingered. After a couple of months of living with that darkness over me and not doing anything about it, I decided I was going to make time to work on my mental health. After neglecting it for so long, I realised you have to want to help yourself before you can reach a better place.
Since I experienced that real aching sadness again, I have come to understand that mental health is a journey that doesn’t have an endpoint. Change is the only constant. Your own mental peace comes from within, and so you need to turn your focus inside.
This can be a very intimidating thought. Particularly if you have spent significant periods of time trying to escape the issues within yourself. It is incredibly difficult to unlearn the way you think. Particularly when the way you think has been forged through constant repetition during your formative years. To work on yourself thus requires you to ask some questions of yourself and everything you think is fixed.
To do this, I elected to use meditation. I use the headspace app, which does a fantastic job of making meditation accessible. I have learnt so much from taking just 15 minutes per day to go inwards and work on myself. Taking this time out every day allows me to visualise
what I want to gain from meditation. Which is ultimately to become a healthier, happier and more positive person, for myself, and for all the other relationships in my life.
Here are some of the most fundamental lessons meditation has allowed me to realise:
Ø Don’t be so hard on yourself – it doesn’t matter.
Ø Only exert energy on things that are justified – If you can’t do anything about it, why waste energy? And if you can do something, then do it!
Ø You can’t control what other people do, but you can control how you feel about it
Ø Don’t be afraid to be the person you want to be
Ø Don’t get lost in thought – you control your emotional reaction and the energy invested into different thoughts
Ø You can manifest happiness – a warm, spacious, and clear light
Ø You are not defined by your thoughts and feelings – don’t reproduce them
Ø Thinking is a habit, and you can grow accustomed to negative thoughts which take time to break
Ø Live in the moment – it’s the only tangible space in which we can live, and you’ll end up unhappy if you live in what has happened or might happen
Ø Find what you love and cherish it. Get into veganism or women’s rights or Wu-Tang or the gym or the car boot and be passionate about it – there is a beautiful clarity in doing something you love
Ø Everything is down to you
I am still a deeply flawed person. All humans are imperfect. But the more I work on myself, the calmer and happier I become. I still have much work to do, having neglected myself for so long. But as long as I keep turning inward, I know I am striving to become my best self.