For 26 years, I’ve dealt with panic attacks and depressive episodes. Due to the lack of affordable counseling and medical care available in Florida, I’ve been forced to largely deal with these conditions on my own. Moving to the UK was a fresh start in more ways than one, but the biggest life changing opportunity I saw was the chance to get a handle on my mental health.
So, a matter of weeks after I got married and was approved for my spouse visa, I went to my GP and asked about potentially getting started on medication. My doctor prescribed me a drug called Citalopram on a beginning dose of 10mg per day. Citalopram is an anti-depressant used to treat major depression, panic disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder. It also comes with the added bonus of loads of side effects.
The most prominent being that for the first three or four weeks of use, I was exhausted all the time. I wasn’t working quite yet so I didn’t have to worry about my job performance slipping, but it limited my ability to feel productive even doing household chores. No matter how many naps I took, I never felt rested. I very nearly stopped taking the medication because of the constant exhaustion I felt. My husband and doctor both encouraged me to push past this side effect which the doctor claimed would only last for a maximum of six weeks. My doctor was right; it did.
At the same time she prescribed the first dose of pills, she also wrote me a referral for mental health counseling. She stressed to me she wasn’t sure how long the waiting list would be, but it didn’t matter to me. I was just so happy to finally be getting help. The fact that it was free was just the cherry on top, honestly. I would wait another few months if I had to. Luckily, I didn’t have to. I waited all of a week at most before I got a call from Lambeth Talking Therapies. I had a 30 minute phone call with an intake specialist where I opened up about all of my issues and pain. They assured me it was imperative I be as honest and transparent as possible in order for them to come up with the best treatment plan. A few hours after the phone call was over they called me telling me they were suggesting an eight week course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. On the NHS website CBT is described as therapy which 'aims to help you think more positively about your life and free yourself from unhelpful patterns of behaviors'. I was going to break free of my lifelong issues over eight 20-30 minute sessions through the power of positive thinking?
I was hesitant, but open to trying. And so I went to a south London hospital in early June and began opening myself up to a counselor named Dominic. He was really lovely, gentle, and soft spoken but the techniques he gave me to deal with my anxiety felt a little too simple. For example, during session four Dominic suggested I try a technique called 'Worry Time'. If something stressed me out at any point of the day, I was expected to try to not worry about it at the time the worry arose, but instead to panic or stress later in the day during 'Worry Time'. During my allotted 15-20 minutes I could worry about whatever I wanted to. Needless to say, no matter how successful I wanted to be at this, my anxiety didn’t allow me to be.
Throughout the duration of my counseling sessions, my doctor had also been increasing my dosage of Citalopram from 10mg to 20mg and ending at 40mg. Throughout these months, I experienced more side effects like excessive yawning, anorgasmia, and weight gain. But I realised in spite of these side effects, I was noticing a change in my behaviour and actions. I wasn’t reacting as badly as I normally would have when things went awry, I was feeling more sociable, and I was generally calmer. I attributed this more to the pills than I did the counselling, though maybe it was the combination of both of them that I was having an easier time letting go of negative things and people.
I finished my last session with Dominic in early October. He assured me we would have a follow up session to close out our time together and discuss further help if I felt I needed it, but we’ve yet to actually have this meeting. Overall, I am immensely happy that I took the steps I needed to to better my life. While I don’t feel the CBT affected my life that much, I am very happy I finally made the decision to begin taking pills. A lot of people say they don’t want to take medication for their mental health because they don’t want to need pills to feel 'normal' or to feel bound to them for life. I used to feel that way too. But if you had diabetes or high blood pressure would you just not take pills that could help you lead a happy, healthy life? Would you not take pills that could help save your life? Your mind is not a separate entity from the rest of you. It shouldn’t be a luxury to feel at peace. If you feel you need any kind of help, whether it be counselling or medication or otherwise, don’t convince yourself not to seek it. You will be grateful you did. I know I am.