Chris is currently studying an Access to Higher Education Diploma in Social Sciences – Psychology with Criminology Pathway. Here he talks about his journey navigating a mental health issue, work and study:
“Now, I’m not one for airing my dirty laundry on social media. Nor am I one for sharing my deepest secrets and darkest feelings but sometimes, just sometimes, you have to speak out. You must speak out to raise awareness, share your heart and soul and connect with people in the hope that it may prove to be useful or helpful. You never know, it may just save your life.
I was diagnosed with depression and severe anxiety 18 months ago. I didn’t want medication. I wanted to find alternative therapies and make some lifestyle changes that would benefit me and my mental health. So I abstained. I changed my diet, I exercised more, I tried talking therapies and stopped self-medicating.
Eight months into this cycle of change I could no longer carry on. I had reached breaking point. At this point I was forced to accept that medication was the only way forward and so, albeit reluctantly, I began a course of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) to try and level the chemical imbalance in my brain.
It was very much a trial and error process. My GP chose Sertraline for me. It started with 50mg per day. I was told to expect some pretty awful side effects. True to form they were and I felt dreadful. In fact, at that point I felt so much worse than I had done before. When I started taking them I couldn’t move off the sofa for three days. I felt constantly sick, had no appetite, didn’t want to see anyone, completely lost my libido and I was to continue like this until my first review in four weeks’ time.
Following this, it was decided that my dosage should be increased to 100mg (you can only increase in 50mg increments with Sertraline). And so we began the next leg of the testing journey. I felt like a new person! It was amazing. As if all my problems had gone away and I could take on the world again. This proved to be short-lived and after some extremely hurtful, thoughtless and unnecessary comments from my peers at work I was right back to square one. I felt worthless, abandoned in this dark, horrible place that no-one could access and pull me out of. I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I didn’t know who I was and I felt like I was losing the battle once again. I choose the word battle very carefully because I’m fighting every day to get better and function as I did before, without help or assistance.
My dosage was increased once again to 150mg and it was then that I started to think that possibly this medication wasn’t right for me. I’d have to start all over again and go through all that pain once more. As with the initial 50mg this new dose just made me feel terrible. I felt numb, lifeless and had no desire or motivation to do anything. Four weeks passed and I was back at my GP for a review. We knew it wasn’t good. All that was left was a 200mg dose. We had to try it to rule it out more than anything but we pressed ahead and increased the dose.
It took some time but I began to feel like me again. I was able to do more around the house, more than ever before. I was able to return to work with the support of my employer and they even put some amendments in place to phase me back in after such a long period of time away from the business.
I’m now happy to tell you that the 200mg dose continues to work and support my everyday challenges and work life.
Depression also affected my study as it has done with all aspects of my life. I decided to take a study break and gave myself a decent time to make sure I was in a place where I could take on the challenge of adult learning again. The support has been fantastic. I find studying on my own a lot more therapeutic. There’s no distractions and I can really get my head down and focus.
I’m getting back to a point where I feel like myself. Myself before this dark cloud came over me and changed my life. To ensure my continued recovery I have to remain on the medication for a minimum of six months. It will then be reviewed and I may be able to be weaned off them. I also may have to stay on them for the rest of my life and I’m completely okay with that.
After my initial fears about medication, knowing now what I didn’t know then, I can honestly say that if they keep me in the place that I am today and allow me to function to the extent that I can in a very challenging work environment then I’ll take them forever.
There have been some life-altering changes throughout this incredible journey, but I couldn’t be happier about them and I can now look forward to the positive future I have. It’s like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. You can make these changes too! Surround yourself with positive people with positive influence and those who make you feel good. They’re the ones who truly deserve you and who you deserve to be around.
If I have one piece of advice to give anyone in my position: Don’t bottle it up. You’re not alone and so many people are ready to listen. If that’s not your circle of friends, then try a support line like the Samaritans. You can even text them now which is great if you don’t want to talk.”