By Lucy Harbron - 21:39

(TW. Discussion of mental health, sexual assault, self-harm and E.D, please be careful with your heart)

I talk a lot about self-care and healing, but I realised I've never talked frankly about mental health. And while no one ever needs to divulge their struggles in order to justify their need for self-care, and I strongly strongly believe that self-care should be practice regardless of the presence or luck lack-off mental health issues, I'm also more than aware of the multitude of self-care posts, in contrast to the clear lack of open, honest discussions about experiences with mental health services and treatments. My friend recently asked me about antidepressants, struggling to find any experiences online that were simply lists of side-effects or horror stories, and I was more than happy to talk about it. But I've never spoken about it online, strangely considering my verging on TMI openness on my platforms. It's weird, and I can't help but worry that even I've fallen into stigmatism, feeling the pressure to stay silent on the particular conversation of medication. And in the interest of rejecting that, let's discuss.

Here is a brief history of my brain...

I'd say I've struggled with my mental health since I was around 13/14, moving in and out of phases of deep lows and bouts of self-harm, probably symptomatic of my over-active imagination causing me to overthink and overthink and overthink. All attempts to get any support were shot down. When I spoke to a doctor, my self-harm and depression worsening, I was deemed 'fine' and refused any counselling or support; a story far far too common.

This continued on and off. I always considered myself recovered, carrying that label of 'fine' as a shield, staying quiet out of fear of bringing back the conversations about attention-seeking or faking it. Looking back, it wasn't healthy at all, but definitely, a reaction to over-run mental health services, always reactionary or crisis support rather than on-going help or preventative measures.

Alongside this, my emetophobia was gradually becoming more and more consuming. Emetophobia is the phobia of being sick, with symptoms including...feeling sick, mine specifically sparked by anxiety. It got to the point where I lost a lot of weight when I first moved to uni, so anxious that anything I ate made me feel sick, sending me into a panic. The weight loss from anxiety brought up some issues with body dysmorphia and disordered eating, so add that to the roster. I ended up isolating myself a lot, as alcohol became a big trigger and I felt extremely insecure making me not want to go out. I also was in a very isolating relationship, and struggled a lot to be around friends as I dealt all these things along with trauma from being sexually assaulted, while all my uni friends seemed to be having the time of their life. At this point I sought out some support and got counselling which was actually a really bad and unhelpful experience, making me a bit scared of any form of therapy.

And for the final chapter. October 2017 - At the start of my 2nd year of uni there was a  noticeable change, everything started to feel a bit more out of control with more mania. The best way I can think to explain it is that my blues became the mean reds, and for the first time I ceased to be high-functioning, and in all honesty, I felt that life was unlivable feeling like I was being carried away by my mind.

I went to the doctors after friends assured me that the university health service didn't turn people away, and I was lucky enough to have an amazing doctor that refused to let me scapegoat my pill for my mental health worsening, and calmly explained that the pill was actually putting a cap on the worse of it, and I had depression and anxiety. She talked me through my options, listened to me when I said I didn't want to do any kind of group therapy, assured me that I was worthy of treatment and support, and did everything she could help me when waitlists for mental health services can be months long.

The waitlist was the reason that she decided that medication might be the best option for me. 4 months wait for CBT, 2 months wait for eating disorder therapy, and they're lower than average wait times. At the place I was in, I was scared to wait that long, so after giving me a week to think about it, I was prescribed sertraline, a Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), starting on a dose of 50mg.

The main reason why I wanted to write about antidepressants is because my experience has been totally and utterly average, neither amazing or awful. I think it's important to have people's experiences out there beyond fear-mongering articles or miracle testimonials. Anti-depressants remain a very taboo topic, causing casual conversations on the topic to be few and far between, and making it hard for people to find any advice when they're considering it as an option. And for that reason, I'm going to talk this through as fully as possible, which may be boring but I wish I could've found things like this during the week I was trying to make my decision.


The doctors warn that the worse side-effects will come within the first couple of weeks, so it's important to have another appointment about a week after going on the medication in case there are any serious effects. I was lucky. While I had some really minor side-effects like a metallic taste in my mouth, slight drowsiness, tummy aches, I escaped any nausea which was my main fear, scared of triggering my phobia.

In the first week, I did struggle with drowsiness. I'm normally really energetic; up-early, no-napping. So when I was suddenly feeling the need to snooze in the middle of the day, that really got to me as I felt unproductive and lazy and awful. But my doctor assured me that this does stop and is just your body working harder to process the extra hormones etc, and eventually it did.

A lesson I quickly learnt; don't drink when you first go on medication. My doctor had said that I could still drink on sertraline but warned me that my tolerance might have gone down and it might make me drowsy. On Halloween, about 3 weeks in, I had a couple of glasses of wine and lost my mind. A really minor trigger majorly upset me and all the mania came back both mentally and physically as I felt nauseous and kept shivering. I realised that I was probably going to have to rebuild my tolerance and take it slow for a little while.

Struggling with alcohol really upset me as I worried it would leave me feeling isolated at uni again as I was suddenly back to either not going out or feeling the need to go home halfway through the night. I think something important to remember is that going on anti-depressants isn't like taking a paracetamol. It will have an effect on your body, and it is going to take a while to get used to it so you have to allow yourself that time. Once I accepted that and started going at my own pace, it got easier.

About 4/5 weeks in, I noticed a drop. I suddenly felt like all the effect had disappeared and the blues were getting deeper. After weeks of being more functioning, I was back to struggling to concentrate on work or go into uni, so I went back to the doctors and my dosage was raised to 100mg. Apparently, this is really common, some people just need the extra boost if those mean reds are stubborn, sometimes your body can get used to 50mg too quickly and easily, and the effects fade to zero.  I stayed on 100mg until about April/May 2018.

All in all, the short term was A-Okay. I didn't have any major side-effects and I quickly felt better. I think a couple of my blips came from refusing to accept that I needed to slow down a little and let my body chill. Listening to your body is so important, and I'm glad I've learnt that now.


As the months went on I got used to alcohol again. I'm still a sleepy drunk, but I can easily last a full night out without becoming overwhelmingly upset or tired. I'd actually say that I can drink better than ever, with less anxiety as the symptoms of phobia dulled and became way easier to handle.

I'd say that's the main outcome, all the symptoms have dulled. I don't get as many physical anxiety symptoms anymore when I used to get bad headaches and nausea, panic attacks have pretty much stopped, and my sadness doesn't spiral into uncontrollable fits of mania anymore. In general, I feel stable and my doctor agrees. I was really worried about this dulling, with so many articles dubbing anti-depressants the enemy of creativity if it's muting your emotions. I didn't feel this, but I never could write during the mean reds. But my medication definitely hasn't muted my emotions, I remain my over-effected, over-emotional self without the sharp edges. It hasn't eradicated all the sadness, I've still had some really bad depression lows but they're definitely more handleable. I think that's the main thing, one pill isn't going to rid you of all negative emotions or anxious feelings, I think you remain depressed and/or anxious but life is liveable, you can function, and everything is lighter.

I think it has to come hand in hand with other treatment. I eventually got therapy, seeing an eating disorder specialist that does CBT. I really think without going on medication, therapy would have been lost on me. I think I needed to be stable before being forced to confront my issues, otherwise, it wouldn't have been productive. Now, I feel like I've made progress and I'm in the right place to be able to confront issues logically and actually processing them rather than spiralling.

Almost a year on I'm ready to start weaning off the medication, having already dropped down to 50mg again. I'm kinda scared, but days when I forget to take it (stupid mistake) I manage to get through the day just as easy, sometimes with a headache and the shakes. And again, I'm so lucky with my doctor who always keeps in contact with me, and assures me that there's support in place during and after I come off the medication.

To conclude my experience has been uneventful and average, but life-saving. I'm now functioning and happy. I get little to no physical symptoms, my low points aren't as crippling, my high points feel cosy and warm without burning or leaving me anxious, and my phobia has become manageable and no longer has a daily effect on my life. Definitely a success story, not without issues, however. But the medication can't take all the credit, and I don't think it ever should, my therapist and doctor deserve praise after praise for teaching me that depressed and anxious thoughts can be processed and passed over simply by pausing to think logically, who knew?!

I still have depression and anxiety, I still suffer from both of those things. But sertraline has helped me become stable and feel like life is liveable, and more than that, it's exciting. And I think experiences like mine, not instantly fixing or horrifically terrible, should be shared more, and we should talk about these little pills that so many of us are popping every morning, helping us live the day.

PS. If anyone wants to talk to me more about any of the issues raised in this post, feel free to DM me on Twitter or Instagram x

  • Share:

You Might Also Like