Sunday, September 6, 2020

Being a Fluoxe-teen: Antidepressants, A-Levels and Me

Hello everyone, as my date for starting university nears closer and closer (one week to go!) I thought I'd write somewhat of a reflective post about my time in sixth form on anti-depressants.

I figured this could be useful for any student currently making decisions about whether they ought to use medication to help their mental health. Or possible for any parents wondering what might improve, or possibly worsen, if their child is on anti-depressants.

Obvious disclaimer: I am only one girl, on one type, and one dosage of anti-depressants, so I cannot speak for an "anti-depressant" experience in it's entirety. It is also important to note that everyone's experience of mental illness is different, so I may mention symptoms or side effects that somebody else may never experience, or miss out some rather common side effects. Though my anti-depressants were prescribed to treat my depressive symptoms, it turns out that wasn't the only mental health issue I had/have going on, so please don't take everything I say as gospel. Ultimately every experience is a unique one, but I hope I can generally lay out the pros and cons of being on medication while a student.

As I spent all of year 12 without medication, and was prescribed fluoxetine pretty much at the start of year 13, I think this has given me a good side by side comparison of a year studying without medication vs with medication. 

The Pros

1. Stability: This is easily the biggest and best thing my anti-depressants gave me. In year 12, I typically was stuck in a cycle of "normal" productive days or weeks, in which I felt like myself, and my usual determined attitude made for a productive week. But then other weeks I was completely drained. I'd go from having all the motivation in the world, to not wanting to get out of bed, feeling upset, distressed, and pretty damn hopeless. This made my studies very inconsistent and unpredictable, homework or an assessment in certain subjects on a good week would see me getting A*s, while on a bad week Cs and Ds. 

However in year 13, the fluoxetine certainly restored a sense of balance to my studies. While I cannot say I regained the same level of productivity as those "normal" weeks in year 12, overall I had gone from having functional and non-functional weeks, to being somewhat functional every week. As A-levels require constant work and revision, being able to do at least a small amount of work each day made a massive difference, and I saw more consistency in my grades. 

2. Improvements in Mood: This will seem pretty obvious, but going on anti-depressants did improve my mood overall. I think a common misconception is that anti-depressants will make you "happy", they won't. What they will do is stabilise your mood and help reduce anxiety, which in turn may reduce urges for self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and the amount of panic attacks experienced. My anti-depressants certainly didn't stop me from feeling depressed; however, bad days became more manageable and less frequent, meaning I felt I could focus on my studies and other commitments much more efficiently.

3. Energy: I know this is kind of implied by the other two pros, but I really want to emphasise what a difference my fluoxetine made to my energy. While one of the side-effects is fatigue, and this fatigue did and still does occasionally get the better of me, in year 13 I felt as though I could handle much more each day. 

The Cons

1. It gets worse before it gets better: Something you will undoubtedly be told before starting anti-depressants, is that you may feel much worse before the medication makes you feel better. In my case this was undoubtedly true, and lead to a few weeks of me feeling like absolute. Utter. Shit. Those few weeks were basically a write off, no work was done and self care was minimal, and I felt even worse about being unproductive, but thankfully it was only temporary. 

Retrospectively, I possibly would have done better had I communicated with my sixth form that I was starting a new medication. The ugly reality of starting anti-depressants is that you may be at a heightened risk of self-harm, continued (or worsened) suicidal thoughts. But like I said before, this is only temporary, and those two shitty weeks were definitely worth a year (and beyond) of much better mental health.

2. Side effects: Most anti-depressants come with side effects, and I think I've been pretty lucky avoiding the majority of them. But the two I found most bothersome were occasional nausea and difficulty sleeping. Both of these can be overcome pretty easy with over the counter remedies, but it definitely is worth searching the side effects of any anti-depressant before you start taking them, as the list is pretty extensive.

3. The weirdest fucking dreams: This one is a little bit silly but I think worth mentioning  for the sheer entertainment factor, I genuinely cannot go more than 2 days without having an absolute mind-fuck of a dream. More surreal than Dali, more memorable than Priyanka's lip sync to 'Hello' on RPDR Canada. This isn't particularly anything bad, and doesn't really get in the way of anything, it's just really, really, really weird.

4. Over-dependence on routine: I don't know how to accurately explain this, but in the light of the covid pandemic, I found that being suddenly stripped of routine absolutely destroyed my mental health, and my medication seemed pretty damn useless in keeping me afloat. It made me wonder if I would feel the same way after finishing my exams in June. Though I cannot say for sure how I would have felt in the months-long wait between exams and university without an big ass pandemic looming over everybody, I'd give a small warning to any current/future year 13s about the sudden change of routine after exams.

Overall, going on fluoxetine, despite a few funky side effects, has improved my mental health so much. Though the end goal for me is to come off medication eventually, there is absolutely no shame in needing medication, and I can honestly say without it I don't think I would have been as successful as I was in my A-levels. 

I hope these ramblings were somewhat insightful, and I'm looking forward to writing a similar post after my first few terms at university!

Take care x

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