My GP had been asking me to decrease my dose of sertraline for the past year. You’re not as stressed now, she said. Maybe you don’t need it any more. I told her that I was probably equally stressed, probably because I am very bad at slowing down and taking time off. I stayed on my normal dose.
But a couple of months into the New Year and I thought I was doing okay. Okay enough that I thought I could go down to a smaller dose. It’ll save me money, too, in the long run – even though sertraline really isn’t that expensive. So I tried it. And after about a week, I was feeling lethargic, I wasn’t eating properly, and my mood was swinging back and forth every couple of hours. I went back to the larger dose and I’ve been fine ever since.
That small, white, chalky pill is now a normal part of my life. I daresay there are many others out there who follow a similar routine, whether it be for physical or mental illnesses. And yet there is still a long way for society to go when it comes to accepting and understanding the impacts of mental illness. There are, of course, a whole host of mental illnesses out there, and I do not presume to speak on anyone else’s behalf. All I can do is talk about my own experiences, of my struggles and triumphs with depression and anxiety.
For all intents and purposes, I led (and still lead) quite a normal life. I went to school, tried not to get into too much trouble, and graduated. I went to university, worked while I studied, and eventually graduated from that too. Nowadays, I just work, and go for the occasional lunch or drink with friends. And that’s because life doesn’t stop around you after you’ve been diagnosed. It doesn’t wait patiently at one side while you sort yourself out, so you learn to juggle society’s expectations with the limits and reality of your condition. They might realistically only be small changes, but they are changes, nonetheless.
I know I am not alone in this (though I may have felt alone when I was first diagnosed). A recent study conducted by Headspace and the National Union of Students of about 2600 students around Australia has shown that about 35 percent of university students aged between 17-25 have considered self-harm or have had suicidal thoughts in the past twelve months. Sure – most of us have said something like “I’d die for an ice-cream”, or “my feet are killing me”, but suicidal ideation is different. It’s much more frightening than anyone can ever imagine, and the fact that over a third of all young people who participated in that survey had had some form of suicidal ideation in the past year is surely a sign that something needs to change.
I don’t want to take away from the great work that has been done by organisations like Beyond Blue and Headspace. They have helped to raise awareness about mental illness and the importance of mental health in general in the past couple of years, but I think they would agree that there is quite a lot of work that still needs to be done.
I shouldn’t have to explain to someone why they can’t say “go fucking die” to someone when they’re angry at them. I should be able to take a mental health day at work without being accused of laziness or being forced to explain what I mean when I want to take a mental health day. Unfortunately, in this almost hyper-capitalist society we all now live in, time is money. Issues of mental health seem to be almost always secondary to generating income, or meeting KPIs. In the long term, this is not sustainable, and hopefully employers will take notice of this before it is too late. Perhaps this is why I felt compelled to at least try to decrease my dose of sertraline. Even though my employers have been very understanding and accommodating of my depression, I know that society in general is still struggling to see medication for mental health as a positive. But baby steps, right? A little can go a long way.
This goes for diversity, too – which I feel like will forever be the hill I die on when it comes to any sort of issue I decide to discuss. Mental health outreach, like many other aspects of Australian life, needs to be more diverse. Most of the advertising and outreach programming features white people, and I know I would have been much better off if I’d been able to see myself represented on screen. I know there are others that would agree with me on that point, too. But for now, I’m doing my best – especially for those who don’t want to talk about their experiences (and that’s totally okay!)
I don’t want to pretend that I’m perfect. I’m as far from that as you can get. I’m still dealing with and continuing to work on bettering my mental health. There are days when I feel low for no reason at all, and I have to manage that. But I still freak out before social events – so much so that I often consider cancelling or just not showing up. I’ve shown up to events jammed full of people but have had to turn away because I didn’t know anyone else there and there were too many people and my heart was pounding out of my chest.
There are days where I just have to put my best face on and bravely face the world. And you know what? That’s all right. I’m working on it. I’m working on it, anxiety and depression and all – with the help of my friends, and that small, white, chalky pill.
Yen-Rong is a Brisbane based writer. She is the founder and editor in chief of Pencilled In, a magazine dedicated to showcasing the work of young Asian Australian Artists. When she is not writing, you might find her on Twitter, drinking tea, or chasing after her cat, Autumn. You can read more of her work here.