Saturday 26 April 2014

Guest post by Kimberley Chastney

I remember it as though it was yesterday when I first got told I was going on medication. I was 14 years old and I’d just had an art session at my local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). I looked forward to those art sessions. I loved the smell of the room, of dried paint and washing up liquid. But when I heard them telling my mum that my diagnosis of depression meant that I would need to go on to Prozac, my heart sunk and those art sessions were never quite the same. Instead, I was overcome with fear and dread. It was as though someone stole my childhood away at that very moment and I felt like the only person in the entire world to be going through what I was. I saw myself as ‘different’ to the other kids anyway, but this medication malarkey wouldn't help my case, and I knew it. 
Going home that night was tough. I remember going to the supermarket to collect my first prescription, and the pharmacist querying my step-dad about how they didn't usually give this medication to ‘someone like me.’ I stood out like a sore thumb, I felt vulnerable, and disheartened about my future. At home, mum would have to administer my medication. I couldn't swallow tablets, so instead, I had a syringe-full of this ghastly stuff that went under my tongue. Some nights, I’d miss it deliberately which of course didn't help the side-effects from starting it. My hallucinations were worse, my anxiety increased and so did my anger. I had to leave lessons to go relieve my anger, and it got so bad by the time my GCSE’s came around that I had to drop a subject. That wasn't me, it wasn't the Kimberley that I knew before and know now. 
Thankfully, I eventually came off of Prozac when my time with CAMHS came to an end. It was undoubtedly the worst experience I've had with medication, so in some ways, I should be grateful I had that experience early on in my life. What followed though were numerous different types of medications, some good, and some bad. Some of them targeted my depression and others my anxiety. From the age of around 19 to 21, I probably tried about four different types. I then went on to Sertraline after another struggle with my depression a couple of years ago. I started on a low dose, gradually increasing to a stable 100mg. It helped (I think) and I had a bit more energy to get out of bed in the morning and my concentration improved.
In June 2013, I unfortunately became very unwell again and my dosage was increased to 150mg. I don’t know why I remember this increase so vividly, but I remember feeling absolutely wired. I couldn’t sleep, I had energy to burn constantly, but at the same time, I was exhausted from always being in this heightened energetic state. I would touch walls, door frames, pace rooms in the early hours of the morning, just to try and feel grounded. These symptoms lasted for around two weeks, which in the grand scheme of things I suppose isn’t too long (but nonetheless, extremely frustrating when you’re going through it!). 
Following a review with my mental health team in January 2014, I was told I would be weaning myself off of medication. I must admit, I was worried it wasn't the right thing to do but I had faith in what the doctor had proposed as alternative treatments (such as talking therapies). My life was stable, I was doing well at college and had gotten a job in October which I loved, plus my support network was fantastic. After much consideration, I realised now was the best time to try come off it. And so the process of gradual weaning began – a reduction of 50mg every four weeks. 
The first four weeks, if I’m honest, I didn't notice much difference. I had the odd case of night-sweating which wasn't pleasant, but tolerable. It wasn't until I dropped to 50mg and then later stopped completely that I felt my whole body change. Physically, I couldn't sleep and would lay awake for hours on end. When I did get to sleep, it was never for long, and I would often be up at 3am and would stay up for the rest of the day. I had terrible nightmares, you know those ones that stay with you all day, making you doubt whether or not they actually happened? When I woke up in the night I would be drenched head to toe in a cold sweat. At first, I thought I had some weird flu-like virus that wouldn't shift, but after speaking with my occupational therapist, I discovered this was quite a normal discontinuation symptom. I’d get hot flushes in the day too, but some of those are related to my anxiety anyway, so it’s hard to tell whether they are related to coming off of medication. Mentally, my mind went riot. My anxiety, intrusive thoughts and emetophobia rocketed. My concentration was non-existent, and despite the fact I am now nine weeks medication free, I still struggle with focusing. This can be extremely frustrating and debilitating when you’re trying to hold down a job and a full time college course! I’ve found the best way is to accept that some days I won’t be as productive as others and to work as hard as I can when I can manage it. 
Whilst my experience doesn’t sound entirely positive, it’s important to remember that I was aware this could happen, and I went along with the plan to come off of medication anyway. This is because in my personal opinion, medication isn’t a cure, and is only a temporary plaster for something a lot deeper. I’m a firm believer in the social model of disability and health, and believe that by learning about myself and accepting who I am is the best foundation for my recovery. No medication can do that for me. I’m not against the idea of going back on medication, but I certainly wouldn't do it without additional professional support. I’ve heard experiences from so many people about how medication has been a saviour for them, and I think it’s wonderful they have found what ‘works’ for them. It’s a great step on the road to recovery. But for some, medication has in fact been a rollercoaster that wasn't worth getting on in the first place, and I also think that’s a positive too to be able to recognise that medication is not part of their road to recovery. What is important is that mental health services realise that what works for one person will simply not work for another, and in fact that is a good thing rather than a bad thing. If we were all the same, how boring would that be? 

For more posts by the lovely Kimberley please visit her blog at

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