Anne Gildea: 'You have to find the med to suit your own head'
"Doesn't Big Pharma manipulate drug trial results? Isn't its main focus profit,
not health? Isn't psychopharmacology such an imprecise science, you might as well be popping sugar pills? Isn't it just downright weird to seek medication to make your thoughts 'better'?
Such were my fears prior to being first prescribed SSRIs 13 years ago. But bouts of worsening depression made me scrap the questions and take the prescription.
I then hoped that taking the feared pills would be a panacea - that the brain would be flooded with the energy and positivity it so sorely lacked and the world would become, in a word, effervescent. Needless to say, it's not like that.
First off, you have to find the med to suit your own head. Over several years I was on and off Lustral (Sertraline), Celexa (Citalopram) and Lexapro, three commonly prescribed SSRIs, none of which felt like The One, per se.
I didn't feel worse on them, but neither did I feel as bright and functional as I hoped to feel. And I needed to feel, to get by in my freelance work-life.
Then my GP suggested Effexor (Venlafzine), an SNRI serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor which, as the name suggests, works not just on the neurotransmitter serotonin, but also norepinephrine.
Effexor was great to begin with, especially helping with depressive fatigue. But after 18 months I also found that it made me feel ungrounded, as if it were too much for my metabolism. So I came off it. Slowly. Still, there were withdrawal symptoms, most particularly a zapping in the head, as if there was an ongoing electrical storm in the brain. And severe ringing in the ears (tinnitus) that never completely went away.
Anyway, long story short, I needed to give head meds another go a few years later. Namely, Cymbalta (Duloxetine). Similar to Effexor, it's an SNRI, but in whatever way that it's different, it really suited me.
It genuinely worked. I've been on it for several years and am, as I write, coming off it. Slowly. I've had a lot of weight-gain while on it and some memory issues.
Currently my head is constantly ringing as if there's a strong electrical current running through it, which combined with the tinnitus makes my head feel like a Kraftwerk instrument. But this will fade in time.
I'm thankful for Cymbalta: it helped me out of a hole, and though I'm determined to not go back down, if needs be I would consider taking it again.
Head meds aren't one-size-fits-all, but in my experience they can most definitely help. To the point of saving one's life, you might say."
Anne Gildea is a writer, actress and comedienne. She has used antidepressants for over a decade