They say admitting you need help is the first step to recovery. But what if you’ve already recovered? What if you’ve done everything in your power to get better and, crucially, to stay better but you’ve still woken up, less than a year after you’d declared yourself well enough to come off antidepressants for good, feeling like there’s absolutely no decent reason to get out of bed?
“It’s just a relapse,” my doctor told me, in that reassuring, sympathetic tone that I’m always so grateful for. But it didn’t feel like “just” anything. It felt catastrophic, an abject failure, the end of my newly rebuilt life as I knew it.
Of course, it wasn’t any of those things really. But coming to terms with a mental health relapse felt almost harder than the relapse itself.
I have a long and complicated relationship with fluoxetine — or Prozac, as you might know it. One of the most commonly prescribed SSRI antidepressants in the U.S., I first went on it in 2013 for mild to moderate symptoms of depression and anxiety. I started off on a relatively low dose of 20mg, which I found was enough to keep me on an even keel.
Then, in 2017, I was involved in a traumatic car accident and my mind spun as wildly out of control as my car. Within hours, staring up at the hospital ceiling tiles from my spinal board, I had plunged from mild, well-managed depression to a much darker and scarier place. People repeatedly told me how lucky I was to have survived but, after the first six hours of desperately hoping I wasn’t going to die, I’d spend the next six months wishing I had.
‘It’s just a relapse,’ my doctor told me, in that reassuring tone that I’m always so grateful for. But it didn’t feel like ‘just’ anything. It felt catastrophic, an abject failure.
When I was discharged five days later, with a “badly smashed up” left wrist and two fractured vertebrae, the hospital psychiatrist prescribed diazepam (Valium) for the anxious car journey home — but I was still a quivering wreck, gripping my husband’s hand as if my life depended on it, while my father-in-law drove slower and more carefully than he ever had in his life.
Over the following months I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), my fluoxetine dose upped from 20mg to 40mg, then again to 60mg — the maximum dose. I was prescribed more diazepam and then propranolol, a beta-blocker, for the anxiety and put on a 17-week waiting list for high intensity, trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Recovery — physical and mental — was slow, frustrating and at times pretty bleak. But antidepressants kept me alive and, slowly but surely, things started to shift. My NHS CBT therapist was amazing — just life-changingly brilliant — and after 13 weekly sessions with her I’d progressed from self-harming and self-destructive to believing …read more