In June 2016, I reluctantly made the decision to start taking medication for my OCD. Of course this is something that I’ve openly discussed throughout my mental health related posts, but I haven’t actually talked about the reasons why I left it for so long. So, for today’s post, I wanted to talk a little more about it and my thoughts about it all, and how I’ve gotten to where I am now with it.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, and any recommendations are based on my personal experience and should not be taken as medical advice. If you are struggling with your mental health, you should make arrangements to visit your GP to discuss your options.
It’s important to note that at this stage, I hadn’t been diagnosed with OCD. I struggled majorly with anxiety that would quite often cause extreme nausea, and I was also suffering from emetophobia (a phobia of vomiting).
I was offered medication several times over the years before I finally decided to go ahead with it. At first, I declined it because I had read far too many websites that went into detail about the side effects. One of the main ones I read about was nausea and in some cases, vomiting. Not ideal when you have emetophobia. At this point I don’t remember specific times where I was offered them, but over a number of counselling sessions and doctors appointments, it was one of the most commonly offered solutions.
The first time I distinctly remember being offered medication was during my second year of university. Christmas was coming up, and it was around the time of year that norovirus was hitting the headlines because it was making the rounds in every school, every hospital, every care home, literally, everywhere. My stomach was especially bad, so before Liam and I went home for Christmas, I made an appointment to see my doctor. I explained that I was in a vicious cycle with nausea and anxiety, and I was struggling to cope. The doctor prescribed me Mirtazapine, a form of antidepressant that is used to treat OCD and anxiety disorders. She told me I generally would feel a bit unwell for the first few weeks, and that I should avoid alcohol, and with that, she sent me on my way with a prescription.
Now, I was about to head home for 2 weeks for Christmas. You know, Christmas. The time where alcohol is on tap. As much as I knew alcohol wasn’t the be all and end all, I didn’t want to spend the entire Christmas break sober and miserable while everyone else was drunk and having a good time. Not only that, but my number one fear was getting ill, and I didn’t see how 2 weeks of feeling ill as a side effect would help my anxiety. So, after a few days of deliberation, I left said prescription in my flat in Northampton, and headed home without them. I came across that very same unopened box of tablets last year, having just shoved them in a drawer.
I just about got by for the next few years after that, until early 2015. Wedding planning had started to take its toll, and things were progressively getting worse. I was developing what I now realise was the beginning of my OCD, and I was having more bad days than good. I had numerous trips to the doctors at this stage, and each time I was asked if I’d like to try medication. Despite numerous recommendations from my Mum, Liam, and my closest friends, I was determined to get better without medication.
Why? Well, I had a number of reasons in my head why medication was not the answer for me. Looking back, if I could go back and give myself a slap, I would, because she was being a fucking idiot. The following are all genuine reasons I used to avoid talking medication:
- I heard from a number of different sources that anti-depressants can make you gain weight. I had a wedding dress to fit into, so any form of weight gain was NOT acceptable.
- There was the whole nausea thing. While I was now concerned about any kind of illness, let alone stomach related ones, my emetophobia was still very much there, and I didn’t want to make it worse.
- It’s advised not to drink on certain anti-depressants – again, I’m fully aware that alcohol isn’t the be all and end all, but I wanted to be able to drink at my hen party and at my wedding. Not only that, but (as bad as this sounds), going out and getting pissed with my friends was one of the rare occasions where I felt normal. Why would I want to give that up?
- Side effects in general was also a concern – the advice given from my previous doctor was still there in my mind, that I’d need to be prepared to feel unwell for a couple of weeks while they got into my system. If they made me feel that ill, I couldn’t afford to take time off work.
- Part of me also saw it as giving up – which it absolutely is not – and I wasn’t quite ready to admit defeat yet.
I told my doctor I was happy to stick with talking therapies, no matter how long the waiting list was. However, our poor NHS has some ridiculous deadlines to meet, and it’s under a great deal of pressure, so I ended up being on a waiting list for almost a year. Not only that, but I also appeared to have been allocated an ‘old school’ doctor – you know, the ones who have clearly been a GP for a long time, but clearly haven’t had any mental health training whatsoever. Despite a whole week of feeling horrific beforehand, I got married and had a fairly anxiety free day, so I thought maybe things would start to improve now. How wrong I was.
It wasn’t until later in 2016 that I had a full on meltdown, so my Mum dragged me to the doctors, where I saw a locum GP who appeared to be fresh out of medical school. In addition to being insanely hot (I genuinely was glad I wasn’t going there with a lady problem), he was lovely and explained to me that if talking therapies were to have the best chance of working, I should at least give medication a try. As I was still on a waiting list, he made an urgent referral to the mental health team to try and push me up the list a little bit further, and he wrote me a prescription for 50mg of Sertraline.
So, what is Sertraline? It’s a form of antidepressant that falls into the category of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). This means they work by increasing levels of serotonin (the happy hormone) in the brain. My Mum told me not to bother reading the side effects leaflet, which I think in hindsight was good advice, so I went ahead and took my first one.
I’ll be honest – those first few days were awful. I don’t want to get too graphic, but to put it bluntly, I had the shits. Very badly. I was exhausted, and I felt like a zombie for those first few days, which didn’t really fill me with reassurance. I’m not entirely sure specifically when I started to feel better, but I know it happened over time. To be honest, towards the end of the first two weeks, while the obsessive thoughts hadn’t exactly gone away, the side effects had, and that was good enough for me. And thankfully, while I felt like utter shit, I didn’t feel ill enough to need any time off work.
Over time, I gradually noticed an improvement in my mood, and the obsessive thoughts were starting to become less frequent. However, as Christmas 2016 approached, I began to struggle. At this point, I was now registered with a new GP – long story short, fit locum doctor left, I put in a complaint about old-school asshole, and ended up with a nice new female doctor. On this particular day, whatever the hell was going on in my doctors surgery, it meant that I spent 45 minutes in a waiting room full of sick people coughing and spluttering, and by the time I was called for my appointment, I was in floods of tears. Where I was in such a state, my new doctor decided to up my dosage to 100mg, and I was more than happy to oblige. I’ve been taking them ever since.
Cut to the present day, and while I still have OCD, I’m in a much better place than I was before I started the Sertraline. I still get obsessive thoughts when I’m stressed, I still can’t wash my hands just the once when I go to the toilet, and if you tell me you have a cold I will run a mile; but compared to how I was before I started taking my medication, it’s a massive improvement. I’m still taking 100mg, but I’m past the point of any side effects. In fact, if I forget to take it, I actually feel worse. So, going back to my previous worries, how much of it was actually true?
- I didn’t gain weight at all. If anything, I lost weight through having the shits for the first couple of weeks.
- I didn’t really feel nauseous at all, I just had the urge to go to the toilet, and once I’d been, I felt much better. Usually, it would only be once a day too, so I usually could get on with things anyway.
- I’ve been able to drink on them the whole time I’ve been taking them. While there was a particularly horrible incident during the first month, involving our trip to Barcelona and 2 bottles of cheap Spanish wine, overall, I’ve still been able to enjoy a fair few bevs these last few years.
- Again, the only side effects I really had to deal with was the unpleasant tummy troubles, but after a week or two, they stopped and it was like nothing had happened. Occasionally, I’d feel a bit dizzy and weird, but this generally could be prevented by making sure that I ate something when I took the medication.
- It definitely was not me giving up, because taking medication was probably the most powerful thing I could do to improve my mental health.
My Advice to You
Of course, everyone is different in how they react to different medications. So I’m saying in absolutely no way should you head to your doctors and say you want a prescription for Sertraline. However, what I am saying is that if any of these things sound relatable to you, it’s perfectly okay. If you’re at that point in your recovery where you’re not sure whether or not you should take medication, don’t let your own views of it cloud your judgement. Had I not believed what I did for so long, I probably would have started taking medication sooner, and my OCD may not have gotten as bad as it did. If you have a number of concerns about medication, it’s worth talking to your doctor about them, as they’ll be able to ease your worries, or even prescribe you something that’s less likely to do what you’re worrying about.
As of June 2020, I’ve been taking Sertraline for four years. I can honestly say that I have no regrets – aside from leaving it so long to start taking it. While it wasn’t one of my immediate goals for the year, I had at least hoped to address the potential of reducing my dose, but you know, covid happened. I’m back to old habits of Dettoling my phone and wiping down everything any guests in my house touch, I really don’t think now’s the time to reduce the thing that’s more than likely kept me from spiralling during this whole pandemic.
I hope one day that I will come off of the Sertraline completely, or at the very least drop back down to 50mg. However, I think it’d be okay if I didn’t. A friend of mine put it into perspective when she said to me “if you took medication for a heart condition, would you stop taking it just because you feel better?” And she’s right. Right now I don’t want to put myself through withdrawal and potentially going back a few steps just because I feel better. For the sake of one small tablet a day and the £9 prescription charge every 2 months, I’d much rather feel the way I do now as opposed to how I did beforehand.
While I’m incredibly annoyed that I went so long without trying medication, I’m so grateful that I saw sense in the end. By the time I started my CBT, the medication was well and truly in my system, which meant that I found it by far the most effective form of treatment I’ve had. I’m not cured, but it has helped me massively. Now, I’m not saying that medication is the best option for everyone, because of course it’s not. Everyone reacts differently to different forms of treatment. However, I’m saying that it’s an option worth exploring if you haven’t done so already. Despite your reservations, you never know, it might be the best decision you make.