Are Antidepressants Shaping My Writing?

My first attempt to use medication to help my mental health didn’t go very well at all. I’ve always been anxious — As a child, overly careful and reserved. As an adult, I worried about every new danger as I became aware of the myriad things that can go wrong in any situation. Stretches of depression started popping into my calendar, giving me all the ambition and willpower of a fallen leaf.

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

By the time I was 26, my mental health had started to crumble. My regular doctor at the time was actually the one who pointed it out to me. She had noticed that I was becoming increasingly anxious and downcast every time I was in her office. While having a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression after that visit certainly explained a lot, it didn’t do much to make me feel better. If anything, it made me create excuses to enable my excessive sleeping and lack of motivation.

Eventually, though, I’d had enough. I went back to my doctor and asked if I could try medication to help pull me out of my slump. She prescribed a drug called escitalopram for me, which was supposed to treat both depression and anxiety with some scary potential side effects. Weighing the pros and cons carefully, I decided to go ahead and try the pills. I didn’t have any of the side effects that I had been concerned about, but I wouldn’t say I had any success either. I was exhausted all the time, sleeping through my alarms and getting in trouble at work. Sure, I can’t have a panic attack if I’m asleep — But almost losing my job because of it really didn’t help the situation. After six months of hoping the happy effects would kick in, I gave up.

For years after, I’d been able to scrape by. Dealing with my mental health issues through breathing exercises, yoga, fitness, and naps was a lot of work. Still, it was better than the pit of exhaustion my last antidepressants had tossed me into.

But then, out of the blue, it all changed. My Mom passed away unexpectedly. In the wake of that emotional tsunami, none of my coping techniques were making any difference. The crippling anxiety and depression prevented me from getting out of bed or doing anything resembling work. This dragged on for four months before everyone in my life started to gently suggest that I should maybe look into talking to someone…

I managed to pull myself together and squeeze out enough courage to tell my doctor that I can’t handle my anxiety and depression on my own anymore. She was somewhat taken aback, understandably. I was only seeing her for a refill on my antacids when I dropped the “My Mom died, and I can’t do life anymore” bomb.

I’ve always been told that your General Practitioner is the person to talk to when you start feeling worried about your mental health. I had tried bringing up my anxiety before, and I thought she had brushed off my concerns then. Bringing it up again was terrifying to me; I was so worried that I would be brushed off for a second time. This time, though, she referred me to a psychiatrist. I’m glad she did. He actually listened when I told him how I was spiralling and ready to try medication again. He talked to me about different types of drugs available that were appropriate for what I was experiencing, and we decided on duloxetine.

This time, it worked! It’s been just over a month now, and I can feel that it’s kicking in. Or I should say, I don’t feel much at all. Being emotionally numb sounds horrible. It’s a phrase that terrified me when weighing the pros and cons of antidepressants. Now that I’m starting to feel it, though… It’s like a vacation from the emotions I could no longer stop from taking over my entire existence. I used to wonder if I would really be OK with potentially giving up emotional highs in exchange for escaping the devastating lows that were becoming the status quo. The steady, even calm that’s starting to emerge feels worth it right now. The anxiety that had been coming in drowning waves is turning into a gentle ripple on a still lakeshore. It’s like I’m in a medically induced emotional coma, fast asleep while my mental health heals.

While my emotional life has become much more comfortable, writing has become much harder.

The biggest issue with not writing is that I’m a genius who quit her day job in the middle of a pandemic and decided to become a freelance writer… I still need to make money, but feeling this way has left me devoid of words. I sit down to write a blog post, and I can’t get past the first line. I can’t fake enthusiasm about the topics I need to write about. I can’t even get enthusiastic about my own life. In some ways, it’s lucky that there’s not a whole bunch of clients throwing money at freelancers at the moment, but the blogs I own need my words, and now I’m struggling to provide them.

A regular job seems like it would be a good fix, but have you looked at job postings? It feels like reading the obituaries. Duties include administrative tasks, reconciling inventory with invoices, staying awake all afternoon, pretending your boss is funny and working until you die. Finding new paying writing clients feels even worse; I can’t promise them that I’ll do a good job. If I can’t even write for my own blogs right now, how can I guarantee a client that I’ll deliver business-changing SEO content in five days or less?

I guess the answer is the same as the answer to the rest of my problems — Just give it time. The worst part of healing is waiting for it… You can’t get better without time. Watching time pass while tiny incremental improvements are happening feels like watching grass grow. The only way to get there is to stop watching it so closely.

In the meantime, I’m going to look at this as a small success. Waking up at 1 am with all these words to spill out is a massive improvement over the forced blog post I spent hours putting together last week. That blog post was even a step up from the week before, where the big win was sending out my Christmas cards. One small victory today, and maybe tomorrow, I’ll have one more!

Person, with interests, feeling awkward.

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