Thursday, 10 October 2019

The Sertraline Kid Hangs Up His Spurs

It is frightening to think that I wrote my original piece about the Sertraline Kid in 2013 [Creativity and the Sertraline Kid] and even more so to realise that most of it was nonsense, written not to inform the reader but in an effort to convince myself.

In fact, the Sertraline Kid was constantly falling off his horse and wandering around the musical prairies in a constant daze. It was only when he hung up his guns and left the mind-numbed West of mental stultification that any sort of normality of thought returned.

Sertraline is a powerful and useful drug and in certain situations is very effective. As anyone who reads my rantings will know, I have suffered from depression, my Black Dog, for decades and when I finally sought help and was put on Sertraline, I was scoring very highly on the standard test for clinical depression and anxiety and, to be frank, was in a hell of a state.

Things had deteriorated to the point where some days I would ring in sick to work simply because I couldn't face getting out of bed or had made it to the front door but couldn't bring myself to open it.

I won't dwell on this as it will make a lot of bitterness resurface but this was made ten times worse by  some of my managers who, through various means, put me under increasing pressure and who at one point told me to pull myself together as my illness was putting unfair strain on my work colleagues.

I had naively thought that being completely open about my illnesses (also asthma, diabetes and sleep apnoea - there is a theory that all these illnesses are linked to depression but no one knows which is chicken and which is egg) would be helpful but, sadly, I think I was looked upon as the weak link and I unknowingly provided them with all the right buttons to press. Without the Sertraline I would have completely broken down and the Black Dog would have won.

Taking Sertraline allowed me to function on a low level where I could leave the house, go to work, talk to people, cope with the increasing stress and put on my "happy face". The cost was a complete descent into blackness and hours sat on my own, staring into space, when I came home. All I can say is thank God for my best friend in the orchestra who spent hours talking to me on Facebook and sometimes ringing me up when he realised things were really bad - when he decided to leave I knew it would be a battle for me to carry on (I only lasted just over 12 months).

Contrary to my optimistic and self-encouraging blog post, Sertraline can have some nasty side-effects too. Creative thought was virtually non-existent - the brain fog becomes dense and while it doesn't stop the urge to compose, it cruelly stops the thought processes that enable it to happen. Also, in levelling out the highs and lows, it makes life very bland - while things don't seem to be so black, they also never seem to be bathed in sunlight either. Most worrying, were fairly oft thoughts of "it would be better if I wasn't here" or "I'd be so much happier if I didn't wake up". I've very occasionally had these thoughts pre and post Sertraline but, fortunately for me, my character would NEVER let me act upon them but for some people, Sertraline and other SSRIs can amplify and increase these thoughts.

So, in late 2016, a few months after finishing work, I made the decision to come off the medication. I stupidly did this "cold turkey" without telling my GP and it was hard - I didn't ween myself off, I simply stopped, a very stupid thing to do. That said, after about six weeks, I started to feel better and my mind started to clear. That, coupled with the relief of having left my job (which blotted out any worries about how the hell I was going to pay the bills), spurred me on. (also, when I did have a wobble and wanted to go back onto the medication, my GP refused because I had gone without it for 2 months).

I have become resigned to the fact that I will always have the Black Dog with me but am learning to live with it. I am also finally accepting that not everyone will like me and for those that don't that's their problem and not mine - I am who I am and I'm not going to change that just to fit in. I will never be corporate man, can't abide bullshit and liars, and, above all, have to speak my mind and stick to what I believe in - if that makes me unpopular then so be it.

I bitterly regret all those years when anxiety prevented me from doing things that I wanted to and from seizing opportunities. In my youth, all the girls I would have loved to ask out but the absolute fear of crushing rejection prevented me (or making very clumsy attempts to do so and coming across as creepy or pathetic), turning down lectureships in the USA and Germany because the thought of starting a new life so far away terrified me, pulling out of job interviews at the very last minute because I was being physically sick outside the building, losing friends because I constantly declined offers to meet up, go to parties or have dinner (usually as I was petrified that there would be people there that I didn't know) and ending up in an interesting but dead-end job and being told I would never get out of it.

I still have pretty black days (the last 12 months have not been a picnic by any means) and am anxious, annoyed, frustrated, lonely and bitter but who isn't to some degree. The biggest lesson I take form all this, and wholeheartedly pass on, is, no matter what, KEEP ON KEEPING ON - we are all valuable human beings, we just need to find a way to see it.