On the 22nd April 2022 I decided to start on a course of antidepressants - specifically sertraline - after years of my anxiety becoming progressively worse. This was a decision that was long overdue.
If you don’t know of it, sertraline is part of a group of antidepressants collectively known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRI’s. SSRI’s work by inhibiting the reabsorption of serotonin, increasing the availability of serotonin in the brain of those who have low levels of it. It is used to treat a variety of disorders, including depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD and more.
It was a big decision for me. I had never taken the steps to speak to a professional about my mental health once before. Beyond this, I also thought of antidepressants as being an unnatural quick-fix and that we as humans weren't designed to ingest pills to fix programmed thought processes. This was something, I thought, that can only be fixed through a slow and prolonged reprogramming of thoughts. I was always in the natural-remedy camp. I had said to myself that I would only take antidepressants if it truly got to a point that my anxiety was taking over. Well, it had reached a point that I felt it was necessary to do so.
It was a decision that was informed by family, doctors and reddit. I had heard various horror stories. One male family member that had been on it in the past told me; ‘It helped, but the sexual dysfunction it caused was unbearable!’. This, coupled with online posts in forums that cited increased anxiety when initially starting treatment and my worries of antidepressants being an unnatural quick-fix, cemented sertraline as an anxiety inducing - not reducing - event. Nevertheless, I decided to go through with it. I had decided that even with those side effects, if it helped me deal with my anxiety even just a little, it would be worth it.
The day I received the medication, I was very hesitant to start. I thought ‘Is this pill going to change me, from the person I am to someone I’m not? Am I going to have all of these awful sounding side effects?’ My brain was telling me ‘Don’t take it. You’ve not had a bad day today! You don’t need it!’. It was true. I had a good day, but anxiety doesn't work like that. I had to remind myself of anxiety attacks at work, the negative thoughts I’d have about myself and the world on my worst days, the days that I’d feel so anxious I could barely make it to the shop… So, I took the first one.
Within the first couple of days, I was cured. I felt confident, my social anxiety was at an all time low and I liked myself! Only I wasn’t cured. It was a short lived feeling. The next two weeks I was back to anxious and negative thought patterns. And as for the sexual dysfunction, it happened. My family member’s prophecy was fulfilled. It is well known, however, that the positive effects of sertraline don’t come into effect until at least two weeks into treatment, and for some people it can take as long as eight weeks, so I decided to stick with it.
It has now been 5 weeks since I started sertraline (I am writing this on the last day of May), and things are looking up. I’m pleased to announce that; my anxiety, since week three, has become more manageable, I have not changed as a person like I irrationally thought I might, and the dreaded side effect I was warned about has not caused any problems. A supportive partner meant that it was not too much of an issue, and with time, the sexual dysfunction is no longer!
It isn’t all puppies and rainbows, however.
It has taken the edge off of my anxiety, but it is still prevalent. As of yesterday, after a review with my doctor, I have upped my dosage from 50mg to 100mg to see if it has more of an impact. And that's the thing. Antidepressants work differently for everybody. For some people, it works very well. For others, either a higher dosage is needed or a different antidepressant could be the answer. I will be writing an update at the end of June, a month down the line, to see how my journey goes.
The important thing, especially as men, is taking the first step and speaking to a professional about your issues if they are getting in the way of your day-to-day life. The next step is then working out, with them, what treatment is best for you. Once you have started treatment, it is flexible and doctors are open to seeing what works best for you. We are lucky enough to have free healthcare in the UK, and it is there for you, whether you feel like you are worth it or not - (Everyone is, wouldn’t you agree?).
The first step is always the hardest. Maybe start by speaking to family or friends that you trust. If you don’t want to do that, then clicking here will take you to the NHS’s mental health services page where you will be able to start your journey. If speaking to someone isn't something you want to do right now, then clicking here will take you to Kind to Mind’s free resources where you can work on yourself, by yourself. Take it from someone that wishes they had started their journey sooner: there is no better time than now.