Depression, Anxiety and Meds

So, where to start? Big news first I guess. As of today I’m on an anti-depressant for the first time in my life. I have a feeling I should have looked into it months ago. As you might have guessed from the previous couple of posts, things are not so great in my head at the moment.

(Apologies, this is going to be long, rambly and possibly incoherent. I need to rant today.)

Mind you, they’ve not been great for a while. Kinda seems like I just swing from one crisis to the next, you know? There’s no denying the PhD’s been hell every step of the way, but also I am a terrible procrastinator? Or a lazy fuck? Who can’t be arsed? Who is making excuses for her own failings, when she should just. be. working. already. for. fuck’s. sake.

And yet, if I said those things to a friend who was struggling to work, I would be a horrible person, so why the hell am I accusing myself of those things? I think this might be a serious case of the Sneaky JerkBrain? Because only a Sneaky JerkBrain would think that being a jerkoff douchecanoe will help motivate me? Because what I really need right now is a bag of guilt pulling at my heels at every step?

What scares me most is “what if the hyper-self-critical voice in my head is telling the truth?” What if I am a lazy bum who’s just making excuses? I should be ashamed of myself. I would if I were you.

It’s just not good enoug, you know? Any normal person can sit down and work and not leave it all to the last minute. Perhaps I really am crazy. Perhaps I really do suck at this.

God. Isn’t the inside of my head fun?!

I should be proud of myself for going to the GP and asking for the help I think I need. It would have been better if I’d looked for it sooner, because if it takes a couple of weeks or months for the meds to help, well by then it’s already too late. That’s my two months left to to complete the PhD in, gone.

And hell, what if the meds make it worse? The most common side effects boil down to the drug making your depression/anxiety worse, giving you a load of different digestive side-effects (I’d rather my IBS didn’t come back, thanks very much), or making it difficult to concentrate on difficult or complex tasks. Such as writing a PhD. The common side effects affect 10% of patients and I’m sure no one gets all of them, so there’s a good chance side-effects won’t be an issue, but what if they are? What if they smash my libido? Been there, done that, rather not do it again thanks. Worst of all, what if they trash what little motivation and concentration I have left?

Anyway, lets move on to how real life people were or weren’t helpful today.

Mum’s been a star. I am so glad I am at home where she can give me a cuddle. She helped me write a really difficult email to my supervisors, summarising what the situation is. She was calm and reassuring about meds as an option and she has been so supportive.

Contrast her to Dad, who was less than stellar today. The mega irony of this is that he is the one who’s had chronic depression on and off for 30 years or more. His opinion of drugs was low to say the least, and he would not shut up when he was not being helpful. Hell, I told him out loud in ACTUAL words* that he was being irritating and unhelpful and could we please change the subject, and he still wouldn’t! Argh!!!

Because no, I don’t want to give you daily updates on how many cells I’ve tracked, thanks very much! I DON’T want you breathing down my neck every half hour, thanks.

Also winning unhelpful points today were both the GP and my best mate.

The GP was the most uncommunicative, taciturn Doctor I’ve encountered in a while. There was no explanation of drug choice, or discussion of possible side effects, or even a statement to the effect of yes, you seem to be depressed – crying in my office is one sign.  Yes, I should have asked questions. No, I didn’t. That would be because I was crying and forgetting all the coherent, intelligible words I had planned because I was scared he both would and wouldn’t think I was depressed and anxious. Because on the one hand, yay, validation, things are as bad as I suspect, and no, feeling this way most of the time is not in fact normal. On the other hand, well, yep, I really am fucked, and it is probably going to take a while for meds to help, i.e. time I really don’t have, and I am going to have to find some way, any way, to power through and keep (attempting) to work.

I was expecting my best mate to be better, frankly. She’s got more than enough first and second-hand experience of a variety of mental illnesses and issues but turns out she’s pretty anti-drugs. Which I was not expecting. Sigh.

The prize-winner once again however is my Supervisor.

I sent a reminder of the first email because it had been four days since the first one, and eventually got a response.

This went:

I was busy. I was busy. I was busy. I was busy.
I was busy. I was busy. I was busy.
Best wishes,
Name Redacted.



There was no “I’m sorry to hear that this is the situation you are dealing with (again). I will get back to you properly as soon as I can and will fully address the concerns described in your email. Speak to you soon. Signed, the Boss.”

I was minutes away from clicking send on a snotty email saying you could at least have let me know you read it, because usually you either don’t read or don’t respond, when I got a phone call from a private number.

It was him! Goody!

50 minutes of my life spent umming, ahhing and yessing in the right places while he talked at me. Again with the not asking how I am. It was all perfectly reasonable advice… for someone who is a little bit stressed but whose brain works reasonably normally.

The best comment was “you need to get the momentum going so you can see the progress you’re making. That will make you feel more positive!”. That would be great if I was finding ANY satisfaction in the work I’ve “completed”. What I am instead getting is a massive pile of “One down, two thousand, six hundred and seventy-five things to go. All by Christmas!!!” I’m not getting that moment’s pause of “okay, good job. Next!”

I should be able to live with the uncertainty of “finished for now, barring a final round of editing, work” but it is doing my head in. I don’t know if what I’ve got so far is going to be good enough, and I won’t know until it’s all done, at which point it feels like it’ll be way too late to do anything about it.

He was doing his best to reassure me that I’ve got what it takes. That my writing is good, that I do have plenty of data, and I do understand it. But what he doesn’t seem to get is that those are not the problems. The problem is that, for whatever reason, I cannot seem to apply myself to the task at hand. That I cannot find the motivation and calm necessary to sit at a piece of work for half an hour and just get on with it, without getting up every five minutes, or feeling the temptation to “just check one thing on the internet”. Becuase just thinking about the big, horrible, no good work I have to do makes me feel anxious and emotional.

Ugh, just writing those last two sentences had me all nervous and edgy.

Becuase the huge irony? This post is 1,400 words and it’s taken less than an hour to write. I’m not even finished. I could go on. Writing is not the problem. The feelings are.

I hope to god these meds make a difference. And soon.


*Captain Awkward would be proud!

6 thoughts on “Depression, Anxiety and Meds

  1. First of all, all the sympathy and internet support in the world. You were brave to go to the doctor and it’s awesome that you’ve got meds. Someone close to me had really bad depression – like, basically-not-getting-out-of-bed-for-about-a-year bad – and it’s been amazing to see her come back with the help of some good meds. I always intellectually knew that depression was your brain attacking you, but seeing it first-hand has been like: wow, it REALLY is your brain attacking you! Like, no wonder you’re having trouble being productive, you are in the middle of a crazy battle.

    Second, I don’t know if you’ll find this at all helpful, but a group of PhD students at my school have been getting together to talk about stuff, and some of it is relevant. When we asked what everyone’s biggest weakness was, EVERYONE said some version of “trouble completing things,” “can’t pay attention long enough,” “anxiety.” EVERYONE says they’re not working fast enough or hard enough. Not everyone has depression (…I hope) and it sounds like your fight is gonna be tougher, but you don’t need to be ashamed or beat yourself up. Everyone trying to do a PhD is right there with you.

    Also, we’ve come up with some strategies. One is: making SUPER detailed to-do lists. Not “Write chapter 1” but “Write the first two sentences,” or maybe “Make lunch.” Another is to put things in order, so when you finish one thing you don’t have to spend mental energy deciding what to do next, you just do the next thing. Another is to block out some time – could even be just 20 minutes – and say “Okay, I’m gonna try to work for this chunk of time, and afterwards I get a break, and if I put in the time – even if I haven’t been very productive – that counts as a win.” Another is to notice when you tend to have more energy and try to schedule work-time for then, rather than trying to brute-willpower your way through 2pm (or whatever your sleepy afternoon time is). Another is to think of yourself like some cute animal – if there was a puppy trying to do a PhD, and he didn’t get a lot done one day, you wouldn’t attack him, right? You’d be like “Good try, cute puppy, let’s try more tomorrow!”

    • Thanks Anonphd. I am taking all the internet sympathy and support I can get right now.
      Also thanks for your story of seeing meds make a difference to your friend. That rule where you should ever google medical things if you don’t want to induce a nervous breakdown? Yeah, oops. Apparently some people can’t read the parts of threads that specifically request ONLY positive stories. Sigh.

      Oh gosh am I a little jealous that your school has an actual PhD support group! It’s good to be reminded I’m not alone.

      The super-detailed to do lists is a very good idea thanks. I might have slipped back into using them to beat myself with. I’m also appreciating the not kicking the puppy imagery. 🙂

  2. I have been where you are. You are not crazy. Yes, your feelings are valid and a not uncommon side effect of The PhD. It will be ok. I found it helpful to think of what the worse thing that could happen would be and work out how I would deal with that, if that happened. Once you know whatever that worst thing is won’t kill you, there is a certain peace to be found. I found anyway.

    Can you ask for a sickness leave of absence? I took a month off and it was the hardest and best thing I did for my PhD, and me. Although the me part felt inconsequential in comparison to the all consuming need of the selfish bastard that is The PhD.

    It is great that your mum is being supportive. Forget the rest. Cut them out until you feel better. It feels selfish and wrong but your health is more important and they will be there when you are ready to deal with them and their issues, if you want to, as that is all their unhelpful noise is. That is the biggest lesson I learnt throughout this hell. It isn’t selfish/bad/terrible to say “no”. “No, thank you, I don’t need to listen to you/meet you for coffee/listen to your shit”.

    Please take a day off. You need to rest and then work out a plan. I highly recommend the take a month off plan. You are more important than The PhD.

    I really didn’t mean this to sound bossy, but I think it has. This is something I feel passionate about and noone speaks about it. You will be ok. I promise.

    • Lizzy, thank you. It is something I feel strongly about too!

      I can indeed take a month off as a leave of absence. I did it last year because of the stress. But I am undecided. The advantage of that would be a bit more breathing time, and I could let myself not feel guilty for working at a much slower pace while I (hopefully) get better. Of course, the recommended thing would be to take the time off as time off, but then I’d come back to another two month period of hell with little fixed except maybe somewhat my emotions. Which would in fact be better than where I am now. The downside of time off is that it adds to the feeling of “oh, God, I am NEVER going to be done with this THING.” I so badly want it to be over but it’s like the ‘we’re going on a bear hunt’ book. “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We have to go through it!”

      As for the worst that could happen? I could drop out completely, with no qualification to show for the last four years of hell. HOWEVER, seeing as I don’t want to do any of the obvious things a PhD qualifies you for, that should be slightly less of an issue, especially if I sell my transferrable skills right. Failing that, run away to sea and do tall ships full time. Oh yes.

      I am going to make “No thank you, I don’t have to listen to your shit” my new mantra. 😀

      thanks again, not that “thanks” covers it.

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