Posted on 12 November 2018
An open letter, and a heartfelt thank you to Sarah Vine for writing this article
I read your article last month with great interest and decided to feature it in some way on my blog. I decided to take time to ask some of my own clients what they thought about your story.
Having spoken to some of the clients who attend my cognitive hypnotherapy clinic in Harley Street, they found your story moving and nearly all found it relevant and thought you had done a really positive thing in writing what you did.
I want to thank you for being so brave in going public about your experience of addiction to anti-depressants. Although things are changing, it is still hard to speak in public openly about mental health problems. This must be even more true if you are the wife of a government minister and know you are likely to be in the political firing line for anything you say.
Your story moved me, as it reflected what I so often hear in my cognitive hypnotherapy clinic. I see so many clients who have reached for anti-depressants in difficult times only to find it is very hard to come off them further down the line.
You say you became depressed after suffering from post-natal depression but at this time, you managed to cope and come through by having therapy and making life changes. That is heartening for others to know that it can be done.
But is this not always possible? For you, your husband’s rising political profile forced you off course and I found this part of your story particularly resonant. I remember a client telling me how she had coped with having two children in quick succession, even though she had felt very down after the first birth. She embarked on a course of hypnotherapy and relaxation techniques and managed to come through her dark times. Her husband was then offered a fantastic job in a different part of the country, but this was unexpected and she had no time to prepare. She ended up feeling isolated, had no coping strategies in place and things went downhill quickly. She also shared something else with you, Sarah, although on a smaller scale. Her husband’s new job meant she was in the public eye locally and felt that she was constantly being judged.
In my clinical experience, when a fear of having a public profile or feeling of being judged comes to the forefront, difficulties often follow. This is because it is touching something much deeper and you describe the feelings well: “I felt I couldn’t let anyone — not my employer, not my family, not the trolls on social media, nor my husband’s enemies, who would have been delighted to exploit any weakness — see a chink in the armour.”
The terms you use describe a feeling of being under siege. Feeling that you will be attacked for revealing your true emotions or for showing any sign of weakness, that any letting down of your guard will be used against you.
Again, this resonated with so much that I see in my clinic. This feeling of being ‘under siege’ sparks some of our most primitive emotions, that basic flight or fight survival mechanism. Unfortunately, for most of us who experience this in the modern world, there is no end to the perceived attack. So those emotions, and the heightened physical responses which go alongside them, just continue and are exhausting. As a species we are not made to be on constant high alert, it negatively impacts us both mentally and physically.
It is at times like this that we can turn to anti-depressants to try to cope, to try and help ourselves and anti-depressants can often work in the short term. You certainly found this, describing feeling sharper and more able to cope.
Very perceptively you recognise where this can lead. You say: “And just as if you mask physical pain with pills you can end up pushing your body beyond its ability, potentially making the problem worse, numb the emotional pain and you end up doing the same to your soul.”
So, what can we do differently to help ourselves?
I often put it this way: we cannot always change what happens to us but we can change how we deal with what happens to us. Sometimes that means accepting that everything is not perfect. Facing up to our weakness, saying ‘sod you’ to Internet trolls or journalists criticising your clothes or your figure. I am not pretending this is easy but I do believe it is possible and building a strong core of self-esteem is the absolute bedrock to this. This often means confronting our own belief systems and questioning that voice which is constantly telling us that we are not good enough or that we should be doing this or that.
We cannot always walk into a life of sweetness and light and things can be tough. When we have to do something which we find emotionally painful, it hurts and let’s face it, most of us are in this situation on a fairly regular basis. But developing a strong core, a centre of genuine self-esteem, can act as a self-protection mechanism and we can build a protective layer of strong, positive beliefs which can shield us from the most difficult times.
I am pleased to hear that you are trying to come off of anti-depressants and sad, but not surprised to hear that you have experienced some nasty side-effects.
A recent study has found that over half people who take anti-depressants will experience adverse effects when they stop taking them. Many like you, have found themselves on the treadmill of the first anti-depressant not working and then being put on a stronger drug.
You have managed to reduce the dose and say, “I may no longer be — in the immortal words of Pink Floyd — ‘comfortably numb’; instead I am uncomfortably but unquestionably alive. Alive to the world around me, to the people I love — and to myself, my own feelings and emotions that for so long have been sedated.”
That sounds to me to be an important step forward. I would strongly recommend that you see a specialist cognitive hypnotherapist as they will be able to help you overcome those negative voices and start to build that strong emotional core.
You are a brave and strong person. And you deserve space to accept your feelings, time to nurture yourself and further develop that inner strength.
I wish you well.
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