I mentioned at the end of my last post that I would be talking a bit more about medication and how it relates to veganism. Obviously my last post made it clear that I believe wherever possible, if you can drop animal products from your lifestyle (including those in medication) then you should. But I do think there are exceptions.
If you google veganism or go on a trail of inspiring stories found on the internet, more often than not, the overwhelming consensus among converts is that magic seems to happen. Their anxiety decreases, their hair gets stronger and shinier, their skin clears up, they feel happier and healthier, and of course the weight usually just falls off once they cut animal products out of their life. My guilty secret is that while I wish I could add my own success to all the other stories out there, I can't.
I'm going to assume it wan't related to my shift to veganism, but unfortunately for me, my most serious health scare came shortly after I became a vegan. Bad timing. 2010 had been a tough year for me, but 2011 may have been even harder. The result was that in about September/October of last year I was diagnosed with depression. It was a shock to say the least, as someone with no history of mental illness in her family. I'm glad it was recognised when it was because it was a horrible place to be in, and I was able to be pulled out of it relatively quickly. My doctor who specialises in mental health was quick to precribe antidepressants to treat me but I wasn't so keen on taking them. These were mind-altering drugs we were talking about here, not just some antibiotics and I knew that if I did choose to commit I'd be staring down the barrel of months of strict drug-taking. My depression was telling me that there was no point trying to treat anything, that there was nothing to treat and that no treatment would work anyway. But I was approaching exam time at university, and after discussing my current state of mind with three separate experts on the subject, I felt reasonably confident, if very shocked, about my diagnosis. I decided my last semester at uni was too valuable to jeopardise and so I started taking the antidepressants.
Around the same time, I was given a new pill packet with lactose listed as one of the ingredients, and it didn't take me long to check the SSRI packet. Yep, lactose. This whole ordeal presented me with two dilemmas. First of all, I was a new vegan who was consuming lactose every night before bed. Second of all, my shift to a healthier lifestyle unfortunately coincided with a bout of depression. It meant I wasn't able to claim all the wonderful improvements that other vegans claim. It wasn't a dramatic shift to a healthier me, a me that was happier, stronger and more peaceful. Instead, I was at my lowest point: weak, afraid and sick.
Part of me thinks that perhaps my shift to veganism did have a role to play. I was suddenly so aware of all the endless atrocities that humans were performing against every animal imaginable. The grief and helplessness were overwhelming. I also became a vegan rather reluctantly; I have a massive sweet tooth and for a long while I was lamenting the loss of all the foods I couldn't eat. I found comfort in delicious food, and that security blanket was ripped away. Maybe these things were the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak? Or mybe it was just a case of unfortunate timing. Whatever the scenario, I'm here to say that the shift to a healthier lifestyle doesn't always have instantaneous benefits. I wish it had for me, but it just didn't.
Mentally, I'm stronger now (although it's quite disconcerting to be aware that your own experience of your mental strength may be due to medication you're on and not actually coming from within. This makes it difficult to trust that I'll be okay once I do stop taking the antidepressants). The difficulty I face is that I knowingly and willingly consume animal products. So why did I have such a strong opinion on this in regards on contraception? In my honest opinion, contraception is not a necessary drug. By this I mean (excluding rare cases of hormonal imbalance etc.) most people choose to start taking the pill to avoid pregnancy or to control their period, and they could stop it whenever they wanted with only a minor inconvenience in terms of finding alternate forms of contraception, or having to deal with bad skin or heavier periods. But once you start taking an antidepressant, it's a bit of a sentence. As much as I feel fine, I'm not stupid enough to ignore the role that this drug is playing in my brain chemistry and the havoc that it could wreak if I suddenly stopped taking it. Your metal health is not something you should mess with. Even if it means you're technically not a vegan because of the ingredients involved.
So, as much as I hate it, the way I see it, I genuinely don't have a choice here. I've been told that at least 6 months is an adequate amount of time to take the antidepressant, and when it's up, I'll be glad to stop. But until then, my mental health is more important than the trace amount of lactose I'm ingesting. It's a tricky situation, but isn't life full of those? I've experienced personally and secondhand how things can go wrong when someone is mentally unwell, and it's not a risk I'm prepared to take.