the day I was prescribed antidepressants
By Alex Schelleman
The day I was prescribed antidepressants is also the day that I was pulled over by the police for being Victorian.
Yup, I’m a reformed Melbournian. A born-again South Australian. I’ve knelt at the altar of St Nicola, I’ve been baptised in the river Torrens, I’ve broken bread from the Clarendon Bakery. While I have blasphemed in the past, I am learning to say ‘parmy’ instead of ‘parma’ and now pronounce ‘Malvern’ the Adelaide way. It is a blessing and a curse.
The 800km divide between Mile End and Camberwell became even more pronounced during lockdown last year, as I struggled to come to terms with not seeing my family for an indeterminate amount of time. The joyful little tasks that filled my weekends were suddenly replaced with solitude. My yoga studio was suspended in semi-permanent Savasana, my favourite op shops closed their doors, and outdoor cycling was replaced with gruelling sessions on the indoor trainer. I was lucky to be employed, but it was challenging being employed in healthcare.
I’m a radiographer in a major public hospital. When COVID hit, we worked hard. Shifts were messy, with workflows and protocols changing every single day. We were all on edge. The anxiety of being infected, and subsequently being infectious, weighed on my conscience every time I left the house. My millennial ennui metastasised and hardened in to something gloomy, grey, languid. Existential fatigue seeped in to my bones, and I felt that no matter how much sleep I got, I was always tired.
It was a Friday at work, and one of the Consultants got short with me for not understanding what he needed during a procedure. There I was, sitting behind a CT console, surrounded by people, being bollocksed by a Senior Doctor. I was humiliated, ashamed, and lonely. I felt tears stinging the corners of my eyes, and I looked at the ceiling to try and stop the deluge. I disguised the few escaped tears with a wipe of my hand, and breathed deeply. I couldn’t let anyone see how weak and worthless I was. I couldn’t let the Doctor see that he had won this low-stakes game.
I left work after dark, the cold wind pressing against me as I finally cried fat, sloppy tears. Strangers looked at me with the sympathy reserved for Public Weeping, and I tried not to gasp as I sucked in the cold air, attempting to calm myself with slow breaths. I knew that my reaction was disproportionate to the actual event, but I couldn’t control it.
As I regained some composure, I called my mum. I explained it all; I lamented the pandemic, the border restrictions, the unsure future and the power imbalances at work. I cried as I got angrier, frustrated at nothing and everything.
‘Alexandra, I think you need to see a doctor’ She said, softly.
‘I think so too’ I hiccupped in to the phone
I managed to get a Saturday morning appointment with a GP, and dragged myself out of bed. After a discussion, I left with a script for Escitalopram. I’d done the hard work, I’d gotten there. I was exhausted, mentally committed to an afternoon of sleep, when I saw the flashing lights of the police car behind me. Not now, please not now. Was I speeding? Did I go through a red light?
I pulled my car over to the side of the road, and began to weep once again. I just wanted to get home, I was scared and intimidated and exhausted, like a child who had skipped an afternoon nap.
The officer did a double take as she looked in my window.
‘Are you…okay?’ She asked, hesitantly.
‘I’m fine…*hic*…I’ve just had…*hic*…a really hard day’
‘Okay. Have you recently arrived from Victoria?’
The penny dropped.
‘No, I’ve lived here for…*hic*…2 years but…*hic*…my car is still registered there. I’ve checked with Vicroads…*hic*…and they said it’s fine!’
She returned to her vehicle to investigate, and I sat by alone, thinking of the distance between myself and my family home. At that moment, the distance felt insurmountable. She returned to my window.
‘I’ve checked the registration and it’s fine. Just be careful driving home, hey? It’s hard to drive when you’re upset’
I nodded dumbly, and drove home.
June 2021 marked one year on Escitalopram. I got an incredible new psychologist. Medication allowed me the space to find my nerve, my audacity, my empathy and my happiness.
I still haven’t changed my numberplates though.
This piece was shortlisted in the 2021 mindshare Awards, presented by mindshare, Writers SA, Access2Arts, and the Mental Health Coalition of South Australia. More info here.