Wednesday, February 12, 2020

No Shame In A Life Vest

I have anxiety and depression. I have to say both, because both have raised their ugly heads lately, and as much as I've tried to whack-a-mole them down myself, it's difficult for me to accept help for my anxiety and depression. I hide it (or at least try to). And, I have this insidious, super-unhelpful association of medication (for me) with weakness, with failure, with the inability to handle things on my own, that REALLY works against me.

I remember back when I was a few IVF cycles into our hideous journey, having lunch at Panera with a friend who was also in the trenches and newly pregnant, and she asked me, "Do you think you should talk to your doctor about an antidepressant? Something to help during this time?" and I was horrified. NO. Absolutely not. I would go to therapy, I would do massage and meditation, but I did NOT want to go on any medications.

The thing was, I'd been on medication before as an adult, and it was towards the end of my first marriage. I had gone to see a counselor through my company's EAP because I felt hopeless and sad and anxious, but in my weird mind I chalked that up to medicating my shitty marriage away (who WOULDN'T feel that way when being told that they are crazy for suspecting an affair while also having things thrown at their head, being told they were a fat bitch all the time, and having someone routinely tell you they wanted to snap your neck while having hands on you?). I found out about the affair(s), I realized it was my "out" (to my eternal shame I needed that kind of out to leave, not being treated as a human worthy of respect and care wasn't enough), I set myself up in the over-the-garage apartment at the house my parents had just bought to retire to, and BAM! I didn't need the medication anymore. (Obviously this is a simplification, it took months to get to the apartment, I made terrible decisions and second-guessed myself frequently, and I have a bag of encouraging cards in my attic from people who clearly didn't think I was going to go through with the divorce to prove it.)

Eventually though, I learned to enjoy being by myself, beholden to only myself, even though I was turning 30 and about to have no job due to student teaching and living in my parents' house and on the inside, terrified of where my life was headed (had to be better than where I'd been) but very very grateful to all the support I had to get me through that time.

So I stopped taking the medication, and I felt good. I met Bryce. I started my teaching career. That had bumps and bruises along the way too, but I went from feeling like I was going to be adrift in uncertainty with the wreckage of what I thought my life was going to be all around me to firmly moored in a new life, that was so very different from before.

And then infertility hit. And as it kept hitting, I had that weird sense again of being in an abusive relationship, but with my body and my mind this time, and my coping mechanisms of trying to tightly control everything around me felt like they were wrapping tighter and tighter around my throat.

But I didn't want to take medication -- because I felt like I could do it, because I didn't want it in my system while trying to get pregnant, because I didn't want to claim it on my adoption paperwork. I think that's something worth looking at. I had to have a letter, yearly, from my therapist saying that I was stable and fit to parent, in order to be homestudy approved. I knew people who were also on medication and they had a harder time with clearance. Which is fucked up. So I was NOT going to add another thing to work against us in the adoption process (you know, other than being over 40, in a cousin desert, and nonreligious). So it took a breakdown to both end our adoption journey and make it so that I had NO CHOICE but to go on medication.

But now? I SHOULD BE HAPPY (is what my brain in need of help says). I'm not in a crisis. I'm not in a crap marriage moments from imploding, I'm not pumped full of hormonal nonsense, I'm not building my career from scratch, I'm not in any process that feels emotionally battering, I'm not actively dealing with a weird autoimmune eye disorder, I'm not in a house haunted with the ghost of the life we dreamed. I have a beautiful house, a beautiful marriage, a beautiful (if difficult) career, and other than recovering from the flu, I am pretty healthy.

What the hell have I got to be anxious or depressed about?

Well, apparently it's not necessarily situational. It's a part of me. And I suck at asking for help, or accepting help, and so in the summer when I was feeling pretty good about things I decided with my doctor that I could lower my dose of my medication.

You can see where this is going.

School started, and Bryce noticed that my anxiety levels were rising (of course I did too but chose to ignore it), and I shoved it down. I could DO this. I could deep breathe and do my pilates and things would calm down. I COULD DO IT MYSELF. I didn't need to go back up on the medication.

Except,.. I kind of do.

I've been feeling worse and worse and although admitting that I'm struggling is definitely a first step, the second step came the weekend before this past one, when I came home from a massage and just unloaded. See, my massage therapist had asked, "How are you doing today?" and I answered honestly. "Awesome," I said sarcastically. And then teared up. And then leaked my disappointment with myself all over the face cradle and gave myself a wicked stuffy nose in the process.

I wasn't awesome. I felt like shit. I feel overwhelmed, and like sooner or later everyone is going to see through me and see how hollow I am, and how undeserving I am to feel this way because I have a great life, and sure there's been trauma and sure a lot of things haven't worked out, but I have a wonderful husband and a beautiful home and security and a good job that I love, so WHAT'S THERE TO BE SO SAD ABOUT? And that's the hard thing to explain -- I'm not sad, as in something specific is making me sad. I'm just in a bit of a hole. I've been feeling...hollow.

BUT, I came home and put my big girl pants on and, through a LOT of tears, unloaded all this on Bryce, who very nicely did not say "I told you so" when I admitted that I'm not okay. I said that I needed to raise my dose. That clearly I need more assistance chemically.

And I did. Just that 25mg increase made a huge difference.  In just a week and change I already felt a sense of relief, even though now it's overshadowed a bit with the flu and my asthma giving my ribs a workout. I don't feel quite so hollow anymore.

I talked to the nurse practitioner about it when I went in for my flu swab. I said I was struggling, and it sucks to have anxiety and depression, because you feel like shit but your anxiety then just berates you for not being able to handle it and what have you got to feel so bad about anyway and shouldn't you be doing this and this and this and this and THIS instead? She told me to stop "Musterbating," which made me laugh hysterically (and then almost die of my asthma). She said I needed to stop looking at the meds as a crutch or a badge of shame and more like I'm in an ocean and it's my life vest. No sane person would reject a life vest. She also reminded me that being out of the direct trauma of our loss of parenthood was REALLY NOT THAT FAR IN THE PAST, that two years and change is really not that long ago. She was like, it's possible that your body is STILL recovering from all your hormonal manipulation. That 8+ years of trying to have a child and not succeeding isn't going to just POOF not be a trauma you're dealing with in a couple of years. It takes time.

Basically, she was like, YOU ARE BEING WAY TOO HARD ON YOURSELF. But in a very nice, very supportive way. So I made a plan to check in on the meds situation in two weeks.

It took A LOT for me to verbalize that I am not okay. I am a master of pretending I'm fine when I'm not. Bryce is a master of seeing through that, but he also knows that I bite when I'm vulnerable, like a fox in a trap, and he's figured out how to be supportive without being judgy or pushing me too soon. But I saw the relief in his face when I admitted that I wasn't doing too well, because it said I KNOW. Telling my doctor took a lot, too. Telling my therapist that I was feeling the anxiety rising to uncomfortable heights a couple weeks ago was also hard.

But raising the dose? The relief that I felt came faster than I thought. It is a reminder that it's not a failing, it's a chemical wonkiness in my body and like any other imbalance (say, my breathing), there is NO SHAME in addressing it with medication. It's not a sign that my life is going down the toilet. It's doesn't mean I'm miserable with my life, or ungrateful for all the things I have that are wonderful.

It was a good reminder that maybe it's not so great to keep congratulating myself on how strong I am and how awesome I'm doing post-resolution, because it makes me feel like I am putting pressure on myself to just be so grateful and celebratory about this new life we've built for ourselves out of the ashes of shattered dreams, and in enjoying the good stuff I'm shoving under a rug all the pain and losses that lie a few layers beneath where they used to, but still closer to the surface than I thought they should be at this point. It's very, very difficult for me to admit that I'm not okay.

Anyway, the upshot is, I'm struggling, but I'm working at it and accepting that medication is a life vest and not badge of weakness. Trauma is real. It takes time, and I have to be patient and kind with myself as I ride the waves. It was a big fat asteroid in 2017 that crashed into my ocean. It's okay that the waves keep coming and I need a vest to stay afloat.


  1. Thank goodness for your nurse practitioner too - she said everything I would have said to you, and more. "Musterbating!" lol But she's right - until that point I was reading and thinking, "stop beating yourself up, Jess." Even though at the same time I recognised snippets of myself in you too, so I can understand why you fought it.

    Being post-resolution doesn't mean everything is hunkydory all the time. Admitting this is, as you say, really hard, but it is part of our resolution too - acknowledging all aspects of life, the good and the bad.

    Sending huge hugs, and lots of love.

  2. I love the analogy of medication as a life vest. Of course you should grab onto that!

    I know how it feels to cry yourself a wicked stuffy nose in a massage table's face cradle. I'm glad it has led to you taking steps to feel better.

  3. Well yes that all makes sense. Loss of your parenthood dream and all that entailed is a form of grief and grief comes in waves and takes years to a recover from. So definitely cut yourself some slack. Hugs! I am so glad to hear the increased medication is helping and there should be no shame in taking it.

  4. This is such an important post Jess. Thank you for being brave enough to write it and out this out there. I have actually let this post sit open on my phone thinking about it because it hits SO close to home right now.
    My doctor described meds as being one piece of the puzzle to addressing mental health. Hormonal changes can actually alter our brain chemistry, which is part of what is going on with me. So many people need support to address these issues that they just don’t have, and this concern needs to happen to remove some of this stigma around having anxiety, depression, or any of the other mental health issue, as well as the need to be medicated for it. Personally, I have been talking a lot more openly about my struggles with coworkers, friends, family and it helps a ton not only to educate and receive understanding, but also it helps me not feel so weird about it all.
    And when I had my health breakdown over the holidays (that has since been ruled as mostly anxiety-related) I didn’t feel stressed out at all. We had just come back from an awesome trip to NYC, and I was tired, sure, and had a lot to do but I wasn’t freaking out or anything, and BAM it all hit. It can come out of left field and pull you under.
    Thank you so much for sharing your story, and putting it out there. You are not alone in this struggle. No of us are. (((Hugs)))❤️

  5. I am glad you have support.
    I'm glad you write. I'm glad your healing continues.

  6. It is SO hard to admit those things and it's truly excellent that you were able to do so. I'm really glad that the medication dose change helped fairly quickly. Life vest - yes!

    You went through a horribly tough war with infertility and that's a lot to work out/think through. Grieving those losses really does take time. I know that personally, I've found that (oh, the irony) *not* being in an external crisis in other areas of my life sometimes means that it all surfaces - maybe because I've got some brain space to deal with it? I don't know. I just know that it's a thing and anxiety/depression play their own roles in all of it as well.

    Echoing Charlotte above - you're not alone. Thank you for writing this and sharing. Lots of thoughts and hopes for you as you work through this.

  7. Oh, I'm sorry you were struggling again but glad you recognized it. I find I deal with the anxiety/despair/whatever much better when I don't expend a lot of energy ignoring it or telling myself it shouldn't be there. Which is a lesson I have learned over and over again (but better that than not at all).

    I'm glad you were able to get help, too. The only thing I feel obligated to mention is I have been learning a bit about benzodiazapine-class drugs because they have been in the news, and I'm quite shocked to learn certain things about them. So I'm hoping that's not what you are taking. (I don't think so, but I felt I had to mention it.)

    I hope you feel better and better as winter turns into spring!