I promise that my blog won’t be this intense and heavy all the time! But I feel like I cannot truly move forward without sharing this story with you. If it helps one person with their decision, than it was worth it.
This is pretty much the story of why I decided to start taking antidepressants. I know some of you probably just got on them without thinking about it, which is fine and dandy. But I am an overthinker and an overanalizer, and this was a tough decision for me. It scares me to think about where I would be had I made a different choice. So I don’t really go there. But if you or someone you love is struggling with treatment options, this may be a good read. I’m going to start a series called My Toolbox (coming soon!) with all sorts of helpful tools for helping manage your panic disorder. But I do need to get the medication part out of the way first.
I have numerous favorite books that have helped me through all of this, but some of them spend quite a bit of time disproving the idea that anxiety/depression medications even work. They stress that you can be cured without medication. By all means, you can, and if you can, more power to you! But please don’t put pressure on yourself if you are a complete failure without them. I tried so hard not to take medication, to the point where I almost broke. Sometimes you just have to give in already.
So back to my story. I had my first big panic attack, and many others in the years following. 7 years to be exact (with the exception of my first pregnancy, when I was totally symptom-free) before starting medication. Wow, writing that out makes me realize how long I actually suffered. I wasn’t miserable all of the time, but when it was bad, I didn’t have the tools to help me in the right ways, so it just steadily got worse.
I was a preschool teacher for most of those years, and I can remember days when I could barely drive to work. I would try to take different routes that wouldn’t trigger the panic, but there are only so many ways you can go. Little did I know, the avoidance was just feeding the panic. I was just winging it. I would panic in silence while reading a book to the class. I would panic during meetings and conferences, but nobody could tell. I burried it deep inside and carried on with my perma-smile. I remember my jaw being constantly sore from the stress taking its toll. I would wake up at night with my teeth just chattering with anxiety.
I finally mentioned some of these things to a coworker, and I’ll never forget what she told me, that the other day she had to just “get up and run out of the room.” She was having a panic attack. I think this was the first person that I had really ever talked to about it, outside of my best friend and my spouse. She went to her doctor and he started her on Lexapro. I got his number and booked an appointment as soon as humanly possible.
I went to see this doctor, who talked to me for all of five minutes before giving me a sample pack of Lexapro. Although I was excited, something still didn’t sit right. Was this the right decision? How can he diagnose me so quickly?Does this guy even know what he’s doing?
I went home and took one pill. I remember tying my shoes and all of a sudden feeling like everything was in fast-forward. I started to freak out. Now I know a little trick called weaning on and off medication to help lesson their negative effects. Something Doctor What’s-His-Face forgot to mention during our short encounter. So I started calling people. My husband, my family, a friend or two. Most of them shared the same thought:
“You are the happiest person I know. You do not need to be on medication.”
So that was it. I believed in them more than myself. I decided to ditch the medication route and start talk therapy.
But then I got pregnant, and I felt great. Anxious, but in a good way. I was so overwhelmed with love and purpose for the little life inside me, that most of my fears melted away. I had a great pregnancy, and delivered a beautiful, healthy baby boy.
For the first few months of motherhood, I was in the total baby-euphoria stage. Sure, it was a total life change, and not a walk in the park by any means, but I was still so fufilled in my new role. My sweet Jack filled the gaping hole of love and acceptance I had yearned for my whole life. My bucket was full.
But as happy as I was, slowly things started to settle in. I went back to work when Jack was 8 weeks. I was juggling parenting, working, breastfeeding and pumping, lack of sleep, and the realization that I was totally committed to being a parent forever. All things I expected, sure, but you can never be fully prepared for the challenges this new reality brings. Before I knew it, my a-hole brain started emerging from the shadows. Sometimes I wish he would just announce himself with some grand gesture instead of slowly creeping back in. He would be so much easier to recognize. But he is just sneaky and mean like that. That a-hole.
Things were getting pretty bad and I could barely even see it. I did finally start talk therapy, but my claustrophobia had gotten so bad that I couldn’t even make it up to the office for my sessions. I remember the terror I felt in the elevator, the hallway, and in the waiting room. I felt like I was gasping for air, the walls closing in, so anxious to escape. Sweet Wendy would meet me downstairs in a restaurant nearby instead. We had some great talks, uncovered some past issues that couldve contributed to my anxiety; she even gave me some desensitization techniques. But our goal was to fight this without medication. I was insistant that I didn’t need it.
I had my big panic attack on the highway during this time. This propelled me towards rock bottom. Even though I had a sweet, happy baby that I loved to the moon and back, I was deeply saddened that he had a mother with these issues. My most important job as a mother was to keep my child safe and happy, and I felt like my fear was putting him at risk. Such a helpless, helpless feeling. The sadness became depression. I didn’t even know this until later, looking back. Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand, and usually one is a precursor to the other. In this case my anxiety had led to my depression.
I started having trouble sleeping I was so anxious. I had terrible, horrific nightmares. I’m still shocked at how bad these dreams were. All symptoms of my anxious state of mind. I could barely drive to work without being in a constant state of panic, and having my precious child in the car with me constantly only magnified my hopelessness. At one point, I was standing up teaching a lesson to my class, and I almost fainted. I was at my breaking point.
I woke up one morning after a bad night of awful dreams and little sleep, and I felt like I was on pins and needles. I was jumping out of my skin with fear. I had to wake up at 4:30am to feed Jack and then get ready for work. I’ll never forget walking into the bathroom, turning on the light, and looking in the mirror. I didn’t recognize myself. I know people say this casually all the time, but this was the scariest, darkest moment of my life. It was like I was looking at a different person. This was not me. I then had the most life-changing thought I’ve ever had: This person has to go.
I’m not sure if this counts as a suicidal tendency, and it pains me to even write down those words. I genuinely love my life and the people in it. I love being a mother, a spouse, a daughter, a friend and a good-hearted person. That person in the mirror, however, that person wasn’t any of those things. That person wasn’t me. I knew at that moment that I needed serious help. I needed to change my life ASAP.
My counselor got me an appointment with a psychologist the next day. She started me on Zoloft and gave me Xanax to “nibble on” in case the Zoloft caused more anxiety, which it did at first. I do remember going back into that fast-forward feeling, and I had some tightness in my chest. But for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t scared. I drove to work without worrying about it. I started sleeping again with no nightmares. Slowly life started getting back on track. The medication was helping me. It was what I needed at the time.
I know medication is controversial. You hear about Big Pharma, doctors getting paid off to write prescriptions, people giving ADHD medication to 2-year-olds. I know this is an abused and very subjective issue. There are risks and benefits associated with anything you do in life. Your circumstances may not lead you down the same road. Everyone has a different story. I’m just sharing my particular story of why I’m thankful that the medication was there when I needed it.
Starting medication for anxiety or depression isn’t something to take lightly. I’m glad I went to someone who was a trained expert, but I also wish I wouldn’t have waited so long. But, to quote one of my favorite songs by the Indigo Girls:
“With every lesson learned a line upon your beautiful face.”
I learned many great lessons on that bumpy ride. I’m learning more and more everyday. It’s a beautiful thing.
If you feel like starting medication is necessary to your healing process, do your research. Be your own advocate. Be vocal with your doctors about what’s working and what’s not. If they don’t listen, find another one who will. If I could give my two cents about picking a medication, find one that’s easy to wean on and off of. Also be patient. You may have to try on a few different medications before you find the one that works best for you.
True, I dislike being dependent on my medicine, and there are withdrawls issues if I switch or forget to take it. I will get off of it one day. But for now, I know I’m doing the best I can, and I am in a good place. A humble, joyful, grateful place.
If you didn’t hear anything else in this story, hear this: don’t wait until you are staring back at a stranger. Love who you are enough to get the help you need. Do not sit back and suffer in silence. You are worth more than that. Don’t let your fears distort your own reflection. You deserve to wake up, look into the mirror and love who you see.