I'm starting a new decade on medication for anxiety and depression. For most of 2019, I felt mentally healthier than ever before, until I didn't.
From the outside looking in, I'm kicking goals and achieving great professional success. In the last three months, I've organised an art exhibition, launched my new website after months of work, started a copywriting business, produced art for two shows, and I've been published in a multi-author book.
Working from home over the last year, the healthy stress of building my business turned unhealthy while I wasn't paying attention. I slipped into workaholism because I absolutely love what I do. The problem, in my opinion, is that I put too much pressure on myself.
Work was the first thing on my mind every morning, after dreaming about it through the night. Solutions often come to me in my sleep. And Sleep! What a wondrous activity after years of insomnia. I felt FINE. Until I didn't.
I worked while the kids were at school or daycare, during the afternoon nap, after they went to bed. I worked while cooking dinner and snapped when they interrupted me. My 6-year-old asked me, "Mom, why do you work so much," and I would respond, "because it makes me happy," thinking I was setting a good example of a non-martyr-mother.
I looked at every opportunity to distract my kids so I could check my email or write a paragraph for a client. I set up my studio the night before a daycare-day, so I could make the most of every second of my 'free time.' I stopped going to yoga in favour of working. I ate lunch at my desk, often while listening to a podcast and checking emails.
Suddenly every responsibility became a chore to stress over. On a scale from one to ten, my anxiety was a solid 11 at all times. I felt jumpy, irritable, and frustrated. I couldn't get through a morning with my kids without yelling (or a school run, bath time, or the bedtime routine).
I packed my days so tightly that one spilled green smoothie on the kitchen floor threw out the schedule and sent me into overdrive. My adrenaline pumped while I tore my hair out.
Still, I felt 'happy' about finishing projects and slicing through my to-do list.
Then on a random Thursday, immediately after dinner I sat checking my emails and saw one from our rental agent (we sold our house a year ago to flip the table on our life) giving us 120 days to vacate the property.
We had only lived in the house for about 10 months and had been waiting to sign another two or three-year lease.
I tried to play it cool by problem-solving with my husband, but I think it's the straw that broke my brain.
I spent an entire weekend, either screaming or sobbing. For the first time, I felt completely out of control of my emotions.
Monday Morning I rang my GP. Tuesday I had a prescription for antidepressants.
The decision to try medication was excruciatingly painful. I tried Lexipro over ten years ago, for about 9 months, and I felt like a total zombie. I hated the way they numbed me, but it's something I needed to distance myself from a severe depression that prevented me from coping with my life at the time.
Because of my experience with the meds in my 20's, I refused medication every time my doctor or MCH nurse brought it up during the postnatal depression days.
What sucked, even more, is that over the last ten months or so, I've been happier than I can remember being since childhood. I felt satisfied, contented, fulfilled. Somehow I let it slip through my fingers, and it felt like defeat.
I worried that taking medication would dull my creativity or turn me into an emotionless husk.
In my doctor's office, I couldn't even get the words out without crying. She handled the conversation in the most supportive way possible and changed the way I feel about antidepressants. She told me I do all the right things, by eating well, exercising, and therapy, but "sometimes the environment acts upon you," she said. She gave me the example of an asthmatic going out into a pollen storm.
"You are not a failure," she told me as if reading my mind. "This is the nature of disease, you will have flare-ups."
We talked about the pros and cons of different medications and decided on Cymbalta. The plan is to try it for 6-12 months.
Three weeks on the medication, things started improving. The first two were rough. Physically I felt like I had morning sickness. And then the tiredness. So tired all day long. I felt fuzzy and couldn't concentrate or write. I felt my appetite dissipate but so did my anxiety- and this gave me hope.
I had patience during school pick up. I stopped yelling. I started looking my kids in the eyes. I left the phone on our kitchen bench. I stopped trying to multitask constantly.
Unfortunately once that anxious cloud lifted, depression lingered under the surface. Previously I didn't feel depressed, and I'm guessing that anxiety must have been propelling me forward in a stream of tasks and nervousness.
The flatness, the sadness, gave me even more reason to stick with the medication. Maybe this time, it's a simple matter of chemistry.
I withdrew from any activities that were not essential, and I was honest with everyone who needed to know at the time. About four weeks in, right after my book launch, I had a reasonable 24 hour period, where I felt like myself again. No depression, no anxiety. This gave me even more hope.
Two months on the meds now and aside from a bit of dry mouth and occasional nausea if I don't eat regularly, I'm feeling…I don't want to say, 'normal' because I hate that word…I feel like one big exhale. Like how it feels when you finally sit down after hours of standing. You melt into the chair without realising how much energy it took you to remain upright.
Maybe I got stuck in a heightened state, I'm not sure. All I know is that I needed to go on this medication because it's brought me back into myself. I think it might dull the top and bottom emotions a little bit, but I still feel a range of feelings.
To anyone struggling out there. I see you. I'm with you. There is absolutely no shame in doing everything in your power to feel better.
Resources for help with mental health:
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