Because I couldn’t say it on the phone
This morning I received a disturbing phone call with news that reminded me once again that spring (March in particular) can be difficult and far too often deadly for those of us who struggle with mental health. My psychiatrist/pharmacologist explained this phenomenon to me years ago: the rapid change in light during this season, he said, roughs up those of us who have unique circuitry in our brains, even if we’re medicated. Even if we’ve eliminated the toxins from our diet and meditate on the beach and have hours and hours of raucous sex with the person we love.
On my website dooce® I’ve written extensively about my struggle with depression and anxiety and have tried to remind my audience during the equinox to be more forgiving of themselves and their frustrations. Hopefully your string of bad days will pass as the amount of daylight becomes more consistent, and the feeling of having someone’s knee pressed to your throat will subside.
About eight years ago I wrote a post addressing certain people in my personal and offline life that I hoped would help those in my online space. I felt an urge and a duty to lay open even more of what I had overcome in written words, because the person who needed to read and hear it the most would never have listened if I’d said it over the phone. Luckily, she read it, and after assigning me a few nicknames filled with expletives she told me she was making an appointment to see a therapist.
The following is that post from eight years ago rewritten slightly to reflect certain changes in my life. I wanted to bring it here to remind anyone who is reading this and needs to hear it that you are not alone.
I was recently at lunch with a few friends, one who had just been diagnosed with OCD that manifests itself in a need to straighten up everything around her, and I was all really? That’s considered OCD? Because I thought that was just considered BEING ALIVE. And because she hasn’t ever read my website she asked if I had ever been treated for a diagnosis abbreviated with capital letters. I looked across the table at my other friend, someone who is very familiar with what I have written on my website, and she almost gagged on an ice cube. I nodded and then explained that I’m in ongoing therapy for what’s called C-R-A-Z-Y.
I feel like I need to say something today, right now, about my feelings toward therapy and medication, because in the last couple of months I’ve watched several people around me suffer needlessly because they were either too afraid or too arrogant or too humiliated to take care of their mental health. And I guess I’m trying to understand why anyone would resist trying to work through an issue that is making their life miserable, and that maybe if I came out and talked about what I have been through and how I feel about what I’ve been through, that someone may feel a little less embarrassed about getting help.
I suffer from chronic anxiety and depression, and I believe it started manifesting itself when I was in high school, maybe earlier. I didn’t seek treatment, however, until my sophomore year in college when I was on the brink of dropping out, when I finally called my father and exposed a very dark side of me, explained that I did not have the ability to cope no matter how earnestly I prayed or how many scriptures I read or how hard I tried to get over it. My mother had always sensed this about me, had watched bi-polar disorder wreck the lives of several of her brothers and sisters, and she had to convince my father to take this seriously. A week later I saw a therapist who prescribed Zoloft. That medication changed my life, lifted a dark cloud that had been tormenting me for years, and I stayed on that drug, healthy and happy and able to cope, up until my ex-husband and I decided that we should try to get pregnant.
I never should have gone off that drug. I know this now, having suffered terrible postpartum depression that could have been avoided had I seen the red flags in my third trimester, had I taken early steps to deal with the symptoms. But three months after my daughter’s birth I was an inconsolable, suicidal mess. I was beyond repair, and all the drugs I tried in the following months would only make things worse: Risperdal, Ativan, Trazadone, Lamictal, Effexor, Abilify, Strattera, Klonopin, Seroquel. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t unclench my jaw or hands, couldn’t imagine how I would get through another ten minutes. After weeks of threatening to leave my ex if he had me committed to a hospital, I finally gave in and committed myself.
Because I was under constant supervision, my doctor in the hospital was able to give me therapeutic quantities of drugs immediately: 40mg of Prozac, 10mg of Valium, 2400mg of Neurontin. It was a combination he had given to countless women who had suffered postpartum depression, one that had worked time and time again. I felt a difference within two hours, and if you ask my ex he will tell you that when he brought my daughter up to the hospital that afternoon to have lunch, he saw Heather for the first time in seven months, not that awful woman who liked to throw keys at his head. I truly believe that my doctor in the hospital saved my life. I owe that man my life.
In the years since my hospital stay I have tapered off Valium completely and now only take 300mg Neurontin at night. I still take 40mg Prozac every day, and here’s where I cannot be emphatic enough: I will continue to take it or something like it for the rest of my life. I will not ever be off medication. I continue to see my therapist, not every week or even every month, but whenever I hit a road block and need someone to help me talk my way through it. Sometimes I have bad days, sometimes bad weeks, but the medication enables me to cope, to see a way out and over those times. I am not ashamed of any of this.
Too many people are needlessly afraid that if they take medication or even agree to see a therapist that they are in some way admitting failure or defeat. Or they have been told by their boyfriend or their mother or their best friend that they just need get over it already, and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Well then, let me be weak. Let me be a failure. Because being over here on this side, where I see and think clearly, where I’m happy to greet my child in the morning, where I can logically maneuver my way over tiny obstacles that would have previously been the end of the world, over here being a failure is so much better of a life than the constant misery of suffering alone.
Yesterday I wanted to say this to someone but didn’t. I’m afraid she will stop talking to me about certain things because I’m not telling her what she wants to hear. She wants me to tell her that she is right and that if she ignores a certain very large problem it will go away. But I don’t understand why being right is more important that being happy, why someone would go on living with a sick, nauseating swarm of junk in her stomach rather than trying to figure out how to fix it, because the act of even admitting that she feels this way is somehow a character flaw.
All of this is to say that I am a success story. I am a victory for the mental health profession. And if you’re even the tiniest bit on the fence about therapy or medication or herbs or acupuncture or prayer or meditation, whatever it is that you would turn to to try and pull your way out of sadness but are afraid to because of all that it would mean, here is this crazy woman in the Utah desert who admitted and accepted all of those horrible things about herself and in doing so found a better life.