I’m Finally Happy—But That Doesn’t Mean I’m Cured

Some look at me with a relief that conveys their impression that I’m cured. Sorry, y’all, that’s not how this works.

The weirdest thing happened the other day: I woke up happy.

Despite the heightened existential dread under which we all now live in the U.S., thanks to a near complete overhaul of my personal life over the past few months, I’ve been experiencing random sparkling moments of joy. Other than some magical Christmas mornings and roller coaster-induced exhilarations on family trips to Cedar Point as a kid, there has always been too much noise in my head to feel happiness. Or love. Or any of the related emotions that sustain most people through hard times.

This new ability for emotions I had acknowledged intellectually — i.e. I knew in my head that I loved my cousin, my nieces, and my closest friends — to actually tug on my proverbial heart strings has been life changing in a way I didn’t expect. Finally settling on a treatment protocol for my generalized anxiety and major depressive disorders, making some changes in my personal life, and getting started working through my post-traumatic stress and sleep disorders has quieted the noise almost as effectively as turning down the volume on a TV.

At times I sit and revel in this new world that I have waited almost 30 years to access. I am relieved and grateful.

I am also acutely aware that none of this means that I’m cured.

The introduction of the SSRI Lexapro into my treatment protocol was a revelation.

My doctors and I had been treating my overlapping symptoms and deciding on diagnoses over the preceding two years, adding and subtracting medications and therapies as we all learned more about what lay beneath my surface. Over the summer, my therapist, Doc, and I determined that my major depressive disorder was wreaking as much consistent havoc in my life as my generalized anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders. So at my next psychiatry appointment, we yanked one of my anxiety meds and added a straight-up mood stabilizer; Lexapro tones down the bustling of the anxiety and pulls me up enough to avoid depressive episodes.

At times I sit and revel in this new world that I have waited almost 30 years to access.

Just a few weeks later I was running around telling everyone in my life how much I loved — no REALLY loved! — them. I was obnoxious. It felt great.

The complaint for most creative types whose bodies don’t tolerate Lexapro well is usually something like “I didn’t feel like I was as much myself; I was too toned down to create.” I laughed with my psychiatrist that “I’m really, kind of A LOT; I think we have wiggle room.” While my self-deprecating moment was worth a chuckle and reassured my doctor that we probably didn’t have anything to worry about, what the discussion, and the treatment process in general, has taught me is how important the right meds for my individual brain are.

I have a graveyard of abandoned meds from the past year — several to try and help me sleep that weren’t effective enough and a few for anxiety that had side effects I couldn’t live with. Now, however, one of my new emotions is the calm of being temporarily settled on which prescriptions at which dosages work to make me functional. Being in a perpetual trial period for one thing or another over the past two years was, in itself, exhausting.

Not everyone is the same, of course. And neither people nor their medical situations are static. I absolutely know that no one medication is a panacea — and medication itself isn’t a panacea. But after such a long wait, it’s a whole new world now that I can finally engage with my therapy and my life. The clarity provided by having some of the fog lifted has even allowed me to make important changes in my personal life.

As the Lexapro was taking hold (it takes several weeks to feel the full effects), I was suddenly able to feel how important it is to have the right people in my life. That may sound obvious, but being able to finally trust my feelings about the people around me was a brand-new experience.

I was gaslit as a kid by my parents about so many things that I continue to second guess my needs and emotions, often without realizing it. Thanks to this tendency, I was in several unbalanced relationships — both in the realms of friendship and dating. You know the ones: You put their needs ahead of yours and rarely point out that you aren’t being heard or supported while they insist they are doing all the emotional labor in the relationship.

My voice was drowned out — even inside my own head. And because the unbalanced relationships were taking up so much space, the amazing people I already had in my life were sidelined and I was too overwhelmed to consider expanding my circle. Then, one day in November, I could finally hear myself.

I ended the relationship with my boyfriend whom I’d thought was amazing; it turns out part of why he would only treat me well in waves was that I am “intimidating” and he could never talk to me “about things.” (Hint: When people can only make vague references to issues, it’s a pretty good indication that the relationship is unbalanced.) Apparently, I could fill gaps in his life from time to time, but overall I wasn’t really someone who made him feel good. That he could see our relationship that way when he was the one who pursued me, said he loved me first, and supposedly couldn’t imagine his life without me was the confirmation I needed to cut ties and move on — which I did immediately.

It’s a whole new world now that I can finally engage with my therapy and my life.

It turns out that when you put on your own oxygen mask first and seal off the emotional labor leaks in your life, amazing people flood in to take up that space. I started dating a great couple — they even came with me to Christmas Eve/first night of Hanukkah dinner at my best friend’s house. They were touched by being included, rather than put out by an invitation that would take up space on a calendar (a constant issue with my ex). And I’ve grown closer to the amazing woman who threw the dinner as well as my awesome roommate. For the first time in years, the holidays were a time of inclusion and love rather than feeling left out.

I still see my couple when we have time — the beauty of polyamory is that relationships can be flexible and evolve with the needs and schedules of those involved — and have been dating a couple pretty great women since coming out publicly as queer last year. Dating women I have so much in common with has created a whole new community for me that I wouldn’t have had the bandwidth to explore before the addition of a mood stabilizer to my treatment protocol. The additional support and kindness and just pure fun with people who get why I have rough existential dread days has changed my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

All of these changes are wonderful, and those in my network are genuinely happy for me. But some look at me with a relief that conveys their impression that I’m cured.

Sorry, y’all, that’s not how this works.

I know that there will still be rough days — a lot of them recently thanks to our Abuser-In-Chief-induced spike in PTSD nightmares. I know that there will be adjustments to my meds and my lifestyle. I know that the intermittent high-anxiety days where I can only get through thanks to my medical marijuana prescription and/or my psychiatrist allowing me emergency Ativan will continue, and that I won’t always have warning that one is coming.

I’m weary of the day where I will disappoint those folks who think I’m ‘all better’ now.

So while I appreciate very, very much all the well wishes and the outpouring of love, I’m wary of the day where I will disappoint those folks who think I’m “all better” now. My wellness goals will always leave space for bad days and depressive episodes, because realistic expectations prevent self-blame and despair.

I encourage those of you with loved ones, co-workers, neighbors, and others in your network who deal with mental illness and other chronic conditions to be sure your expectations of their progress and health leave space for their bad days as well.