Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Medication and the Anxious Girl

I've sat on this post for ages. Part of me sees public airings of what is most personal as the ultimate exercise in self-pity and self-promotion (in myself; somehow I can admire it in others). But when I asked Brian to read it over last night and tell me whether to publish, his question was, "Who's your favorite blogger?" So following Glennon's lead of no shame and total honesty, here's my story of anxiety discovery.

In the spring of 2012, I had a new baby, my husband had recently lost his job under extremely suspicious circumstances (read all about that here), and we were struggling to meet the needs of our older child with developmental delays. At a postnatal check-up, I dutifully filled out the required checklists: yes, I cry more than usual; yes, I worry all the time; yes, things seems hopeless. I thought nothing of these answers. Come on, who wouldn't cry or worry or feel hopeless in our circumstances?

As the appointment wrapped up, the midwife brought the conversation around to my answers and oh, so gently suggested those words...postpartum depression...and medication.

I dismissed them. I was sure it was all circumstantial. Once we pulled out of the mess we'd found ourselves in, I'd feel better. And there was no way I was considering medication.

But I did agree to see someone, and then a team of someones, and then one day I carried home from an appointment an important, doctor-signed little slip of paper with the horrifying word sertraline on it. I looked at it for a few days before filling the prescription. And then I looked at the little orange bottle for a few days before taking a pill.

And then I felt better immediately.

I don't really get that. An effect from 25 mg within 24 hours? It may have been all in my head. But as Albus Dumbledore said, "Of course it's happening inside your head, Harry, but why on Earth would that mean it's not real?"

A week or so later I said to my mother on the phone, "I didn't know people lived like this."

I didn't know.

I didn't know that most people in the world didn't live in a perpetual state of worry.

I didn't know that most people didn't live in a constant state of mild panic.

I had no idea there was another way to live...until I felt different.

And life did get better for us. My husband got a job, and we moved. We settled in to a new home; we found excellent services for our daughter; we made a new life. And through it all, I managed with the help of medication. I took my little pill regularly. Or, regularly enough to get an effect (don't scold).

source
But I hated it. I hate taking pills. I hate the idea of the foreign chemicals in my body. And I hate admitting that I can't do it myself. I am strong and smart and extremely capable. Why THE HELL can't I manage my anxiety through sheer force of will?

So I quit. And I thought I was fine. I didn't feel depressed, after all. But I ignored the signs of anxiety: the need for things to be just so and the quick temper when they weren't, the constant drive to do, do, do and never sit still in the moment. Those are my signs (or some of them).

I feel like I was an unoriginal copy of a character whose story you've read in books. The one who quits taking meds because he or she is fine when everyone else on the planet knows he or she is not fine.

And I was not fine. Fortunately, unlike on TV or in books, nothing drastic happened. Just something embarrassing:

I am a member of a women's only barbershop chorus, and I was a new member last spring, fumbling my way through the music, finding every moment I could to practice my part so that I could actually participate in the weekly rehearsals. One week, we were practicing one of our more difficult pieces, Route 66, which is both jazzy and barbershop in style with an especially difficult baritone part (that's mine). And I got more and more frustrated. I couldn't keep up; I couldn't find my place; I wasn't sure of my notes in spite of being so sure of them in my practice at home.

My face burned, and I felt a cold sweat break out on my back. To my horror, my eyes started to fill, making everything in the room blurry. In fact, nothing in the room seemed quite clear. The room was spinning and my hearing was fuzzy, and I knew I had better sit out for a minute and get myself in control.

Instead, I began to sob. Ugly cry, really. I could only take huge, gulping gasps as tears poured down my face. Poor Betty thought she taking a break to rest her knee and suddenly found herself sitting next to the newest member of the chorus having a nervous breakdown. "I...just...need...a...minute...to...calm...down," I managed to get out between gasps.

But I couldn't. I finally gave up and escaped the practice room in mortification. I was 38 years old; why on Earth could I not control myself?
 
I know why. Even in the moment, I knew, This is a panic attack. I knew for sure, for the first time, that that was what was happening to me.

And that I'd had dozens before.

All those symptoms were terribly, horribly familiar. I could bring to mind specific instances in which I had fallen to pieces taking a timed test, or when my parents were leaving for the evening, or when I realized I did not understand place value like everyone else (in college--yes, I don't think I really got it until my late 20s when I happened to observe a really gifted math teacher).

And, so when I next went to the doctor, I brought up the topic of medication. She said the most comforting words I've ever heard about it:

If you responded that quickly to medication, you have a chemical imbalance in your brain. You need medication.

It was my epiphany. I have a chemical imbalance. It's not that I lack will or follow-through. My brain just is simply not constructed to be notanxious. It needs assistance.

So I take my meds. Most days, unless I forget. But when I do, I go back.


Come link up your wants or needs post with Josie:
http://www.josie2shoes.com/2014/11/two-shoes-tuesday-106-wants-or-needs.html

43 comments :

  1. did I lose my comment? hmmmmm... you can eliminate this one if not!

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  2. DAMMIT! I did lose it!

    OK it was briliiant too!

    oh well, I just wanted to say that so often the organicity of problems like anxiety is overlooked. Meds are a viable adjunct for treatment and sometimes its necessary to admit you need them. You are very brave ! AND MY new hero!

    oh ... and .... a barbershop quartet?! WOW!!!! YOU ARE SO COOL!

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    1. I'm just saying--you always say your brilliant comments get eaten.
      Yeah, and I will admit I should be doing CogBehTher. I know, I know. But for now, while the kids are little, etc., etc.
      A chorus for 40 some, not a quartet. I am not that talented.

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    2. I think I figured it out... I think they get eaten when I use my work computer... this for instance is my second on this one... because I am not in my netscape account I am in google which no longer registers my blog so its sketchy about identifying me ... or not... who knows!?

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  3. Oh, girl. Been there, done that, started over again. I had an immediate reaction with sertraline as well. And a few months later got mad and thought, "I don't need them!" and then had one crying jag after another, mixed in with angry outbursts. Of course this is not who I want to be. Thankfully, my doc was of the "you have a chemical imbalance" crew and not the "you just need to get more sleep" variety. Stay strong mama. We're in this together.

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    1. Thanks so much for the comment of support, Melissa. As always, the "me toos" of the blogging world are so welcome.

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  4. For all the good effects of the drug it must still be annoying that you may be taking it for some time to come. It annoys and depresses me a lot to have to keep taking pills for blood pressure, cholesterol, chronic pain etc, etc, knowing that I will be doing so for ever despite the possibility of some negative effects. Perhaps I need sertraline to take away that feeling!

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    1. Yes, you should try it! No, I'm kidding. I can see how we have similar situations, though.

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  5. A diabetic can't go without their medication anymore than someone with anxiety or depression can go without theirs.

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    1. Yes, that's what I tell myself. Or a person with attentional issues without his or her medication.

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  6. This was absolutely NOT self-pity or self-promotion. It takes guts to share something this personal, and it takes guts to recognize that you need help, and that it's okay to need it. And what Vanessa said up there ^ is so true. But there is still a stigma, one that will only disappear when people stand against it. Like you.

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    1. Dana, thank you! I need that vote of confidence. It did take guts. I've probably played with this post in my mind for years, and I was waffling again last night. Thank you for thinking I did right!

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  7. Hi there. I'm new to your blog - found you via the Bloppies. I 100% understand EVERYTHING you're talking about here. Thanks for sharing your story! I write about depression and anxiety and it's always comforting to hear other women's stories. I will share your post on my Honest Mom page - I think people will really appreciate it. All my best - JD

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    1. Wow, thanks, JD! I sure appreciate that! I appreciate "meeting" others who feel similarly to me in this blogging world.

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  8. Thanks for sharing your story. Like you, I didn't like taking pills, but what you said resonated with me. I'm pretty sure I have a chemical imbalance as well since i felt better right after taking medication. I just moved so I need to find a new doctor to get back on the meds.
    Bianca @ Rant Rave Crave

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    1. I hope you find something that helps, Bianca. I know there's more out there I could be doing, but honestly, with small children, this is the measure I can handle right now. Thanks so much for commenting!

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  9. Man! I lost mine too! ERRRR! Anyways, what I said was basically, thank you for writing and posting this story. I don't know if I've always been prone to anxiety (probably), but when it was ruling my life and causing me to have LOTS of moments of blubbering mess over something that was ridiculous (and my rational brain knew it was ridiculous, but I just couldn't help it), I knew I needed help. And like you, I was prescribed Zoloft, and within days I started feeling better. Some days I think now I'm a little bit too indifferent, that I should care or worry more about things, but I can't stand the crazies, and I'm not putting my family or myself through it. I remembered what my friend who worked in the mental health field told me awhile ago about medications- if you don't need it, you would have a 'high' or abnormal feeling from the meds...but if you do need it, you'll just feel better. And I feel better. And I'm glad you do too. And I'm glad that there's something out there that can help people like us who have that chemical imbalance. It's a horrible thing to live with.

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    1. What is UP?!?!?
      I SO get what you mean by blubbering mess. Far, far too often.
      And I've heard the same as you. You'll know when you've gone too far. I actually stopped upping the dose before I felt funny about it, and now I am wondering if I should be a higher dose. I need to get back to the doctor. Thanks so much for your comment!

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  10. Vanessa took my answer! :D First, I was going to say the same thing - a diabetic wouldn't forego meds and neither should someone who needs it for anxiety or depression. If it's chemical, organic, the obvious answer is to fix that. Sure, behavior therapy would probably be good, too (I'm a big fan - I think everyone should get some), but in the meantime you gotta fix the chemical imbalance.
    Second, been there done that, got the t-shirt. In my 20s I had depression issues that required meds. Weaned off of them over a period of time and have been OK without meds. (Lord knows I take enough meds for other crap!) But I've stuck with the counseling over the years, on and off, when needed and not necessarily for depression - just because LIFE, you know?
    Third, the panic attack you described? Exactly what happens to me. And I can't breathe. And then my asthma kicks in. Know when they started? After the Hub's job was so rudely and suddenly eliminated. Seriously. Having to remain in that job in the same place that did that to him was definitely a situational impetus for anxiety issues I've never had before. And you know what else...since I'm gone from there? Since I turned in my resignation? Not one.
    I think you are brave and beautiful for telling your story. As you can see, you are not alone and your experience just may help another. That's all good!

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    1. Yeah, I had told myself what Vanessa said before. But, and I know you know this, sometimes the wording has to be right for you to really get it. I just didn't get it, or couldn't believe it, or couldn't just let myself be, until I heard that specific wording from my doctor.
      Yes, and I know LIFE. That's why I don't see someone regularly, though god knows I should. I used to, but that was in the days before children.
      I am still horrified thinking about you working a whole nother year (or two) in that place. So very painful. I'm so glad you're done.

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    2. Yup, that's very true - sometimes it has to be the right words, the right timing, and the right person saying those words. I get that. The heart is ready when the heart is ready and not before.
      Horrified is a good word - pretty accurate. And I know you can relate to what that scenario would feel like. Sucks doesn't even begin to cover it. Sometimes the part that bothers me is well, never mind. That's an offline conversation, I guess.
      And I absolutely love you for saying "a whole nother year" because I often use that phrase, despite my English teacher breeding. :D

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    3. I think I've actually heard you say something similar before--about needing to hear it at the right time. Another I use is "these ones." I am sort of ashamed/kind of like it. I caught M saying it the other day, too. Send me an email.

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  11. Oh Amy! I am so glad that you took the time and effort to share this important story with us! Not only did you learn a great deal about yourself and your life, but you shed light onto issues that so many of us deal with. While we would all like to be medication free for various physical or mental issues, the reality is that sometimes we truly need that medication to keep things in proper balance. Kudos to you for realizing that you were not doing ok without the meds and needed to get back to that plan. So often people fail to notice the signs in themselves until something truly disastrous happens. I am so proud of you for moving forward with your life, for being proactive in taking care of yourself, and for seeing the blessings that you have going on now! HUGS!

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    1. "Proper balance" is a lovely way of putting it. Thank you so much for your kind words, Josie.

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  12. Amy, best wishes to you. May all be well.
    Yes, medication is needed & our body wants it too.

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  13. SO, my dear....I've been a crappy friend, because I saw this on the Bloppies thread all day yesterday and I didn't come over. I knew I wanted to but part of me was very resistant (which is astonishing really, because self-promotion and self-pity and over-sharing are hand-in-hand-in-hand and right up my street) because...

    *sigh*

    ...me too.

    And because I've currently run out of medication and will need to ring the doctor's to re-book the appointment I cancelled, to have a review and probably get more. Because I fell off a cliff again at the weekend and I'm clearly NOT better yet. My brain hasn't suddenly magically rectified itself. And because this really, truly does mean that I have this anxiety thing. Or depression. Afuckinggain. Which definitely means no adoption ever (though it's already too late for that, I still feel guilty because now it's because of me, as well). And which means that all the thoughts - the same ones we 'me too's all have; worthlessness; incapability; weakness; stupidity; uselessness - are all settling down into their niches in my brain and waving the evidence at me.

    Well done you for being brave.

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    1. No, not crappy. I can see why you'd avoid it. Plus, there was all the Ferguson stuff yesterday to feel and react over.

      Do go to the doctor. Let meds help you banish those thoughts. Do contact me if you ever want to. I had fun planning with you even if I was shit at voice recordings and figuring out What's App.

      Well, I have such a great example of Brave in you.

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    2. You have a great example of dumbass in me. I don't want to go back cos she'll give me more meds and I'll stop being anxious and then I'll put weight on cos I won't be so panicked about it. And I already got my period for the first time in months, which means I've been eating more and ACK that sucks.

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    3. Lizzi! Don't make me scold you (because that would be counterproductive)! Just got your period?!?!? Make like American Thanksgiving and stuff yourself.
      This is all a joke, OK? But do eat.

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  14. Sarah, this is a wonderful post. How great is Brian to be so supportive. I know what you mean about not wanting to take the meds. You think you should be able to handle it yourself. I keep a small bottle of Xanax. I rarely take it. I don't remember to until after the meltdown. I don't know if it helps, but I feel better knowing it is there. PS. The photo of you and the baby is iconic - totally exhausted mother of infant.

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    1. I tried to find one that looked sad, but in most photos from that time, I am looking at him adoringly, and that didn't really fit. I also like it for the fabulous nursing cleavage which is long, long gone.
      Thank you so much for your kind words. I sometimes wonder if there was a bit of a placebo effect for me, too. Who knows? And what does it matter?

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  15. Oh Sarah, this is such a brilliant post. There's nothing I admire more in a writer than honest and you are a damn good writer to boot. I found myself holding my breath and reading faster and faster as the post went along. I really hope you get this published on other sites as well. We've come so far as a society in regards to attitudes towards mental health, but we have so far to go, and posts like this do so much good in changing things for the better. It's funny, isn't it, if we had a problem with our heart, liver or kidneys, we'd take meds to make it better without batting an eyelid - we'd think it was irresponsible not to in fact -but when it comes to the brain, so so many of us hesitate because there is still so much stigma and ignorance surrounding mental health. Thank you for your honesty. It inspires me to be more honest in my own writing. Xx

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    1. Lizzy, you are too kind! This is such a complimentary comment! Thank you!
      You're right that it's such a contradiction. And that's why I wrote it. Other honest writers (like you!) help break down barriers, so I thought maybe I could help, too. I'm so glad you think it will.

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  16. beautifully written and quite brave....all I can say things are much calmer in my household lately as well I took the leap finally and now seeing a doctor too at this point what I take is a little for me but more for my family. hey it is what is....TY for sharing this helped alot. :)

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    1. Yep, I understand that. And yes, I don't do it just for myself, but I need to remind myself that it's OK to do it for myself. I can do it for that reason alone.

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  17. Wow Sarah. I'm so sorry that it took all of that to finally get what you need. How freeing the words "you have a chemical imbalance" must have been and continue to be. Personally, I am not on any medication but I think about it, a lot... and it makes me wonder whether I need it. I, too, blame life circumstances on how I feel (am I not sleeping well because of my step daughter? am I not feeling happy playing because of her?? I tend to say yes... but maybe, it's time to ask a doc... I'd mentioned to my own doc at my last appt that I think I may be a bit depressed and she said "well that's normal" and so I dismissed it. Thinking about it now though - what a crap reply). I think you're brave and awesome to share!!!

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    1. That was a crap reply. I think it's always helpful to go see someone. You've got a lot going on with Tucker and your stepdaughter. I'm thinking of you.

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  18. What a brave and heartfelt post.

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