This is a very difficult post to write. I have thought about it for a while, and decided to go ahead for two reasons:
- There is a chance that my experience will help others who read it.
- The process of writing is cleansing for me. As you probably know, I write under my pen name. This allows me honesty that I would not allow myself to have otherwise.
I have struggled with depression and anxiety for the better part of my life. I always cried easily, was more sensitive than most and spent a lot of my childhood with my feelings hurt. The slightest perceived insult caused my eyes to fill up with tears. My painful shyness had me rehearsing every word that came out of my mouth before I said it.
In my childhood, I came to the realization that I was smarter than average. Accelerated classes, the suggestion to skip grades, prompting from teachers to participate more. I wanted to hide whatever abilities I had if they demanded that I make myself more public. Depression, anxiety, shyness and being an introvert is a fateful cocktail. One memory sticks in the forefront of my mind as I write. In art class, in 5th grade, the teacher raised my painting which had been put aside to dry. He asked who did it. Instead of raising my hand to take credit, I hid in the back for fear that I had done something wrong. When no one answered, he was really confused. He saw me staring at him, and came over to me and sat down on the chair next to me. He asked me again, and I said it was mine. He sensed my fear or whatever and patted the top of my hand. He told me that he only wanted to tell me that it was beautiful.
Fast forward to my twenties, it was a time when labels weren’t used as they are today. People didn’t speak proudly about their therapy appointments as if a luxury. To my knowledge, anti-depressants were a hidden reality, rather than a luxury drug openly advertised on TV.
I lived my life. Aware of my limitations, sadly never thinking how the self-imposed rules actually placed boundaries on what I could accomplish in life. I allowed myself to remain within my self-created cage built by my rules and fears. I was tearful and shy. I rarely challenged myself for fear of losing or facing the opinions of others. Words hurt. I don’t want to be hurt. Avoid engaging. Avoid pain. It did not always work that way, but I am sure I spared myself a lot of pain. I am also sure that I prevented myself from experiencing a great deal of joy.
If you are afraid of what someone will say about the way you run, when you run with a kite, you never get to experience the feeling of the wind in the kite. I have a long list of things I never let myself do, for fear of looking like a fool.
The depression component of the cocktail hit its stride during my divorce. For the first time in my life, I sought out medical help at the prompting of a friend who found me crying in the back of a bowling party for my son. She insisted that I see her doctor, and open my mind to the possibility that I needed medication to help me get through the days.
I spent the next several years on and off medications like Zoloft. Thrilled when I had reached a level at which I would not spend my days crying, but deeply frustrated that I was unable to cry when I needed to. Had my tears dried up? Can we simply run out of tears, or was there something else going on? The decision was made. I slowly weaned myself off of the medication. I was determined to live with the tears. It was better to feel, than not to feel.
I was done with the divorce. Crisis averted. It was time to feel life again, but feared life without the crutch.
Deeply sure that my bio-chemical make-up required me to be on an anti-depressant, I was relieved when my rheumatologist mentioned a medication that treated both depression and the pain from fibromyalgia. Having been off any meds for a few years, I jumped at the opportunity to try the new drug. Gradually increasing the dosage, the pain did not disappear, but the sensation of sadness and loss of control over the tears was going away. My equilibrium was restored. My skin and joints still hurt, but I could speak to people, and be more in control of my feelings.
At one point, I knew that something was wrong. My head did not feel like my own. My thought processes seemed slower, and my short term memory seemed to be failing me with more frequency. Quick to attribute it to turning 50, I existed in my life and continued to take care of others. Desperately connected to my planner, for fear I would forget something that was really important.
One sleepless night, a connection was made. As my dose of medication went up, I seemed less in control of what was going on in my head. My mind seemed to be covered in a cob-web like block that kept me from clear thoughts…. The drug had become my firewall… allowing only certain thoughts to get through. It was like a blocked drain, only allowing water to slowly trickle, rather than flow. My thoughts were blocked. I no longer owned the free flow of my thoughts.
I made the decision, with my doctor to follow medical protocol and wean myself off of the medication.
The first evidence of it being the correct decision came one day when I woke up and it felt as though someone had literally cleaned the cobwebs. Thoughts flowed… beautifully… so have the tears.
It’s a battle. It’s a choice.
I am aware that I have a problem, but I am trying to deal with the depression in other ways. I have remained on a low dose and feel good for now. When I am sad, I exercise. The hormones released through exercise can be as uplifting as any drug. I force myself to do things that I know I once enjoyed. I have taught myself to remember what made me happy.
It isn’t easy, but nothing worthwhile is easy.