If you have struggled with depression and anxiety, this piece might speak to you. If you haven’t, you might get a sense of what it is like for people who do.
I have been taking anti-depressants on and off since I was 29. At the start, each medication seemed to be working. Within a few days of the first kind I tried, I could feel a kind of veil of depression fog lifting. The pain disappeared from my chest. I could breathe. I could get through the day without crying. For whatever reason, however, the second or third time I went back on this same medication, the relief did not seem to last. Extreme anxiety and panic seemed to be occurring regardless of the medication, so I decided to try wean myself off of one and try a second kind this past fall. After a couple of weeks, I again felt some relief; however, after a short time I seemed to be experiencing more of the side effects than the positive effects of the medication. Namely, I have come to learn that I am one of the lucky 22% who experience vivid dreams and extreme night sweats from SSRIs. As a woman, I recognize that I have hot flashes to look forward to, but I really have no desire to hasten the process before its time.
For me, anti-depressants have become a kind of “you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t” kind of Catch-22 scenario. My husband and I have talked about it a lot. Staying on the medication means I am still experiencing anxiety and stress and also not sleeping. I have thus begun to wean myself off the second medication. I found that the night sweats disappear after three days without the medication. However, I also knew that I needed to continue to take at least some amount of the medication so avoid symptoms of withdrawal. After taking a lower dose and going through two more nights of waking up drenched in sweat every one to two hours, I told my husband I just couldn’t take it anymore.
Well, tonight you won’t have any, he said.
That’s true. If previous experience…, I trailed off.
Previously, on Marieke, my husband began in an interpretation of a television series narrator recap. The new Aaron Sorkin series.
I laughed. What else can I do? My life may feel ridiculous at times, but it is mine.
I have spent the past 10 years trying to figure out what was “wrong” with me and how to choose happiness over suffering in pursuit of a sustainable life. I have tried two different SSRIs (anti-depressants that boost serotonin levels in the brain). I have seen at least four different therapists and tried several different forms of therapy. I have spent hundreds of hours studying and practicing yoga, meditation, walking in the woods, swimming (when I lived near a pool), writing, reflecting, and talking with my husband about all of this and more.
Here are some important lessons I have learned (at least, I think they are important):
- There isn’t anything wrong with me.
- I am very sensitive, and this sensibility can make life in this particular world very challenging.
- A therapist who is the right fit for me is invaluable.
- The pursuit of a joyful life can make other people uncomfortable to the point where they may even act out of fear in ways that are hurtful to me.
- Choosing a grounded, wise, patient life, loving partner is the best decision of my life.
- Getting a dog does not make life less stressful.
- Diving into the things that cause me stress cause stress and also offer opportunities to practice how to understand, embrace, and hopefully someday transcend the ways stress manifests in my mind and body.
- The way I experience the world is unique to me, and so I am the only person who can really understand “me” and learn to communicate my own needs and wants.
- Actively listening and practicing empathy does not mean filtering another person’s experience through my own and offering advice that would make sense for me.
- Keeping a mood journal is a good idea.
- Screaming can help alleviate symptoms of physical and emotional stress, but it may not be the most efficacious method of therapy when living in a densely populated area (aka, anywhere outside of Alaska).
With the invention of panic pills, I am able to get a sense of what it is like to be “normal,” and I can tell you that I wish I could snap my fingers and feel this way all the time. Since I am not Mary Poppins, I do what I can. I am grateful for all of the methods I have learned for coping with and moving through anxiety and depression. I read. I ask questions. I write. I sing. Sometimes, I scream. Sometimes, I cry.
I am not solely a person struggling with anxiety and depression. I am also a person with a great capacity for joy and an enormous, albeit sensitive heart. I am an artist. I am a writer, a yogi, and a musician. I am a daughter, a friend, a wife, a sibling, and a caretaker for any being in need. I love to eat good food and to laugh. I treasure the tradition of snuggling under the covers while reading a book out loud with my husband at night. I love sitting here writing while my wolf dog sleeps soundly at my feet.
I love that I am alive, and I am grateful to be on this path even if it means moving through some stormy weather before getting to the calm on the other side.