Wednesday I visited the doctor and was given a prescription for an antidepressant. In spite of struggling with depression for over twenty years, this is the first time I’ve been open to the option.
Although I’ve struggled with/against/under/inside depression since the age of 16, it only recently dawned on me that anxiety plays a huge role in that depression. It is why I am often overwhelmed in large groups, or when there are sounds in competition with each other, in logistical meetings, or in crises when I must make a decision, just sitting around thinking about intense things. Feeling overwhelmed then leads to a powerless/hopeless feeling that is what many consider to be depression. It all started with a sudden fall into despair and hopelessness as a teenager, and has aged with me, and probably shaped me in ways I cannot name.
The question of being medicated has been around since I first reached out for help (about a year after the problem began), but I always put it off, wanting to seek other avenues. Depression is very difficult to conquer, for the reason that it disables the part of a person that knows how to ask for help. Depression sinks itself in with perpetuating behaviors, and enervates the muscles necessary for getting out. Thus, my attempts to seek professional help were few and far between. When I needed it most, I was least capable of asking. When the attempts I made failed, I became further crippled from trying again. One dismissive psychiatrist, and too many hoops (including that unscalable wall of things that cost a lot of money) kept me at home seeking other remedies. This search has led me to discover many healthy outlets/helps. I don’t name anything as a Cure, but there are many worthy management tools…
*The first help on the journey was God, and the hope that the creator of the universe saw me, heard me, and loved me. Believing we are not alone in the vastness of the universe, and the smallness of one life may seem like a cop-out to some, but it also makes good sense to me even when I feel strong. Regardless of my shifting religion, God himself makes real sense, and gives real comfort, even when he feels far away.
*Second came my paper journal, into which I have written miles of painful emotions, confusions, questions, hopes, and existential contemplations. The privacy of this is key- to find words for feelings, to confess without judgment (although, admittedly I am often judging myself), and to be able to look back and put very personal things into perspective.
In addition to writing down my feelings, I discovered, after several years of venting into these blank books, the negative impact it was having on me to speak ill of other people- even in a place where no one would read. At first it required creativity to process relational conflict without maligning the character of others, but at some point it became natural to focus on the things I was truly responsible for, and let other’s sin belong to them. I could write pages and pages about how I felt- angry, disappointed, betrayed- but it negatively changed me when I began to gossip about the actions of others- even when it was just to myself.
*Deep friendship has been a necessary salve, although it costs more than the others. I must come out of myself to participate, which is both difficult and salubrious. Conversation, connection, affection, conviction, advice, fun, shared joy and sorrow and meals. The older I get, the more deeply this has impacted me (and hopefully my friends, as well!). There is no substitute for trustworthy, and loving friends.
*Exercise! This one came to me after my daughter died in 2008, when a woman from church offered me a free membership to Curves. She had lost children, as well, and knew that exercise would be an important weapon against despair. When I get aerobic exercise several times a week, the lows tend to lose many of their sharper edges- thinking gets clearer, and less circular.
*Along similar lines, better food/nutrition choices. It takes a very long time to shift eating habits. Slowly, very slowly, I have gone from eating mostly microwave burritos and ice cream, to things like salads, baked chicken, nuts, water. Dietary supplements, and plans for vegetables. A mocha is a treat, a cup of black coffee is the norm. I still have bouts of frosting, but along with more frequent good choices, I have also learned to not beat myself up for temporary trysts with junk food.
With these positive things in place, it has become possible for me to see my life, and my behaviors a bit more clearly. It’s much easier now to recognize my faults without being so attacked by shame that I can’t look for solutions. I have made many bad choices, and also many good ones. In the clarity I recognize how much farther I still have to go. I am still incredibly limited in my ability to deal with stress (if you’re coming to this post from facebook, it’s because I’ve made a tiny step toward more sociability, but it’s still very difficult, and I must guard how much of myself I put out there, how much I take in of political opinions, and buzz feed articles). I’m still tempted sometimes to give up.
Desiring to make more progress, and maybe get some reprieve from anxiety induced depression, I have said yes to medication. For a season. The hope is that I can find something which will give me yet more victories in the area of mental health and life as an adult. My main motivations are to be more capable of taking care of myself, and have more to give to others on a regular basis. I wanted to write this blog post as a way of documenting the journey. Will meds solve everything? No. So many good things have happened in the last 23 years, and I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned in the dark. At the same time, could meds take me still further? Possibly.
If nothing else, you can count on me to be honest about the results. As of today, I feel anxiety most of the time. Being an INFP, I feel many things most of the time, but anxiety is rarely absent. I took my first (half) dose of the unnamed med last night. Stay tuned for progress (or regress!) reports.