Thursday, March 13, 2014

Happy Pills

It's been almost six weeks since the crap hit the fan and I had my little "breakdown." I couldn't sleep for four nights straight. And when I tried to get help, Mother Nature decided to dump a huge snowstorm on Northern Jersey and every place I called was closed. I even tried to hurt myself, because in my addled brain, I thought then I could go to the emergency room. But guess what? I'm a wimp! And I have a very strong sense of self-preservation coupled with a very weak stomach. So, don't worry. I can't kill a spider, much less myself. 

I eventually did get in to see a psychiatrist, and for a month now, I've been taking Lexapro, an anti-anxiety/depression medicine. I tried Lexapro before, when the babies were little and I was drowning in diapers and self-loathing, but it was given to me by a shrink that only heard the word "triplets," threw a prescription at me, and never talked to me again. The first two days I took it, I felt jittery and had trouble sleeping. Screw that, I thought, stopped taking it, and never followed up. This time around, my doctor explained that the side effects would wear off with time, but that I had to stick with it for a few weeks. She gave me a prescription for a sleep aide that I used a few times, and we've been meeting regularly ever since. In other words, she does her job right. Bless her! But it took a while for the meds to kick in, and getting to that point was hard. If you've never experienced anxiety or depression before, lemme splain:

Generalized anxiety, for me, feels like this unease that comes from nowhere, like black, formless demons that lurk at the corners of your consciousness. You can't place the source of the fear, but it's real, like a feeling of impending doom. The sun might be shining, but its light is bleak and hopeless. Adam knows that when I tell him I'm feeling anxious, he needs to put his arms around me, hold me tightly, and tell me over and over, "Everything is going to be alright." Because when you're in its thrall, the demons eat away at any peace of mind you had. My chest feels tight. I want to hide. It's horrible.

Recently, before the fan/crap, I had a few bona-fide panic attacks. One happened on the drive home from Costco. I had Elizabeth with me and I was irked that I'd finished later than I wanted and would be hitting bad traffic. Plus, some nice person had left a note telling me I'd scratched their truck, though I knew there was no way I'd hit anything in the parking lot, much less a truck. All this and other thoughts were swirling in my head, when all of a sudden, my breathing started to get rapid and shallow. I felt like there was something constricting my chest and that I couldn't get a deep enough breath. The longer it went on, the more I struggled to breathe, and the more scared I got. I didn't know what to do. I thought I was going to lose control of the car. I pulled over as soon as I safely could, I asked Elizabeth to say a prayer for me (to give her something to do since she was freaking out), and called Adam. Listening to his voice helped me calm down a little. I figured the best thing I could do would be to get out of my head, so after assuring him that I was feeling better, I turned on NPR and listened to the news. I let the words coming out of my radio numb me and I was fine for the rest of the drive home. 

I had one more panic attack the day of snow and crap. And then the anxiety turned to a terrible pain in my stomach. For a while, I even thought I might be pregnant, since it reminded me so much of the crippling pain I'd experienced when I carried the triplets. But I found out I wasn't pregnant and wouldn't have to throw myself off the George Washington Bridge like I'd vowed I would if I were. Hallelujah! But the pain was still there, as bad as that I experienced when I was a green missionary in Texas. Oh, the irony. But the stomach pain, thank goodness, has diminished and now I only feel a slight queasiness once in a while. And it sure has helped me lose weight! (Or that might be the zumba.)

As for depression, perhaps I can best describe my experience with it by telling you how I've felt since the meds have started to kick in. It was about Tuesday of last week when I first noticed that I didn't have to force myself to smile. Charlie was saying something heart-breakingly adorable and I felt a warmth I hadn't felt in so long. I was genuinely delighted by the funny thing my kid had just said. I noticed I was laughing more. I was making jokes at the dinner table. I was dancing around and singing Frozen songs with the kids. I wasn't dwelling on painful thoughts and memories. It was like I finally felt like myself; I felt free to enjoy life. I still got angry. I still felt sad. But it didn't incapacitate me. Depression for me feels like everything is flat. I feel like I'm walking through water. When it's bad, it takes all my effort and mental stamina to get anything done. I remember one day when I was faced with laundry, and it physically (but mentally?) hurt to pick up the laundry basket and start collecting dirty clothes. Another day, I couldn't get out of bed. My kids were running amok and needed to be fed breakfast, but I just couldn't move. "Suck it up, woman!" you're shouting. I was shouting it to myself, too. But I couldn't. I called my friend and neighbor and told her how I felt. She knew just what to do: she invited me to bring the kids over so we could talk. That was enough to motivate me to get out of bed. So my kids were fed that day, thanks to her. 

A few days before the meds kicked, I had my darkest hour. I tried to hurt myself again, this time to displace the emotional pain with physical pain (cuz that makes sense, right?) Again, my weak stomach prevailed and no harm done. But my p-sychiatrist didn't see it that way. Two attempts in three weeks, plus endless thoughts of ending my life was enough to convince her I needed more intensive help. I balked at first, but after talking it over with Adam, my parents, and my therapist, I decided to give it a try. I've only had an intake appointment, but I feel really optimistic about it. I'll be going to what's called an Intensive Outpatient Program for about six weeks. I'll basically be able to do a few years' worth of therapy in a much shorter time. And since I'll be starting the program with the meds already working (and not mired in terrible anxiety and depression), I'll be that much further ahead. It won't be cheap, but hey! It's cheaper than going to the funny farm! 

A wise man once told me, depression is the mind's inability to construct a future. And it's so true. When you're depressed, there's no hope in the future. And you're afraid that you'll always feel that way. 

I don't feel afraid anymore.

And here's some cute pictures of my kids.

P.S. For a really awesome, hilarious, and true description of depression (and how not to react to people with depression,) check out these posts on Hyperbole and a Half here and here.)


  1. Thanks for sharing this. There are so many people who don't understand that no one WANTS to feel anxiety/depression, that they can't snap out of it, and they sure as hell can fix themselves with "an attitude of gratitude." The RIGHT medicine really can make a huge difference and I'm glad you found the right balance to open the path ahead. I absolutely love you, Emily. I'm so proud of you. You deserve joy and I'm glad you can get a good grip on that joy now.

  2. Emily, you are in my prayers. I'm so sorry that you were feeling so down! Don't they have some medicine that acts fast? Two weeks is ridiculous!