[My Lexapro doesn’t actually look like this …]
This post features personal in-depth discussion of anxiety and depression. You have been warned. As of this post I’ve been on Lexapro for just over a month, and it’s hard to put into words how things have changed in such a short time. Looking back, it took me a long time to get here. Without any kind of medical diagnosis to back me up, I’m pretty sure I’ve had depression since 1999-2000, possibly earlier. I know I dealt with social anxiety pretty hardcore all through school, and it’s something that still catches me off guard at big events (like parties).
Thankfully, I’ve managed to invert much that by accepting two key things about myself: I’m an introvert and I am a nerd. And I’m super proud of both traits. I wear them boldly as badges of honor, and if other people don’t like it? I can now comfortably tell them to fuck off. (Or think it in my head, while smiling real big, polite as all get out.)
Finding ways to accept and treasure myself – both inside and out – has made a big difference in my confidence. I credit much of this to the pro-nerd things I’ve found in the last few years, like Penny Arcade and PAX. I’m also learning to unabashedly celebrate all the joys and wonders of nerdom. Yet, even with all this self-acceptance … I still felt in need of some outside (or is it inside?) help.
Which is why I started researching antidepressants last year. This was not an easy choice for me. I grew up in an anti-medication environment, where having to take a pill (or – even worse – pills) simply to function was seen as a deep personal failure. After all, I have a home, I’m never lacking for things like food, clothing, shelter or safety. I have a good education, relative financial safety and a family that loves me.
What could I possibly be depressed about? There was also the strong underlying message that medicine was for people who weren’t strong enough, were simply too lazy, were looking for a magical pill to cure all of their woes, rather than one of many tools I could use to help myself get better. There was also the message I didn’t need that, that I was somehow stronger and better than other people who couldn’t fix themselves without a pill. For a long time I bought into that message, mostly out of fear. Because my only experiences had been negative and I was scared of being another over-medicated statistic.
Meanwhile, depression was pulling me – a once bright, happy, friendly (if reserved) person – deeper into a state of mental and emotional sleepwalking. At times I knew I was depressed, like I was wrapped in foggy armor against the outside world, and other times I didn’t have a damn clue. It wasn’t like the commercials where someone weeps uncontrollably, or looks longing out a rainy window into the middle distance. I was angry and tired, empty, irritable, disconnected, apathetic, in pain, and withdrawn. I also struggled with feeling worthlessness and out of control of my own life.
I tried everything I could – short of seeing a doctor, of course – to dig myself out of the whole I was in. From vitamins and high levels of St. John’s Wort to exercise, yoga, meditation, EFT, positive affirmations and journalling. But nothing would last for more than two months – if that. And no matter how much I wanted to, keeping up with a wellness regime – designed to keep me from being depressed – would still exhaust me. Which led to more depression. Because I felt I could barely make it to the “normal” mark on the height chart of life.
Ultimately I knew there was more going on, possibly something at a bio-chemical level, and it was beyond my reach alone. Even with all my attempts to fix myself, I was still feeling overwhelmed by the most basic tasks. Showering. General personal hygiene. Spending time with family. Getting out of the house. Laundry. Having the motivation or energy to do much of anything, unless I was on a particular strong energy streak.
Depression exhaustion is different than regular exhaustion, for me – which I currently have thanks to DST and the return of my sinus cold. It’s a complete mental flatline. My head feels blank and empty, and it can slip up on me so slowly that I don’t even notice it’s taken over. Until I’m deep in a pit of fatigue, apathy and anger. So in November I knew I had to make a change if I wanted to survive the 2014-2015 Winter in tact. Which brings us back to my big fear: medication.
It’s taken me five months, one bad doctor, and two prescriptions that weren’t right, but I finally feel like I’m in a good spot. I spent all of last week making art, I’m finding that getting up and going through the day is getting easier and easier. I’m relating to people on a brighter, happier level. The communication style and whole vibe of the house has changed for the better, and I’m feeling connected to the world around me again.
One thing I noticed even in the first week of Lexapro, was how easy it was to smile again. I never realized that something as simple as smile had become difficult, until it wasn’t anymore. I could smile without thinking about it or forcing an effort. As the medicine continues to build in my system, much of the negative chatter in my brain has been turned down or muted entirely. I find myself wanting to be outside in the beautiful weather. Wanting to snuggle and kiss, and be snuggled and kissed more. I’ve even been enjoying doing bursts of laundry this week.
The thing that I’m learning, is that mental illness can happen to anyone. The same way a freak car accident, a battle with cancer or a natural disaster is (mostly) out of our control, so is our mental health. I cannot change that depression probably runs in my family, but I can change how I react to it. And I am no longer content to ignore it, while it slowly eats away at my hope, my passion and my life.
A dear friend of mine who has been a guidepost for me, sharing her own personal mental health experience, put it perfectly. She said getting on medication “felt like getting back to me again.” I think that’s where I’m at right now. I’m returning to the person I was ten or fifteen years ago, one week at a time.