The Vitamin L Diary: Words We Are Afraid To Speak

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“Sweetness, the only thing that has power over you is what you can’t say, even to yourself.”

—Hyacinth to Phaedra in The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

Every six months I am supposed to see my doctor to make sure I’m doing OK, that nothing in my medical history has changed, and to give voice to things that I am afraid to think about and talk about out loud. She asks me about my mood, my sleep, my level of activity. I tell her I am doing great, that I am fine, that nothing in my medical history has changed. “Can I get my flu shot while I’m here?” I ask.

And then she asks again how I’m doing with the Vitamin L – my daily dose of Lexapro. It has been six years.  Six year since I was able to release the words, the pain, the confusion, and the power of fear by saying out loud what I couldn’t imagine saying even to myself.

“I think I am depressed.”

So on this particularly dreary October afternoon my doctor waits for me to answer honestly, to say to myself and to her what I’ve been afraid to even think about.

“I’m afraid the depression is getting worse.”

I’ve been so tired. Tired like I could sleep the afternoon away tired. Tired like maybe the back and neck spasms I was having for weeks tired. Tired like maybe my high pain tolerance is catching up to me tired (and by high pain tolerance I’m talking waiting to go to the hospital until I was about 8 cm dilated with Child #1 and #3 because I thought it would get worse). Tired like that migraine knocked me out tired but not just that day tired. Tired like I might not get out of bed tired.

The weird thing about depression is that most days I am not wandering around my house looking like there is a cloud hanging over me or hunched over as if the weight of a heavy robe has engulfed me. Depression doesn’t always look like those pharmaceutical commercials that always involved drawings and the color blue. I work out 3-5 days/wk. I get together with friends. I read books for two book clubs. I try to spend quality time with my sons but I really suck at video games. My husband and I have sex if and when we aren’t falling asleep the minute we hit the bed, which isn’t often but also none of your business how often. I smile. I laugh. I make myself laugh. I write. I laugh at what I write. That doesn’t look like depression. But, yes, I am feeling exceptionally tired these days despite, or maybe because of, the fact that I have a child in college contemplating her career in the arts, a child in his junior year of high school who is just starting to understand why we’ve been so parental about grades, and a child finishing middle school who doesn’t need to worry because it’s middle school. Yes, there are unexplained aches and pains that won’t go away and maybe that’s just because I turned 45. Yes, I may spend my days wearing varying combinations of my yoga pants and three sweatshirts because I work from home and I actually do go to yoga class, but that isn’t the depression. None of that is the depression.

Unless it is.

And that is what I am often afraid to think about, afraid to say. Which is probably why that appointment every six months is a good idea instead of an endless supply of Vitamin L with no check-in, no one waiting for me to be honest or at least give me a chance to be honest.

Every six months I have to remind myself that the truth will set me free only if I am willing to walk in the truth. Even if people judge, even if my sisters and brothers in faith judge or don’t know what to do with my truth, Jesus doesn’t judge. He says to me, “Daughter, your faith and trust and courage and Vitamin L have set you free. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

So earlier this week I went to see my doctor, got my flu shot, told her I was fine, and then once again broke the power depression has over me and told her the truth.

The truth is that very few people around me understand this Vitamin L thing and the depression and the anxiety. I don’t want people tiptoeing around me. I want people to ask me how I am doing but not in that weird “How ARE you doing?” sort of way, but I also know that the stigma is complex, deep, and ingrained. Depressed people aren’t supposed to be normal, right? How could I possibly go to power yoga, write, and bake cookies if I am depressed, right? Depression is a mental illness, and people with mental illnesses do horrible things like gun down innocent people (well, actually it’s usually younger white men who go on shooting sprees and are then casually labeled “mentally ill” so I’m off the hook). People with a mental illness are crazy, right? How can a Christian be depressed and take medication for it, right?

I told my doctor what I was afraid to say to myself.

“I’m tired, and maybe it’s that I’m 45 and the cumulative exhaustion of life is catching up to me but maybe it’s not. Maybe the depression is getting worse?”

Maybe. Maybe not. But every day I take my Vitamin L, every six months I see my doctor; each time I have the chance to say words I’m afraid to say but know in my heart are true.

My faith has healed me. I go in peace. I am freed from my suffering.

 

Vitamin L Diary: Motherhood & #flymysweet

Tonight is the night before she leaves for college, and the dining room is filled with laughter and chatter. There are only two other young women in her incredible circle of friends who are still “in town” waiting, and tonight is a night for friendship.

I sat there with them for awhile, laughing at a Facebook post, our lack of sewing skills in comparison to Bethany, and cried a little bit. It has been such an honor to be allowed to be a part of that sacred space of friendship, and it was time to honor it even more by stepping away. It’s time.

Depression haunted me in my childhood, but I remember distinctly coming home from the hospital with this tiny peanut of a newborn who came with no instructions. I was in pain from an emergency postpartum surgery, unable to do just about anything without incredible pain and feeling quite unlike myself. Five months later with friends in from out of town I recall telling them that I didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like myself. I wasn’t sure if I could feel anything really.

I didn’t look sad in the photos. I didn’t walk around with an animated cloud hovering around my head. I just kept moving.

Gratefully, it has been five years since I sought treatment – a combination of counseling and an antidepressant. I continue to shake off cultural stereotypes and stigma associated with depression, anxiety, and medication. There are some who do not understand how a faithful, evangelical Christian could depend on medication to fight off something that perhaps more prayer and faithfulness could overcome. There are some in my own family who do not approve of my sharing publicly that I am on (whisper) medication. Depression and anxiety do not define me, but the reality is that my mental health is part of me. It is a part of any human being – a God-ordained intersection between soul, mind, and body. We share the earth with other living things, but there is no other living thing quite like us humans.

And I realized again today, as I sat with my son at a medical appointment, that depression and anxiety are a part of my life as mother and a part of my children’s lives. We were asked about family medical history. “Is there anyone in the family with depression or anxiety? Is there anyone in the family who has committed suicide?” Yes, there is heart disease and high blood pressure as well as depression and suicide. Even as my children grow up and mature, their family history follows them and is a part of their story as well.

So as we come to this part of my story as a mother of a college freshman soul, mind, and body intersect. The tears are right there, clinging to my eyes ready to roll out at a moment’s notice. My heart is pounding in anticipation of the incredible things she will see and do in college. I can imagine her rehearsing, choreographing, learning to connect her soul, mind, and body, and I smile like a madwoman. And I know we will drive home with one less body in the car with her smile and spirit lingering. My soul is appropriately, gloriously conflicted, and my mind and body start to take over with tears, smiles, and fear.

How will my brain translate all that is going on in my soul? Will the depression and anxiety come to visit as I enter into a quieter season or will the 10 milligrams keep doing their thing? Will I have the courage to set aside fear and seek out help, ask for the company of friends or a walk with my husband?

Worse yet, will my daughter lose the genetic crapshoot and experience a new dark night of the soul? Will the transitions overwhelm her in an unexpected way? Have I given her the tools, the words, the freedom to know the signs and ask for help? Have I done all that I can do before she goes?

There is no way to know, but there is a way to cope and live. Dear Readers and friends, please hope with me. Pray with me. Pray for daughters and sons launching off into new experiences and their parents who all know there is little we can do to protect them forever. Pray that the lies of stereotypes and stigma don’t keep them from getting help. Pray for friends and mentors who aren’t afraid to offer and get them help. And I pray history and story will ground my daughter and hope and faith will shape her future.

#flymysweet

 

 

 

The Vitamin L Diary: Year Four & Seeing the Light

A few years ago I posted about anxiety, depression and being on an anti-depressant. I go in every few months to follow-up with my primary physician. Drugs are not the cure-all, but they can help. I’ve told my doctor I don’t ever want to stop taking my vitamin L, but she reminded me that the end goal isn’t to stay on the drug but to make sure the drug is helpful and necessary.

Any who, I am now four years into this journey. My goal is to “talk” about anxiety and depression to take away some of the stigma, embarrassment and shame. Perhaps someone out there will take one step closer to loving & honoring herself/himself or better understand depression and anxiety. My hope is in Jesus. Treating my anxiety and depression has only deepened my hope.

I love fall, but I don’t love what this season eventually leads to. The vibrant colors against a sunny fall morning give way to shorter days and longer nights. I know that a regular schedule including sleep and exercise are critical to keeping my depression & anxiety managed well.  Actually, everyone should keep a regular schedule of sleep & exercise! But I dread the long nights of winter.

I am also still on Lexapro, one little pill a day. I also have on hand alprazolam, just in case for anxiety and panic attacks – the kind that actually sent me running to my doctor in the first place. I currently am not seeing a therapist, but I still see my PCP regularly to discuss treatment and decide whether or not medication is still helpful and necessary. I’ve had to wrestle with my own conflicted feelings about seeking professional and pharmaceutical help because, let’s face it, mental illness makes people uncomfortable.

By and large, the national conversation shifts over to mental health issues only when there is a mass shooting like we saw in Washington D.C. or someone prominent like Matthew Warren, megachurch pastor Rick Warren’s son, commits suicide. There is empathy for the family and friends when someone takes their own life, and it can be easier to shift the attention on the grieving and trauma of the surviving family and friends. In the case of a mass murderer, mental health becomes one way we can other-ise the person’s sinful actions. Even when we can talk about mental health, we aren’t sure how to treat it. A third of all Americans – and almost half of American evangelical, fundamentalist or born again Christians – believe prayer and Bible study alone can help someone overcome serious mental illness. My experience has been that prayer alone didn’t heal me or take away the stigma of my mental illness once I started talking and blogging about it.

And that doesn’t even get to access to information about or treatment of mental illness. I know I’ve got several privileges in play – access to health care, the finances to pay for things insurance doesn’t cover, the means to get to multiple appointments, etc.

So among other things I am passionate about and committed to writing about every now and then is my mental health journey, now four years in. It means answering my youngest child who is almost 12 and was reading over my shoulder as I wrote the start of this post.  He asked, “But isn’t ok because you have us?” His question broke my heart but it was a great moment to make talking about something he may likely face in the future. I told him that I love him and his siblings deeply and that being their mom brings me great joy. I explained that my depression isn’t the kind of sadness or disappointment I normally experience when we would normally be sad but that my body and my brain aren’t producing the right mix of chemicals to keep my emotions and perceptions of the world around me accurate to what God created our bodies to do. And then I hugged him, kissed him, and made sure he was OK.

That is what the journey can look like.

For the past two years I’ve thought about buying myself a little light box to see if light therapy might help me during the weeks indoors. I don’t have full-on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but winter doesn’t help my depression. I’m not an outdoorsy person. Being in my garden, taking a nice walk or a short run is perfect. Shoveling snow or building igloos is less perfect and makes me cold and crabby.

We were at the store a few days ago, and I finally bit. It was one of three impulse purchases. (The other two? A pair of wool base layer pants/leggings to keep warm and a 12-pound pork shoulder to divide and throw into a crockpot.) I figured it was worth a try – the light box, I mean. It’s worth a try because there is a little part of me that is scared to go into the winter.

Can anyone relate to the joy of fall and the dread of winter? Has anyone used a light therapy box to help with the winter blues? Yay or nay?

The Vitamin L Diary: Day 2

Yesterday I briefly wrote about going on an antidepressant. Apparently I’ve struck a chord. Thank you for the private messages many of you took the time to send. I realize that not everyone is in a position to talk publicly about their depression, and it really is such a personal thing. I had waves of the sadness, but what I realized was that the other proactive things I was doing – exercise, regular schedule, better eating, less caffeine, etc. were no longer keeping things manageable. The antidepressant commercials always depict depression as people who walk around sleepy or sad. I had those days but I also spent a lot of energy to keep moving, so my depression also was expressed in irritability. I felt prickly like my cranky dial was turned up to 11.

And then there was that day in my kitchen.

My doctor, a lovely woman who turns out loves Jesus just like I do, asked me what I had been through during the last few years. And there I sat in the office on that crunchy paper, crying and telling her a few facts but feeling a bit numb. I told her I didn’t want to be numb. I told her I wanted to feel joy and laugh from the belly again, which seemed like such work at the time. I wanted to want to write, which had always been a place of physical, spiritual and emotional connection for me.

She warned me about the side-effects but told me to hang on because the first few weeks are the hardest. She told me that my brain had slowly rewired itself to deal with the stressors – death, illness, transitions that overlapped over extended periods of time, etc. – and that the medication was going to help reset things.

I’ve been mulling over this for a year now…I wrote in my private journal a few lines each day for three weeks about what I was going through because writing was one of the disciplines I committed to during that time of wanting to crawl out of my skin (which is how I felt for awhile on the meds). I didn’t want medication to be the only thing doing the hard work. There were patterns in my emotional and spiritual life that had been reset to cope and those had to be addressed as well. However, the online discussions about the drug I am now on scared me. I rarely found anything positive. I hope this is a little bit of that positive I was hoping to find.

One year later I am still on Lexapro under the care of my physician. It doesn’t work for everyone but it can help.

Here is Day 2:

So, I went to work out this morning hoping the rush of endorphins would help ease the fatigue I experienced yesterday. It did. For an hour. By the time I was driving home from Elias’ ortho appointment (around noon) I was crazy tired. I tried to read and then gave up. A little nap is all I need, I thought.

Three hours later I was thinking “what did I do?”.

I’m feeling nausea all day long so that is getting in the way of eating. I have to be careful that I don’t do the tired eating thing – eating to stay awake, but I was doing that before Lexapro.

I haven’t been experiencing too much dry mouth or the cotton-head feeling, but I have moments of being woozy.

Honestly, what I’m terrified about is the rumored weight gain on this drug. Seriously. My depression isn’t bad enough that weight gain is cancelled out by the drugs’ effects on my depression. Gaining 20 pounds would put me in a bad place.