Laura and I do a lot of marking of anniversaries in our family; when we started dating, when we got married, when we got married legally, when Simon was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, our dog’s birthday, etc. Today is one of the most joyful for me because it marks one of the hardest and most healing decisions I’ve ever made.
Two years ago today, I faced my deep, paralyzing fear and decided to finally try an anti-depressant. This decision change my life in a way that is as profound as marrying Laura and becoming a parent.
I don’t think anyone had any inkling of how much I had been suffering, particularly with anxiety. My wife, with whom I share EVERYTHING, didn’t even know. I wasn’t trying to hide it. I didn’t even think to talk about it because it was just the relentless background noise that I lived with my whole life. In the year before I started meds, I started to casually mention some of the crazy anxious ticker tape that constantly ran through my head to Laura and I was shocked by how much she was shocked. I was like a frog in a pot that didn’t know I was being boiled alive by my brain.
In the year before I started meds, the wheels started to fall off. I found myself overwhelmingly depressed about my anxiety and anxious about my depression. I moved past exhausted and annoyed to scared. Really scared. I don’t know how much it showed because I had spent my whole life functioning on top of it, but it was not good.
I got a prescription for meds, filled the prescription and promptly let the bottle sit in our medicine cabinet for 6 months. I’d look at it longingly on bad days but pushed myself to handle the feelings myself. Breaking down and taking meds felt like giving up. Like admitting I wasn’t strong enough to handle my shit. It was exhausting.
I finally got to a point where I thought “whatever I fear about meds can’t be worse than how I feel”. That point is called desperation. It was a back-up-against-a-wall, little-kid-cowering-in-a-corner-to-avoid-a-shot kind of decision. And I made it. I cried with relief that the decision was made- it was done.
Literally the next day it was like someone turned on the lights. There were colors and birds chirping and a PROFOUND feeling of calm. I thought it must be a placebo effect because I had always heard that it takes weeks to get up to an effect on SSRI’s but they started me on Zoloft which can work immediately for some folks. That was me. By brain gobbled those meds like Pac Man. It was complete and total magic. I know that is not everyone’s experience, by far, but glory hallelujah it’s been mine.
I still feel blue sometimes and I still feel anxious, but it’s PASSING. It doesn’t live here. I’ll go through one crazy “what if” catastrophic scenario and then it’s done. And I laugh and go “ha ha, Brain! I saw that”. And go on about my life. I don’t have to use all my energy to wrestle the alligator of my brain that relentlessly wants to drag me into the swamp.
At least once a week now a situation presents itself where I’m almost brought to tears because I realize how much of an impact it has on my life not to be disabled by anxiety and depression. I really was disabled. It kept me from doing things I otherwise would have tried and wore me down to dust. Just as someone with a hearing impairment may use hearing aids to fully participate in the world, or someone missing a limb may use a prothetic limb, I’ve gotten totally clear that my brain needed an SSRI.
I feel ZERO shame about it. Shame and fear is what kept me suffering for decades. I’m still mourning all that time and energy and attention lost to trying to tune out the 10 piece marching band of anxiety playing 24/7 behind me. I mourn the years I was unable to FEEL the bounty and beauty of my life, even when I could see it clearly with my eyes. My heart couldn’t. My brain didn’t have what it needed to transmit the message to my core.
On this glorious day, I am so grateful for my sense of self preservation that overrode the mean, judgmental, terrified lady in my head. On that day, I picked ME. I picked life. I picked a healing path that has led me to have two of the best years of my life. And I made a decision to TALK ABOUT my decision because fear and shame thrive in the dark. I was inspired to make my decision by friends who were open about their struggles and what trying meds meant for them. Their honesty made it possible for me to make one of the most healing decisions of my life.
Depression and anxiety are at almost epidemic proportions right now. For some of us it’s biochemical, for others it's environmental, and for lots of us it may be both. Meds are not for everyone, for sure. There are lots of other things to help with anxiety and depression and for some people that’s enough. Yea for you! Sincerely!
But, I tried all those and found myself exhausted from all the fruitless “self-care” I was doing. It left me feeling like a failure, like I just wasn’t self-caring well enough. Part of why I’m so public about my path is because I want to destigmatize medication as an option. To me, it felt like a cop out or a failure or like I was some rube suckered by pharmaceutical companies that just wanted to make millions off my weakness. But it turns out, it was exactly what I needed.
I’m grateful for Kaiser Permanente for their very effective mental health screenings that flagged that it was time for me to make a hard decision. I’m grateful for all the people in my life who have been honest about their mental health journeys, including their experience with meds. I’m grateful for my family who has loved and supported me and helped give me a life that I could objectively tell was great even when my heart couldn’t feel it. And I’m especially grateful for my wife who created a container where I could share the scariest stuff without feeling judged and who encouraged me to make the most healing choices possible.
I’m grateful for life, ya’ll! I couldn’t say that two years ago but I can say it today with all the honesty and meaning and heart I have to give.