Is It a Rebellion? Maybe.

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” – Krishnamurti

I both love and hate this quote. Looking at the world around me, and it isn’t just ill, it is violently ill. It’s no wonder so many of us are coming forward and recognizing the truth of our mental health. We are profoundly more aware of the atrocities of man. Unless you are a hermit living in the woods and well beyond the reaches of human interaction, it’s impossible to avoid being inundated with negative stimuli. Is it any wonder so many of us are “mentally ill”?

I remember one day, just before I started my meds, I was scrolling through social media and it seemed like every headline was about the possible catastrophic end of the human race and/or the planet. This deep sense of “Why bother doing anything productive? It’s all going to end anyway, whether by our own self-destruction or some imminent act of nature.” Looking back, I feel like that moment was the moment my mind became cognizant of my need for treatment, similar to drifting slightly into consciousness before you’re jolted awake.

This morning I read an article once again touting a non-pharmaceutical solution to a variety of mental illnesses by way of propping up a former psychiatrist’s new book, much in the same way anti-vaccination believers prop up the one or two doctors who have (in my non-medical-professional opinion) lost their damn mind.

The article itself is written in a way that boasts loquaciousness rather than skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion. (If you clicked through to the article, I’m hoping you’ll get the joke of that last sentence.)

The gist of both the article and the book it’s adulating is “that depression, ADHD, anxiety, etc. aren’t chemical malfunctions of the brain, nor spiritual malfunctions of the mind; rather, they are forms of legitimate rebellion against life structures that are unworthy of one’s full participation or attention. They are more symptoms of a social illness than of a personal deficiency.”

I wonder if these folks have ever considered the possibility of the outside world and all of its horrors altering our internal brain chemicals, causing “spiritual” malfunctions of the mind? My problem wasn’t ever that certain life structures weren’t worthy of my participation or attention, it’s that I pay too much attention. I feel too much, too deeply, too painfully. I know it’s not a personal deficiency. If anything, it is an excruciating blessing of awareness, but it’s kind of like trying to take your morning shower in Niagara Falls, sure it’s water, but it will destroy you. That’s why nature and man have created systems to mitigate the flow.

A Mind of Your Own offers the equivalent by going beyond critique to offer a multi-dimensional holistic protocol for treating depression, involving diet, body ecology, exercise, and other practices. Clearly these subvert the dominant pharmoneurochemical paradigm, but it may not be immediately clear that they are part of a broader radicalism. After all, whether you “fix the patient” with chemicals or with other methods, aren’t you still helping her adjust to a “profoundly sick society”? That is a criticism frequently levied at so-called holistic treatments for depression. I asked Dr. Brogan to respond. She said:

My whole premise is that depression is an opportunity for transformation and that this transformation is best engaged, for many of us, through sending the body signals of safety; i.e. diet, movement, sleep, meditation/relaxation response. This isn’t a symptom management program. It’s a root-cause-resolution endeavor that seeks to illuminate connections between different bodily systems heretofore conceived of as separate. Acknowledging and accepting this invitation also begets a level of consciousness around bodily integrity that extends to engagement with the medical system, consumerism, and fear around adversity.

Now, as someone who lives with depression and anxiety, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say neither the author of the article or the author of the book have spent most of their life cycling through periods of profound hopelessness looking at the world around you, feeling helpless to change anything and the intense rage of needing to change the world because you are ferociously aware of the ills of humanity, but being paralyzed by the weight and magnitude of problems that need to be solved.

“Just exercise, get lots of sleep, eat well, meditate, and most of all, buy my book! It’s way cheaper than pills and doctors!”

I won’t tell people they should trust the pharmaceutical industry, the medications, or the doctors just because at this moment in my life I am a functional human being that feels as though she has the strength to truly affect change in the world thanks to a Zoloft and Klonopin cocktail. Just like I will no longer tell people that exercise, diet, and yoga will bring you inner peace and enlightenment and that if you love yourself enough everything in the world will fall into place.

I will say do whatever you need to do to feel well enough to help you do what you need to do to survive in a world we know is crumbling around us, whether you want to turn the world on its head or you just want to be able to get out of bed and take a shower on a daily basis.

It is completely plausible that depression, anxiety, ADHD, and a litany of other “mental illnesses” are the physiological responses to a profoundly ill society. It’s also quite possible that our society is changing much faster than our limbic systems can evolve.

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Impostor Syndrome

I haven’t written anything in nearly two months.

In my defense, it has been a really chaotic two months. I left my job of 13 years…not just a job, a second family. It was time to go, I knew it was, and an opportunity presented itself, so I jumped on it. I was mentally in a place where I had the confidence to make the leap, and I’m honestly happy I did.

But…

It’s almost one month in, and while I’ve received many compliments from the people I work with and clients about how happy they are to have me, how well I’m doing, how much customer communication has improved since I’ve been there, I feel like a complete fraud.

I’m terrified that at any second someone is going to realize that I’m all charisma and charm and little substance in terms of understanding the more technical aspects of my job.

It’s difficult, I’m in an industry I know nothing about and there is so much to learn it is completely overwhelming. I feel like I’ve done fairly well learning the software systems, but the product still eludes me. There’s just so much, so many different options and modifications, and no real way to understand those options without bugging the people around me to give me details over and over again.

And everyone is so busy, when I ask for details on products, I’m terrified that I’m bothering them. I know I’m bothering them, but I have had no real training in the product, only the software used to quote, sell, and track the product, which unfortunately gives very little detail about the product. I’ve had no actual training other than “This is how you look this up, this is how you run this report.”

I think I’m catching on well, but I feel like I’m just managing to cover up my lack of understanding with charm. In reality, I know it is impossible to be an expert, or even fairly well versed, in something you are completely unfamiliar with in less than a month, but the anxious perfectionist in the back of my head is starting to raise its voice.

My inner anxious perfectionist voice

I’m starting to feel as though I’m learning things slower as I get older. Then the paranoia kicks in and I think it’s because of too much drinking and mind altering drugs when I was younger, or that my anxiety and depression medicine is somehow inhibiting my learning process.

The last one sends me back to a period when I thought I could handle my anxiety and depression through shear force of will, because the idea of chemically altering my brain for more than a night or two at a time felt like I would be diminishing my mental capacity.

I don’t know that the zoloft and klonopin are keeping me from learning things as fast as I should, or if it’s just that I’m getting older. I’m not about to come off the meds to find out, but I do wonder if I’ve traded a quick intellect for emotional stability–and I’ve wondered a time or two which one I prefer.

I suppose I’ll take the not crying in an office bathroom and the inability to move from the couch for anything less than basic survival over feeling like an impostor because I’m not catching on to things as quickly as I feel I should.

Maybe I’m just being sensitive to the stress of those around me. Whatever it is, I wish it would stop.

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Adjustments

I started getting lost in my head again. My body wasn’t cooperating with my brain. I was slipping back to the before. The weight of days were becoming heavier and heavier. 

The doctor told me it would take about two weeks for the zoloft to even out in my system. The first few days went really well, the second week continued the upswing, the third week began to plateau exactly as expected.

Then I started feeling anxiety like I’d felt four years ago when I was first diagnosed. It wasn’t a full blow panic, but it was a persistent and rising hum of being unable to catch my breath, dizziness, chest pressure, and racing thoughts. I took half of my xanax after two days of researching whether or not it was okay to take the xanax with the zoloft (of course it is, the doctor even mentioned that in the initial appointment). I found relief from the anxiety, and the next day I spent the entire day on the couch watching netflix and barely speaking a word. I looked around at everything that needed to be done and said “Fuck it. I don’t care.” I figured I was just having an off day since things had been going mostly okay.

A few days later the anxiety was back with a vengeance, threatening a crescendo into a full blown panic. I took another half of my xanax before bed. The next day felt like I hadn’t even been on zoloft for almost a month. I waited another day to see if things would even out. I felt a little more buoyant, but still as if I was trudging through quicksand.

Time to call the doctor.

I went in yesterday with all my nervous anxiety that had returned–which was probably the only thing keeping me from sinking in the metaphorical mud, and left with a klonopin prescription and double the zoloft dose.

“How do you feel about that?” my friend Alicia asked.

“I think it makes for great ‘crazy meds’ jokes…”

I don’t know why but klonopin sounds way scarier than xanax, and I can just see the look on someone’s face when the topic of mental health comes up and I casually and self-deprecatingly toss out “Oh yeah, I’m on zoloft and klonopin.” There’s something uncomfortable and hilarious about catching someone trying to hide their immediate expression of shock that I’m on something so scary sounding or that flash of judgment, disgust, and fear…at least to me, but that could be the meds. 

Today is the first day of the double dose zoloft. It’s been a pretty good day. I feel like maybe this is what real life is supposed to feel like. Maybe I’m actually supposed to laugh at stuff and not have one single thing ruin my entire mood or send me into a giant spiral of hopelessness and frustration. I dunno, but I’m hopeful…dare I say even cheerful! Fingers crossed this is how it’s supposed to be!

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The Well is Poisoned

There are wells within all of us that our thoughts and actions spring forth from. It is a source of our identity; the internal place where who we are and what we do intertwine and originate to manifest who we are in our external lives.

I didn’t realize until recently the well I have been drawing from, for what seems like my entire life, has slowly been poisoned by depression and anxiety. It wasn’t until I went to draw from that well for motivation and found the snake at the bottom telling me it was easier to give up than to continue living that I realized how truly poisoned the well had become.

It feels like the meds have covered the well, which is good because it’s where the darkness resides. It’s difficult because it’s the place I’ve seemingly always drawn my thoughts and feelings and actions from, and now I have to find other ways to express my identity. This is frustrating in the way breaking a habit by finding a new, healthier habit to replace it is and I’m having to consciously remind myself to seek out other avenues to explore and communicate

I am excited and terrified about this. I’m worried I will settle on a single well and the process will repeat, or worse– I will never find a depth of identity I am comfortable with, but I also feel like I have the opportunity to rediscover who I am and what I am meant to be and find new ways to express myself…and I think if I can remind myself trust that positive vibe of rediscovery, I will continue to get better.

 

 

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Cautiously Optimistic

I’ve been making a lot of “crazy meds” jokes with people who are aware of my situation. I don’t think they find it as funny as I do. I can’t tell if it’s awkward like making a joke at a funeral and no one knows it’s okay to laugh, or a “this is a serious thing, why are you joking?”

Honestly, I don’t know that I care. I see a returning sense of humor as an improvement. It feels good to laugh again.

Sorry, not sorry.

Sorry, not sorry.

It’s been five days on the Zoloft now, and I don’t want to jump to conclusions or anything, but this stuff is pretty great. The first day I was a little loopy, but in a good way. My husband even mentioned how nice it was to see me smiling. Mostly, it’s been feeling like I’m hovering just above the abyss of depression, which is pretty amazing after feeling like I’ve been drowning in that abyss for so long.

It really does feel like I’ve been thrown a life raft.

The only downside I’m seeing is I’m kind of indifferent to some things. Which isn’t bad in some cases–like seeing the articles about the giant earthquake predicted to hit the pacific north west or the mini-ice age prediction for 2030–which normally would have sent me into a tailspin of despair and hopelessness. I do worry the zoloft might inhibit my capacity for deeply feeling the things I want to feel or are accustomed to feeling, but if that does happen, I don’t think it will happen for long.

I’m more focused though. I’m less anxious about incomplete tasks. I’m more forgiving of myself. I’m better at positive self-talk. I feel like I can breathe again. I have a desire to move and do things and be a real person.

It’s pretty great so far. It’s a little up and down in some places, but it’s much easier to get back up.

It’s supposed to take about two weeks to even out and my dosage goes up the day after tomorrow, so we will see what happens.

 

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The Results Are In

Last night my husband and I had a long talk about the depths of my most recent issues. It was the first time I have really come completely clean with everything going on inside my head. I didn’t want to go into the full depth of my depression with him because I was afraid he would worry too much about me or feel some sort of responsibility for my mental state, or worse, he would treat me differently–like a toxic and fragile thing to be handled with the utmost care and a healthy dose of fear.

I’m still not positive he won’t treat me differently, but he did remind me that we are a team and that as married people that is pretty much the entirety of our responsibility to one another. To be teammates, to listen, to understand, and to work through it. I love that guy, he gets me. Even though this is all new territory, he is kind and gentle and cautious and understanding.

Today my blood test results came in. I apparently have a slightly elevated MCV level. They want to do another blood test just to see for certain if it’s a folate or B12 deficiency or if maybe the blood just sat too long before they tested it.

The MCV level was the only abnormal aspect of my blood test, and those levels weren’t enough to be the cause of the depression and anxiety issues. So the doctor has prescribed Zoloft.

After reading all of the literature on it, I decided it would be better if I started it on Saturday since it can cause dizziness and sleepiness and things like driving aren’t recommended. Also, no drinking on it.

No drinking is going to be tough, but I’ve been working on the toning down the drinking for a little while now, so hopefully it won’t be bad. And if I have to trade my wine for some sanity, I’m willing to make that trade. Anyone who knows me, knows that means my desperation to feel better has reached a monumental level.


 

I was texting with one of my best friends today and we were discussing how we rarely talk anymore and how much of it is due to my depression. I realized that back in February or March I was having a lot of really great days, then when I finally sat down and wrote everything out about the anxiety and depression and really thoroughly examined everything, things started to slip.

The funny thing is, I think even with as bad as things have felt lately, that first moment of detailing what it’s like to live inside of my head during my general anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, blew the doors off of the proverbial closet I was hiding all of my mental shit in. It’s like I’m an emotional hoarder and now the doors and windows are all open and I pulled everything out and now I have to sort through it all.

It sucks when depression cripples you. At first it only feels like a sprain, or maybe a fracture, you’re still functioning. Then, before you realize it you’re paralyzed.


 

I am fortunate that my brain claws at life with a beautiful rage. That rage is what has given me the strength to seek help, to fight for living.

I went to yoga on Tuesday night for the second time in a month. That is more than I’ve been in years. The entire day was difficult. Everything felt hopeless and exhausting, but I kept reminding myself that I had yoga to look forward to. Even if it would have been easier to skip yoga and go home and wallow, I had to look forward to it. I had to convince myself that my very survival depended on it.

Funny thing about rage and pain, it needs to be inflicted. I was in such misery and being propelled by rage and I wanted nothing more than to lash out at someone. I wanted to inflict intellectual and emotional torment on someone so they would be equally as tortured as I was.

I wanted the power of fear.

And on some level I think I attained it.

Working through the postures, I remembered:

I am powerful beyond measure, even in my weakest moments. 

I proved it to myself through two 90 minutes hot yoga classes in the last few weeks, stepping back on to my mat and making it through as if I hadn’t been gone more than a few weeks.

The first class nearly brought me to tears with gratitude and relief, waves of absolution rolling over me. I wondered if that’s what confession felt like to a sinner. It was the final lock on the final closet door. Everything was finally out.

The second class was about harnessing my power, no matter where it came from, to pull my shit together and clean it up and make room for healing, discipline, and compassion for myself.


I’m finally realizing I have more than one or two tools in my toolbox and that those tools can be used consecutively to really and truly help me through this mess. While I’m nervous about the zoloft, I am excited about getting back to yoga, working through talk therapy, and having maybe an extra boost from the meds to help me iron my shit out and get back to good.

I have hope of getting back to good. It’s so fucking exciting.

 

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Today Has Been Better

I went to the doctor and talked to him about anti-depressants. It went well. He wants me to have blood work done to make sure it’s not something like a thyroid issue or iron deficiency. I don’t have any of the symptoms of thyroid issues (at least according to WebMD and the Mayo Clinic’s website), but it could be an iron deficiency. Which I didn’t even realize iron deficiency could cause depression and anxiety, but apparently it’s possible.

I made the appointment for the blood work, which I was very proud of myself for because usually doing things like that just paralyze me. It’s ridiculous, I know, but it’s how I am and it’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. I go in Monday morning and the doctor says he usually gets the results in 24 hours. So maybe by Tuesday or Wednesday we will know if it’s really and truly my brain being a giant jerk or if I just need to take some vitamins. I am feeling a bit excited by the possibility of understanding what’s going on with me, but I’m also pretty scared that it could wind up being something so much worse. Again, I rationally know that’s silly and has more to do with me googling stuff than anything.


I’ve been talking to an online counselor to sort of work my way up to making an actual office appointment with a local counselor. I’m not sure how I feel about this one. We discussed rational emotional behavior therapy and using coping statements, and I don’t want to say I’m more advanced than a certified mental health practitioner, but I might be…at least in terms of understanding myself. I’m trying to stay open minded and remind myself that digital communication is different from face to face communication and it’s probably difficult for her to judge whether I’m using hyperbole or being literal. I love a good metaphor and will use them often, but when I’m talking about my feelings those metaphors are only to illustrate my literalism.

Here is an excerpt from our dialog.

Her: Change the word, terrified, to nervous. “I’m nervous and I can be nervous.” Notice the difference? I’ll be waiting to hear from you. Nervous is okay and can be managed.

Me: My first reaction to your response was ‘It is really freaking hard for me not to be pedantic and say something snide like “I know my feelings and I know my words and I know the difference between terrified and nervous. I use terrified because I am feeling terror.”‘

I think I mentioned this before, but I am a writer. I became a writer because I love words and their meanings. I read the dictionary because there are never enough words to fully describe the depth of emotion I often feel.
There is a huge difference between nervousness and terror.
When I say I am terrified, I mean I am feeling the feeling of being on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Grand Canyon on a windy day with no guard rail and no safety equipment to keep me from falling a mile or more to the bottom.
When I say I am nervous I mean I am slightly uncomfortable. To continue the Grand Canyon metaphor…nervous is looking out over the canyon for the first time from 20 feet behind a well-bolted down fence with a 6 foot high guardrail.
The difference between terrified and nervous for me is the difference between “I might get a speeding ticket” and “I’m about to have a head on collision.”
In my last message I said I was excited, nervous, and terrified.
In this context, I am terrified that all of this will have been for nothing. That there is no hope for me and I will be perpetually stuck in this roller coaster for the rest of my life.
I am nervous my doctor might have a moment of judgment that is obvious to an intuitive person and that in that moment I will feel uncomfortable being vulnerable, but will ultimately recover.
I am excited because I have hope that there is a possibility of finding my way out of the giant, steaming, quicksand pit of shit I have felt like I am in inside my head.
She said words do have tremendous power and that I was an excellent writer and that she would be waiting to hear from me. Which felt a little patronizing, but I sort of chocked that up to me being in a general snit about word usage.
Today I told her about my doctor’s appointment and this was her response:

Sounds like you have a great doctor. The thyroid can certainly affect one’s emotional state.

I am going to add a few coping statements. Remember words have tremendous power.

COPING STATEMENTS FOR DEALING WITH ANXIETY ABOUT ANXIETY

  1. I don’t have to make myself anxious about anything, or put myself down if I stupidly and foolishly do make myself anxious.
  2. My anxiety is bad, but I m not bad.
  3. I don’t always have to feel comfortable, and it isn’t awful when I don’t.
  4. I can bear-and bear with-anxiety: it won’t kill me.
  5. It is not necessary to be in perfect control of my anxious moments. To demand that I be in control only multiplies my symptoms.

In spite of your terror, you kept your appointment spoke honestly and you survived. It is not HOPELESS.

I feel like this is a canned response.

1. If I am telling myself not to put myself down if “I stupidly and foolishly do make myself anxious” isn’t that putting myself down??? I might be crazy here, but it feels like I would be saying, “You did a stupid and foolish thing making yourself feel anxious.” I don’t put myself down about my anxiety. It happens. I get anxious. I accept that it happens and that part of it is my brain trying to figure out all of the possible outcomes of any situation.

2. Of course my anxiety is bad. I am definitely not bad. I constantly try to be the best person I can possibly be and I feel like most of the time I’m pretty great at being a good person. I love people, I don’t judge, I forgive myself when I do, I recognize I’m an imperfect being and I love myself. I just hold myself to incredibly high expectations and when I don’t meet those expectations, I feel guilty.

3. I don’t mind discomfort, I struggle with the anticipation of discomfort and then dissecting the discomfort afterwards. I would rather be hit hard immediately than wait to be hit moderately.

4. Yes, I can bear anxiety. I’ve been bearing it for consistently for 4 years and intermittently for my entire life. I know it won’t kill me. If it could kill me, I would be dead already.

5. This might be something I can work with. I am a control freak, at least when it comes to my own being. I usually have great control over my emotional state–at least publicly. Partly because I refuse to ever be seen as a drama queen and also because I come from a culture where you hide your crazy. Yes, I am aware that is a huge source of my issues. When you bottle it all in and box it all up, shit eventually piles too high and has to find other ways to exit the building and this comes in the form of anxiety, panic, depression.

Despite what inspirational internet memes might tell me, I know I may not always be able to control my body and brain’s reaction to certain situations. It is okay to feel what I feel in the moment. This means letting go of the fear that other people might notice, might judge, might try to coddle me in the midst of obvious anxiety or panic and the best thing I can do is be honest with them and myself in the moment, and know it will pass.

I did keep my appointment; I even went to an earlier one. Once I had committed to the appointment, I had to go. Being called in earlier was actually a relief since I could just go and get things done and over with. Again, the anticipation is the hardest part for me. It gives me too much time to think.

I am not hopeless in my anxiety or in dealing with my anxiety. I am hopeless in my depression when I feel overwhelmed by the problems in the world I can see solutions for that are too seemingly insurmountable to overcome.


Maybe I should try that face to face therapy sooner rather than later. I feel bad being so incredibly nit-picky about words and phrases, but I really want this to work and I know how my brain works. I also know that even the people who know me the best sometimes have a difficult time understanding me when I talk in depth about my emotional state.
 

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