Welcome to another week of Speak Up for Silence. If you want to learn more about this series, please read this. Also, be sure to visit Christine's blog as she's sharing another person's story. Today's post is from Elise, a "real life" friend of mine. I'm so glad she took the time to share her story because I know she's not alone in this.
The ever-present war between symptoms of your mental illness and side effects of the treatment for you mental illness.
I've had a lot of weird medical experiences in my life. Unexplained fainting episodes, random seizure, every gastric problem under the sun, insomnia, breathing issues, migraines, dizziness. And there is never any explanation. At this point, even as my husband is encouraging me to see a gastroenterologist and find out if I really do have some disorder, I have a pretty certain feeling what the cause is: anxiety.
If you are a frequenter of the WebMD symptom checker, you know, as I do, that no matter what you put in, anxiety is always listed as a possible cause. I've had the stomach issues since about middle school. The sleeping issues have been bad for about three or four years.
So you have anxiety and depression and you don't want to go the doctor yet, what do you do? Have a regular sleep routine! Eat healthy! Exercise! Yeah, it's hard to do those things when you feel like crap.
I've been on medication for my depression and anxiety two separate times. The first was in 2011 after I had what we will call a mental health emergency where I was dangerously close to dangerous actions. Somehow I managed to stop pretending everything was normal. I quit my dream position that I was about to start in three weeks and moved in with my parents and only watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix for three months.
I was put on Celexa and it was honestly the worst. I'd never understood before why people went off their meds. But brain chemistry meds are not quite like anything else. To go from what I thought was my lowest point to a point even worse from the medicine was excruciating. I'm not sure that drug ever actually helped for me or if coming out of that pit should be attributed more to some great friends who got me on skype every night while they were playing video games together. That and supportive places on the internet.
I don't know how long I was on Celexa before I just quit it. *Not a doctor recommended approach.* I didn't have withdrawal issues with it, though. Probably another sign that this was not the med for me. But going in once to the doctor to get the first prescription was already such a challenge and I was not about to go back in. It's so hard to advocate for yourself medically when you can hardly make eye contact with the checker at Target.
Life went on. I am very good at forcing unofficial behavioral therapy on myself. So I forced myself into social situations. I have always been borderline OCD (more-so as a child, heavy on obsessions, never interrupting my life), and my older sister knew about some of my compulsions and would stop me from being able to do them. She'd make it so I couldn't ever be "even" like I needed. And things were okay after, nobody died and I didn't do something horrible. Behavioral therapy, even completely unofficial therapy, had worked for me before.
So I went off pills and I tried to do the healthy lifestyle choices while forcing myself into situations that my anxiety and depression said NO to.
Fast forward to 2014 and my anxiety is not very easy to hide inside my relationship with my now-husband, then-fiance. Add to that planning a wedding and an international honeymoon and a sometimes high stress job, and you've got a problem. The symptoms of anxiety were raging - trouble sleeping, stomach problems, panic attacks.
Thankfully I was back in the town I'd gone to school in, where I have a PCP who I love and who I've gone to since 2007. I went in, we chatted, I got a prescription for Zoloft and Ativan. They were necessary, I was breaking down in tears randomly and having trouble attending social events.
Zoloft. My goodness, talk about the shivers. Getting on Zoloft, I got ALL the side-effects right off the bat. I was wide awake by 3am, shivering constantly, yawning constantly, and having trouble focusing. After a month, it got better, and the anxiety got way better too. I was maybe a little bit to dulled, but it was definitely better than the anxiety. I took maybe a couple Ativans a month when needed and things were great for about 4 months. Then the night sweats started.
I have so much more compassion now for women in the midst of menopause. I was waking up multiple times a night just drenched in sweat. I wasn't sleeping hardly at all. I'd get up after the second or third time the night sweats woke me, strip off my clothes, and move to the guest bed, only to wake up an hour later, drenched again. The lack of sleep was causing trouble everywhere - lack of sleep is a fantastic contributing cause of anxiety. And night sweats are one of those scary symptoms. It's a cancer symptom.
So after about 5 months of night sweats, I went in to the doctor and got a blood panel done. All clear. He'd already given me the go ahead to increase my meds by 50% or taper off, whenever I felt appropriate. So I started to taper off. I went down to half a pill for 2 weeks, then completely off. And I didn't really experience any withdrawal. But slowly, the night sweats have mostly gone away.
That brings us to today. I'm not taking anything regularly, but I do have the Ativan still when I am having a very rough day. The anxiety is, again, ever-present. I'm working out regularly, eating somewhat healthily, and attempting to manage my anxiety again without meds. Maybe it's a glass of wine here or there, a personal health "sick day" when needed, or a good cry from a sad movie to give meaning to feelings that seem to be floating around, unconnected to reality.
Sometimes it's easier because my husband is frequently around during social interactions and when I share how I felt the interaction went (badly, everyone hates me, etc), he can counter with the reasonable, true way he saw it happen. But then, sometimes it's harder being married and dealing with anxiety/depression. It's hard not to withdraw, physically and emotionally, when your brain is screaming at you that you're doing everything wrong. It's not an easy thing to manage.
I guess what I really want to express in this admission is that treating your anxiety/depression is not easy. I doubt I'm alone in that I had thought the hardest part was going to be asking for help. People who don't struggle with mental health tend to think you could just get some drugs and then you'll be fine, like treating high cholesterol. But it's so much more complicated than that, you almost have to do a cost/benefit analysis to figure out what to do. Sometimes the side effects are worth it and taking the meds is absolutely necessary. I just don't think there is ever a silver bullet, it's always going to be a day to day thing.
That said, I'm still in a much better place now than before I ever sought help. And the more I'm able to share with friends and family, the easier it gets to separate my mental illness and negative thinking patterns from my self. Progress sometimes involves steps back and difficult days, and that's okay.
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