Drowning in December: A Depression Story

December feels like drowning. The chill in the air sucks at me, the gloom from a hidden sun suffocates me, and the weight of a million responsibilities pulls me down. I am sinking beneath it all.

I have been fighting this relapse of depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms for about a year as of this month. I’ve gotten to a functional place; I can work and take care of my kids reasonably well. Almost reasonably well. These are the things I’ve prioritized over everything else in my life out of necessity.

I look around at my house and see clutter; we are STILL cleaning up from Thanksgiving, in fact. I look at my backyard with the broken fence and my patio dotted with random pieces of rotting furniture. It’s all a reminder that I’m not keeping up with the day-to-day and it’s been building up and is even less manageable than it used to be. It’s a visual representation of the garbage in my brain that I can’t seem to clear out.

In the middle of my own struggles, Jack has mental health challenges, as well. The fallout from cancer is seemingly neverending. His last successful blood draw was over 6 months ago; he is long overdue. We have (and by that I really mean David has) made four attempts in the last month to get the draw at the lab, but Jack’s fear and panic have won out each time. He has had anxiety and depression, too. And so we are heading back to therapy this week, and adding a psychiatrist to the mix.

He’s 11. This is too much for an 11-year-old. Hell, I’m almost 37 and it’s too much for me.

As for me, there is nothing to be done but to keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep trying whatever medication cocktail my psychiatrist suggests, and keep focusing on the fact that I’m still IN IT but that I will float back to the top eventually.

Try not to sink. Try to swim. The surface is there; you just have to the find it.

You’ve Gotta Go There to Come Back

Last week I went to the Type A conference in Alexandria, Virginia. It was my first time away from my whole family for longer than a night in over 3 years! I was so excited to get some time to myself, see friends and family (my sister lives in Maryland), and sleep in a comfy hotel bed without a toddler threatening to wake me in the wee hours of the morning. Like all things worth doing, it wasn’t easy to accomplish, though!

A little over 24 hours before I was due to head out, Dez came down with a fever. I packed my suitcase while his temperature surged to 105. I worried, as I always do now when fevers strike (thanks, cancer!). Naturally, I had trouble settling down to sleep that night. And then Dave woke me up around 3am because he could feel Dez’s heart pounding in his chest and the dose of Motrin we’d given him that evening hadn’t done anything to budge the fever. I called the Kaiser advice nurse, a thing that is old hat now after all the health worries we went through with Jack, but nerve-wracking nonetheless.

sick toddler laying on a couch

I was given the usual precautions: keep him hydrated, remove extraneous clothing, try Tylenol, and take him to the ER in if his temp goes over 106. We gave Dez some Tylenol and all went back to sleep (“He’ll be fine. He’ll be fine. He’ll be fine.” repeating in my head).

I had a nightmare about missing my flight, so naturally I woke up feeling even more frantic! I made it to the airport just fine, though.

Dez was miserable while I was gone. David took him to the doctor after 72 hours of fever, whereupon he was diagnosed with an infected tonsil thanks to a random virus. There was nothing to do but let it run its course.

While that was going on, David was also working with Jack to get him caught up on math and science homework. The middle school workload is turning out to be difficult to keep up with, and we got a (surprise!) progress report recently showing that Jack’s grades were looking grim. I made a deal with him before I left that if he got caught up while I was away, he could order two books from the book fair at school (side note: Jack is super easy to bribe! It takes so little!). He had to stay up late a couple of nights and got help and coaching from David, but he did it. His grades have improved drastically already.

I had so much guilt while I was away, but I swallowed it. That’s what we have to do as moms, right? We have to step away for a bit of personal renewal and trust that our families will manage without us. And mine totally did! David took charge with doctor appointments and nursing Dez back to health and helping Jack get caught up on his homework and ensuring that his teacher recorded the late assignments. I got home and everyone was healthy and the house was even clean! Everyone had missed me, but they managed quite well without me. That felt good.

The conference itself wasn’t great, but I am glad I went even if just to let my family show me how strong and capable they are. It was worth it just for that.

Desmond is 3 Years Old!

Are you as surprised as I am that Desmond is turning 3? It is true that time goes even faster the second time around. I only vaguely remember that first year before the constant running around and chitchat…

Dez is still a very active child. He loves to jump on the bed and off the arm of the couch (over and over). He uses a stepstool to get up into everything. He’ll rummage in my purse and dump his blocks all over the living room floor while spinning in a circle. He loves to chase his big brother and play “swords” with pool noodles.

He does have a lot more chill moments these days, though. He will sit and entertain himself with videos on YouTube Kids or by playing with his cars or legos. It’s pretty fun to watch him with his cars. He makes the cars talk to each other; typically this involves the cars crashing together, then one asking the other, “Are you okay?” “I’m okay,” the car replies before the cycle starts again.

toddler talking to a line of cars

He loves to line up his cars and talk to them.

Cars are definitely the number one toy obsession. Every day Dez takes 4 of them to daycare. His favorite is Lightening McQueen. The other three vary. For a while he would walk into daycare and hand McQueen to one of his friends, “Here you go, Zoey.” It was his morning ritual. One morning he looked at Zoey and said, “Oh, so cute, Zoey!” He’s going to be a charmer, this one.

Amelia, the daughter of our friends Rebecca and Tim, is Dez’s best friend. We have no family in town, so it is especially awesome that Dez and Mimi get along so well! When Rebecca and Tim come over to hang out, the kids run around with each other and jump on the bed together. This past Easter they hunted eggs together in the front yard. Every morning Dez says, “I wanna see Mimi!” And off to daycare he goes to see her.

two toddlers searching for easter eggs

Dez and Mimi hunting eggs at Easter.

Dez is quite good at making it known what he wants, whether with words or a tantrum. His speech has gotten a lot better and he talks a ton! His favorite thing lately is to ask, “What’s that sound?” He will ask it over and over and over and over. And over. To get out of answering a billion times, I try to turn it around with a “What do you think it is?” Sometimes that works, and sometimes he just goes back to “What’s that sound, Mama?” Usually the sound is a car driving down the street–his favorite sound.

(Funny story! We were driving to daycare one morning and a commercial came on with Gilbert Godfried doing the voiceover. “What’s that sound?” Dez wondered. After a pause, he answered his own question with “Monsterrr.” Ha!)

Dez can also count to 10 and knows his colors. He knows his letters, too, although I haven’t heard him sing the alphabet song.

toddler singing

We recently took Dez to an outdoor concert…where he tried to sing loudly over the band.

In addition to talking, Dez loves to sing. He loves to sing LOUDLY. His favorite tune is “Finger Family” (ugh! Thanks, YouTube!), followed by “Johnny Johnny” or whatever it’s called. Dez will lay down at night and croon loudly and off key, “Daddy finger, daddy finger, where are YOOOOOUUUUUU?” It would be hilarious if we weren’t trying to get some sleep!

Speaking of sleep…it’s still not great. Most nights he doesn’t go to sleep until 10 or 10:30, and it requires one of us (usually Dave) lying down with him. If Dave escapes during the night to go back to our bed, Dez will be up at some point in the night to drag me into his room. Then he’s up bright and early at 6:30 most days (although a cold has had him sleeping until almost 8am on some mornings lately AND he slept through the night two nights in a row! It was bliss!).

Dez is very affectionate, which helps balance out the toddler difficulties. Every morning he bursts out of his room to find me and give me a hug. Is there anything sweeter than a toddler wrapping his hands around you and laying his head on your shoulder? He still has that smooth baby skin and squishy cheeks and I just want to eat him. I try to hold onto those moments because in a flash he is off and getting into things.

brothers holding hands

Dez is very affectionate AND loves his big brother.

Lastly, food. He is a little piggy! He pretty much eats his weight in watermelon every week. He likes fruits, veggies, toast, rice, eggs, Annie’s yogurt (and ONLY Annie’s yogurt!), and usually wants a bite of whatever it is we are eating. He’s started eating chicken nuggets (nuggets shaped like letters were the gateway; now he’ll eat dino shapes, too). He is also addicted to fruit snacks (“snack snacks”) and is quite the candy fiend. I should have never let him have candy! It’s so much harder to avoid this stuff with an older kid around… He still doesn’t drink milk or juice, though. He’s not big into cheese, either. Weird kid.

All in all, Dez is a fun, energetic, silly, and lovely boy. I’m very much enjoying watching him grow up!

toddler in a hat

Happy birthday, little buddy!

Searching for the Perfect Antidepressant

Searching for the perfect antidepressant can be such a difficult process. Prozac was my companion for a good 8 years. During that time, I was always aware of and worried about the arrival of the day when I would have to switch. Prozac was never 100% effective (it didn’t do much for my anxiety), but it worked well enough that I was able to manage mild depression and anxiety on my own with self-care while I was on it.

Almost two years ago (November 2015), I started noticing some issues popping up. I wrote a note on my phone to make sure I kept track in case I needed to go back to my psychiatrist. My notes read:

  • Scatterbrained, difficulty focusing in conversations
  • Disproportional anger
  • Increased headaches/migraines, back & neck pain
  • Stress dreams almost every night
  • Decreased interest in doing things I normally enjoy

sleeping woman in bed

It then took me a year of feeling this way before I finally did anything about it. The big reason for my delay was fear. I knew Prozac wasn’t the best medication for me, but it felt good enough when I thought of what I would need to go through to find a new medication. Changing antidepressants is, frankly, horrible. The mood swings are intense, and the withdrawals can be debilitating.

But my mental health problems started impacting my relationships and my work. Good enough was no longer cutting it.

I reached out to my friend Chelley and asked her to do me a favor. I asked her to bug the heck out of me until I made an appointment. And she did that for me, sending me a few messages over the course of a week or two, and then I finally went in to see my (new) psychiatrist in November.

To my surprise, my psychiatrist suggested I stick with Prozac. He gave me something called Seroquel to help with anxiety on an as-needed basis. Unfortunately, it put me to sleep when I took even a quarter of a pill. That was not going to help me in the middle of a work day!

It took me until March to go back and see the psychiatrist again. He then suggested I try Wellbutrin with the Prozac. So I started with a low dose of Wellbutrin a couple of days later. At first, I felt pretty good and could deal with the mild side effects (thinking they would dissipate). I was able to concentrate better at work and I wasn’t dreading every single task at home. I was optimistic that this medication would work out.

BUT–of course there is a but–a few days in I started feeling physically unwell after increasing the dose to what was supposed to be a therapeutic level. I got a headache on the right side of my head and around my eye and it wouldn’t respond to pain reliever. Around 3pm each day I started getting nauseated and exhaustion would hit. I thought I was just adjusting to a new medication, but about a week in, I ended up in bed, completely laid out with nausea, headache, exhaustion, sweating and shivering. Plus, it felt like my brain was literally burning.

It was Serotonin Syndrome.

So I went back to the psychiatrist again and we decided to stop the Prozac and Wellbutrin and try something else. Thus began the withdrawal journey!

I won’t bore you with those details, but it wasn’t pleasant. I got off the Prozac and transitioned onto Lexapro in mid-April. I started off small (my psychiatrist is cautious after the burning brain incident), and then increased the dosage when it didn’t seem to be working all that well.

Three and a half months later, it’s still not working well. Sometimes I’m okay and feel like myself, and sometimes I am bawling for no reason or hiding in my bedroom with paralyzing anxiety. My hair is also falling out. (Note: My psychiatrist says, “Hair loss is not a common side effect from Lexapro, so I’m not sure what’s causing this.” My internet search suggests differently, but whatevs. I’ll see if it goes away after I stop the Lexapro.)

I feel bad for those around me. I snap at or start arguments with my husband. I am spacey with my kids. I make stupid mistakes at work. I complain almost constantly on Twitter. And I feel horrible about all of it.

I have an appointment this week to go back in to see my psychiatrist and hear what he suggests trying next. I just want to feel okay again. Why is it so hard?

Feeling Stuck with Parenting Challenges

As amazing as Jack is, parenting him comes with a lot of challenges. The challenges always surprise us because he is a perfectionist and a people pleaser. He is sensitive and doesn’t want to upset his parents and he’s very cautious. He’s the kid most parents want their kid to hang out with because he’s level headed and avoidant of trouble.

And yet, we have challenges. They are complicated and frustrating. We are definitely parenting a highly sensitive person, both in terms of emotional sensitivity and sensory issues. And we feel stuck.

tween boy in glasses and a hat

Jack looking entirely too grown up.

Food Challenges

On the positive side, Jack loves veggies and fruit. He could easily go vegetarian. He will probably never be overweight. The thing is, fruits and vegetables don’t have many calories!

We struggle to get him to eat protein. He doesn’t like scrambled or fried eggs. He only likes breaded chicken (and is picky about certain types, at that). He doesn’t eat beef or pork. He ate peanut butter for a time, but that time recently came to an end. I have no idea what he’s going to eat for lunch once he goes back to school.

He is not the type of person that you can just say “you must eat this; there are no other options.” He will just not eat. (To be honest, he gets this from me. I did grow out of this somewhat.)

Sleep Challenges

For the most part, Jack is an amazing sleeper. Once he is asleep, he is pretty much OUT. He’s nearly impossible to rouse. And for most of his 11 years, it has not been tough to get him to sleep.

Cancer treatment definitely affected his sleep, though. During treatment he had night terrors and nosebleeds that woke him up. He started having trouble relaxing at bedtime, as well, possibly due to unconscious fears of things being done to him while he was sleeping (which, fair!). Over the years he has acquired more and more stuffed animals that live in his bed. Every night before bed, he piles the stuffed animals up on top of himself, and then a heavy blanket goes over that. (He cannot sleep without the heavy blanket.) He needs a nightlight to sleep, and a fan going. We also still read to him every night.

All of that would be fine if we could just get him to relax and go to sleep without calling us in because he’s scared. He worries about someone breaking in. He can’t get worrisome images out of his head. He sometimes feels like something is in the room with him.

It’s pretty easy to see WHY he has these fears. But dealing with them is the tricky part. We’ve tried numerous things in therapy and his latest therapist seems to have run out of ideas. Everything the therapist suggests works for a night or two and then stops working.

School Challenges

Where do I even begin? The only good here is that Jack is smart and, with the exception of math, is meeting grade level standards. We have an IEP in place to help him with math, and he has made progress, but his progress is slow. Every year he falls further behind grade level.

Give Jack three math problems and it will take him an hour AND require assistance, even if it’s something like double digit multiplication. It’s partly due to learning disabilities (dyscalculia, slow processing, and ADHD), and partly due to his lack of interest. He doesn’t like it and it’s not easy, and so he doesn’t even want to try.

It’s not just math, though. He doesn’t like school at all anymore. He says it’s boring and he “has no friends” because no one wants to play his games at recess and homework is pointless. He absolutely DOES have friends and there are lots of kids who would play his games if he asked. But he is rigid and pessimistic when it comes to school and so he creates a self-fulfilling prophecy every day.

Jack starts middle school in three weeks and I’m terrified.

Feeling Stuck

Take any one of these challenges and it’s frustrating, but all of them together feel like entirely too much. It feels like we have tried just about everything and each time it’s 1 step forward, 2 steps back. We feel stuck and helpless.

Will Jack grow out of it? Are we not parenting him effectively? How much influence do we even have over him? So many questions, so few answers.