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?

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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.

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Helpful Books for Anxious Kids

Coming out on the other side of a life-threatening medical diagnosis and the ensuing treatment takes a lot of ingenuity and resources. We’ve run the gamete looking for ways to help Jack deal with anxiety and depression during and after his bout with cancer, including various types of therapy and a whole lot of books.

While there is no substitute for a good therapist (particularly if you are a worried parent who is also trying to deal), books are enormously helpful on a day-to-day basis. For the other parents out there dealing with anxious kids, I thought I would share some of the books that our family found helpful. Please note that the below photos contain Amazon affiliate links.

Story Books for Kids with Medical Challenges

Little Tree

Age Range: 4-8

Franklin Goes to the Hospital

Age Range: 3-8


Story Books to Help Children Deal with Emotions

Is a Worry Worrying You?

Age Range: 4-8

When I Feel… Series

Age Range: 4-8


Workbooks for Kids with Anxiety or Medical Challenges

My Feeling Better Workbook

Age Range: 6-12

What To Do When You Worry Too Much

Age Range: 7-12

Digging Deep Journal

Age Range: 12+ (Artistic kids and mature kids as young as 8-9 could do great with this, in my opinion)

Do you have recommendations to add? I would love to hear about more, particularly any books specifically for tweens and teens!


These books are helpful for anxious kids between the ages of 4-12 who are dealing with big emotions and medical-related anxiety.

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Doors

It happens at bedtime. Wild-eyed and almost vibrating with anxious energy, Jack zooms through the house. He sweeps down the hall and into his bedroom, from which I hear frantic murmurs. Moments later he zooms out again and I catch him up in my arms to steady him. I feel his heart beating rapidly in his chest.

I ask him what’s wrong.

“I don’t know. I don’t feel right. Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in a dream? Do you ever look in the mirror and feel like it’s not you looking back?”

Yes, I say. Many times.

He doesn’t really hear me. He disengages from my arms and zooms around the room again, first toward the kitchen, next toward the door. “Doors,” he mutters and reaches for the knob. I say no and he turns on his heel and makes a beeline for his bedroom again.

I follow. He sits in his desk chair and taps his fingers on the desk. His brown eyes fill with tears and dart around the room.

“My brain doesn’t feel right. I think I’m broken.”

He goes on to tell me that everything is boring. He says that fairytales are lies that are written to cope with the fact that there is no real magic in the world. He reads them and he feels hope and then reality returns: there is no magic, there are only lies. He will never have adventures. He will get up in the morning and eat his boring toast at the boring table and then go to boring school…it is all so awful.

His eyes meet mine and he pleads, “Is there something that can fix this?”

He says he worries about taking pills. He worries he is not meant to take pills, that he is meant for something that the pills will suppress.

Where did he get this idea, I wonder… How can a 10-year-old even possess this level of critical thinking?

“I don’t know how to fix this, Son, but I have ideas for what to do to help right now. You don’t have to figure it out on your own.”

First I give him headache medicine for the pounding in his head. Then we find a music station on his iPad, a soothing station of instrumental lullabies.

Draw, I tell him. Draw the monsters that are in your head right now. Draw and listen to the music and breathe while I make a cup of tea.

I come back with a steaming cup of minty tea and hold it under his nose, telling him to take a whiff. He does and then continues drawing.

He sketches twisted faces, pairs of eyes, a vortex, a banana tree. An instrumental version of “Hey Jude” plays while he draws. A calm settles over him.

“I’m feeling better,” he says. “I’m starting to forget the thoughts. I just need to draw this one last thing.”

He draws a door. “I kept seeing doors,” he explains as he puts his sketch pad aside.

We climb into his loft bed together, where he sips tea while I read to him. He is mostly back to his easy-going self by the time I tuck him in and say goodnight.

I breathe a deep sigh as I walk away from his bedroom door. I am bewildered. I don’t know what happened to my son this evening or why it happened, but we got through it together.

It is behind him, for now. It is my turn to cry.

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Not Your Average Mother

I have a complicated relationship with my mother. I know that is not unusual in the least, but my mom takes quirky to a new level, and I learned so much from her. She is not your average mother, and thus, neither am I.

This Mother’s Day, I thought I would share some of what my mom taught me, whether directly or through her actions. Some of what I learned from my mom is pretty badass (in my opinion), but there are also unexpected twists…

mom and daughter

My mother and me, circa 1998.

If someone tries to abduct you, even at gunpoint, scream. It’s better to be killed on the spot than to go through what they have planned. And you don’t want to have to live with the memories of what they will do to you.

Be assertive. Something is wrong with your order? Talk to the manager. If someone is sitting in the booth you want? Ask them to move.

Learn to type. If you can type, you can get a job. And having a job is very, very important so that you never have to rely on anyone.

Don’t trust anyone with your money. Your husband might very well drain the bank account and charge up the credit cards buying a fur coat (in Sacramento!) for his mistress. It’s best to have separate bank accounts. And make sure your paycheck can cover the bills entirely because your boyfriend may up and go to prison.

Keep calm and carry on. If you find out your boyfriend has committed atrocious crimes, stay calm and don’t let him know you’re onto him. Instead go immediately to the courthouse to get a restraining order and have your 6’4″ brother deliver it. Don’t tell said boyfriend why he is being kicked out. Later, work with police to get his confession to the crime recorded over the phone.

Okay, you can break down but only in the shower when you think your kids can’t hear you.

Plan ahead. Get your will and life insurance and safety deposit boxes in order, and then tell your kids all about it, even if they are preteens. “I added you to my bank account. If I die, you need to go withdraw all the money right away because otherwise it can get caught up in legal proceedings and it will take forever to get the money and it might even disappear.”

Pay attention to your maternal instincts! When your spidey sense starts telling you something isn’t right with your kids, listen. You might just show up in the middle of your kids getting a lesson about their dad’s drug use.

I think about these lessons from time to time and the depth of experience that comes with them. My mom has survived so much in her life and I can honestly say I look up to her a lot. At the same time, I hope to never have to share most of these lessons with my own kids.

With that said, I have my own history and quirks. Time will tell what kind of lessons my children will glean from me.

What about you? What life lessons have you learned from your mother that she may not have intended to teach you?

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