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.

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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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I’ve been taking anti-depressants for a month now but I have admitted to myself and my counselors that they aren’t working as they should be.  Some things have gotten better, and some things have gotten worse.  I am feeling a bit afraid at this point. I’m afraid I’m going to go crazy. I’m afraid I’ll really screw up my marriage, that I had no business thinking that I could handle being a mother, that this illness will leave me incapacitated. Mostly I’m not afraid for myself, just that I will burden those I love. I feel like I’m losing my sense of self, and I don’t want to go back to the hell of 3 years ago.

I am working on getting help and getting things going in the right direction but it will take some time.  I don’t know how long and I don’t know how often I’ll be able to update here in the mean time.  I hope you are all here whenever I get back.

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Step in the right direction

It’s interesting being at this stage in my life, a life as a chronic depression-sufferer.  I am such a seasoned veteran of depression by this point that most can’t even tell I’m depressed.  A therapist admitted to me a few years ago that she could not tell that I was totally freaking out sitting right in front of her.  I attribute this not only to how long I’ve been dealing with these issues, but also to growing up in a family who hid problems and marched on because any wrong step could throw us into a very scary situation from which we might not recover.  I’m somewhat thankful because it has made me stronger, and I can keep functioning even under terrible circumstances.  The downside, of course, is that I often forget that I’m no longer living on a precipice and it takes a lot longer for me to realize that I’ve reached the point where I have stopped participating in really living.

As you all know, I realized some time ago that I needed help.  Well, I am finally getting it.  I contacted my doctor last week and she immediately got to work with a referral to the mental health department.  Embarrassing questions were asked but now things are in motion.

My first intake appointment is in a week and a half.  I will be spending the whole morning getting acquainted with the system, meeting with mental health professionals, and possibly even participating in group therapy.  I am interested to see what I get out of all of this because it sure seems like a lot to do in a few hours time.  Also, we leave for a trip to Wisconsin the very next day.

I feel relieved even though I still have paperwork and talking to do before I actually get treatment.  It has also helped that we have the daycare situation squared away so I don’t have to expend enormous amounts of energy worrying about that.  I am looking forward to returning to a healthier state of mind.  I am looking forward to really living.

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