Tag Archives: medication

the gift of life

Today is my birthday.  I am 50 years old.  Some people lie about their age – not me.  I am proud of every candle on the cake.   I feel like shouting from my rootop, “It’s my birthday!  I’m 50!  I am AWESOME!”  That may sound conceited, but I don’t mean it to be.  I mean it as a sign of true hard work, of fierce determination, of deep thankfulness.

I live with depression.  Now is a good time, but there have been many years that have been quite dark.  I have spent a fortune I’m sure on therapy, hospital bills and medication.  My depression has been serious and deep and dark and lonely and fearful and agonizing.  There have been moments where I was sure I would never make it to 50, let alone 40 or even 30.  I tried to die and was hospitalized TWICE before I was 25.  And for each time I tried to kill myself there were countless other times I just didn’t have the energy or the opportunity.  There were times I couldn’t get out of bed or take a shower, or make it to class and/or work.  I cut and/or burned myself to try to get the pain out of me.

My last depressive episode was just a few years ago – not reaching the point of suicidal ideation but serious enough to get me back into therapy and on medication.  I cried over getting out of bed, over getting my kids up for school, over doing the dishes, the laundry, over cooking dinner, over helping my kids with their homework.  With this depression I wasn’t sleeping all the time – I was suffering from insomnia, so there was no blessed escape in sleep.

Like I said above, I’m sure I have spent a fortune on therapy, hospitalizations and medication.  Some therapists were better than others, one hospital was certainly better than the other, and medication – well, you have to do some experimentation to find which one works best for each situation.  I’ve never done well on just one medication; each episode has been helped by a different anti-depressants and/or anti-anxiety medications.  I have worked HARD in therapy – confronting demons both real and imagined.  I scraped and clawed my way out of the black hole that is depression and I’m in a good place now.

I’m in a good place now thank God (and my therapist and my medication and my family and my friends and you all…).

And because I’m in a good place, I can truly appreciate the hard work I have done to get to this milestone in my life.  I can truly appreciate the hard work and worry of my therapists (I’ve had quite a few).  I can truly appreciate the worry and care of my friends and family.  I can truly appreciate the gift of these years and the gift of life.

I am happy to be 50 because I KNOW the alternative almost happened.  I am happy to be 50 because I could be dead and buried, never having had a career, a spouse or children.  I am happy to be 50 because I’m getting to see my kids (who at one point I thought I would never have) grow up.  I am happy to be 50 because there were times in my life I thought I’d never be here.

So I am thankful.  I think 50 is awesome.  I think 50 is amazing.  I am in awe.

Is it perfect?  There is no such thing.  I would be lying if I told you I wake up every day with a smile on my face and a song on my lips.  There is NO such pill that can make us be happy all the time.  The first time I went on medication the doctor explained it to me like this:  “Medication won’t make you giddy and smile all the time.  That’s not how it works.  What it WILL do is give you a higher threshold for tolerating pain, so you can deal with it more appropriately and heal.m  It raises your threshold for coping.”  That sums it up pretty well.  There is no such thing as a happy pill.  Life is hard and sometimes life just plain sucks.  But I’ve got it, and as long as I’ve got it I have a chance to work and make things better.

So I am wearing my age like a badge of honor – honor that comes through battles hard fought and victories hard won.  I never lie about my age, because I’m so darn thankful and proud to have made it this far.

I am 50, and it’s wonderful.

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so here’s the thing…

So here’s the thing.  I had my last session with my doctor/therapist last week.  I have found a new doctor who will monitor my medication periodically, but no new therapist.  Why?  Because it’s too fucking expensive that’s why.  Even with insurance the bills are huge, and half-way through the year my doctor/therapist dropped my insurance because she just didn’t want to deal with their crap anymore.  For half the year I paid to see her out of network and our bills piled up, and we just can’t do it anymore.  Why is mental health coverage so difficult?

I had a better relationship with this therapist than I have had with any other therapist I have EVER seen, and I’ve seen A LOT in my almost 50 years on the planet.  It was the first time, even in the midst of a messy desperate depression, that I felt equal to my therapist (which I suppose is a credit to all the hard work done with the therapists of my past, as well as a good relationship with my husband in which I feel loved and valued).   I didn’t feel like putty in her hands – I felt like I needed her help to make sense of the blurriness and chaos around me, but not that she had some weird mysterious power over me.  She talked to me, not just listened.  She praised my strengths, but also told me when I was full of shit.  She gave me her opinions – we had good back and forth conversations.  I’m thankful for the work she and I did together.  But it wasn’t finished.  And that’s too bad.  But we just can’t do it anymore.  In the past year I had gone from seeing her weekly, to every two weeks to prepare for her going out-of-network, to once monthly  when that finally happened – so at least I weaned myself from our conversations.  Again, too bad, because she was really good for me.

But I also tried to wean myself from my medication, which I DO NOT recommend to anyone.   I didn’t tell her, I didn’t tell my husband, I didn’t tell any of my friends.  I wanted to see if I could “handle it.”  Wanted to see if I could stop therapy and my medication and be “doctor free.”  Turns out I couldn’t.  I started feeling heavy and anxious and was beginning to retreat into the internet – the beginning of the slow slide into darkness I’ve come to know.  So now as I’ve just said goodbye to my doctor, I’m getting myself BACK on the medication and going through the motions until the heaviness I feel starts to lift.  She would surely tell me I was full of shit if she knew what I had done.  When I finally told my husband last week, he wasn’t too pleased with me either.  PLEASE PLEASE DON’T DO WHAT I DID.

I will miss my conversations with her.  I will miss the support and wisdom that comes from her clinical knowledge and experience and detachment (distance DOES permit better perspective).  I’m not feeling desperate.  I can “get by” without the talk therapy, especially since I’m taking my medication, but I wish I had more of a support network of people I COULD talk to about stuff.  The online community is fantastic, but it’s not the same as having someone to meet at the coffee shop to hold your hand, whose hand you can hold too.  I will have to force myself to make phone calls and initiate “get togethers” with folks in my social circle, when I’d rather just stay home alone (another wonderful symptom of depression).  But first I have to make it through Christmas…

depression sucks.

 

stigma fighters post

*This is a post I originally wrote in May 2014 for Stigma Fighters, whose site you can find here.   If you are currently in crisis PLEASE reach out – even though you may not feel it you ARE worth it.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline link is here, in the United States you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.

Now, here’s my story…

I’ve been living with depression on and off since I was 13 years old.  It’s a black hole that I haven’t been able to climb out of on my own when it reaches the clinical level.  Everyone gets depressed sometimes, and a lot of people can get through it to the other side on their own with the help of family and friends and time.  But when a person experiences CLINICAL depression that’s a different animal altogether.  That’s what I think is hard for some people to understand.  There is NO “snapping out of” clinical depression.  That’s when talk therapy and medication may be needed – and ARE needed for me.

When I’m clinically depressed nothing gives me joy.  I cry A LOT.  It’s hard to do normal everyday things like the dishes, or laundry, or even read to my kids.  My pattern of depression before children was a tiredness so profound it was hard to get out of bed.  Since I had kids my depression manifests itself in the opposite way – insomnia.  I’m trying SO hard to keep going to take care of my family that my body can’t relax.  I experience anxiety so bad, afraid that I’ll collapse under the weight of my depression, that I physically shake.  So with this current bout of depression I’m also being treated with added anti-anxiety medication as needed.

I’ve been hospitalized twice – once for a serious attempt on my own life when I was in my early 20’s.  It’s truly a tragedy when you think the world would be better off without you, or when you’re convinced that you will NEVER be able to function in the world and NEVER be able to get rid of the pain you feel.  Emotional pain becomes physical pain – only no one can “see” your wounds, and that makes it even harder.  That’s why I even went through a period of cutting, and burning myself – so I could have a physical manifestation of my emotional pain.  It’s really hard to reach out when you’re in the black hole of depression because gravity sucks you farther and farther into yourself.  You think you don’t deserve help, you’re convinced no one will understand, and you believe you’re some kind of freak of nature that the world needs to be freed from.

There have been times in my life when I’ve been therapy and medication free.  Before this current bout I hadn’t been in therapy or on medication for almost FOURTEEN years.  But after marrying my husband,  having 3 kids (one with a severe allergy and asthma, one with autism and one a surprise), and the death of three of four of our parents, depression came crashing down again.  I tried my best to fight it off, but in the end, both my husband and I knew it was time for me to get back to therapy and medication.  Financially it’s been a HUGE burden, and one that I feel some guilt over once in a while.  Even though we have insurance, mental health coverage just sucks all the way around.  But I tell myself the financial sacrifice is worth it, because I absolutely HAVE to be around physically AND emotionally for my children.

In my professional life I’m also a Christian pastor.  There is a lot of stigma in some church circles around mental illness, especially depression.  But contrary to the mindset of some folks, it is entirely and completely possible to be a faithful believer (in whatever faith you practice) AND struggle with mental illness.  I don’t share my particular issues with my congregation, because it’s my job to take care of THEM, not the other way around, but I’m always careful to preach what I believe – that faith doesn’t protect us from life’s pain, faith helps us as we confront life’s pain.

I have a good life now.  I see my therapist regularly.  I take my medication.  I smile and laugh and enjoy my family and friends.  I look at my kids and I’m glad I’m here for them.  I enjoy a healthy emotional and physical relationship with my husband instead of making excuses because I just don’t have it in me.  I work and help others.

If I hadn’t just shared all this with you and we met you would never know – because those with mental illness are all around us, living their lives, being productive members of society just like everybody else.  We are no different than someone who is being treated for diabetes or high cholesterol.

Depression is an enemy that would love to suck the life out of us.  Fighting back against it is a struggle.  It’s hard to reach out and get help when we feel like we don’t deserve it and when we’re afraid of what others may think of us.  But reach out anyway, because getting help is not a weakness, it is an awesome strength.  And it’s worth it.

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Bio:  Lisa is a late 40-something pastor, mom, wife and new blogger.  She blogs about parenthood, autism, faith, depression,  and anything else that inspires her at lisaleben.wordpress.com

getting over myself

Ok, so here’s the deal.  I’m really good in a crisis.  I mean, really good.  Inside and out I can coast through and come out smelling like a rose.  The problem comes when the crisis is over.  When all that great adrenaline finally stops pumping through my veins, I crash.  And crashing is what I’m starting to do now.

One week ago today a dear older friend of mine died.  I had seen her from the hospital and to hospice.  I was her Power of Attorney since she had no close family around, and also the person in charge of making medical decisions on her behalf.  It was daunting, but I rose to the challenge.  A week ago today she drew her last breath, and I’m still helping her extended family who live far away in the everyday managing of her things.

My husband has been a wreck.  He was truly close to this woman, and feels like he’s lost his mother all over again (she died three years ago this month).  Up till the last two days I’ve been fine, coasting along, trying to catch up on the house chores that were so neglected as I was traveling to the hospice every day to be with her.

But Sunday night I could not sleep.  I saw 4am before nodding off, only to wake three hours later to get the kids off to school.  I took no nap, and last night I tossed and turned.  I’m starting to retreat into myself a little, I’ve been feeling physically shaky, and my blood pressure which has been more or less under control, is spiking again even though I’m taking my blood pressure medication.

The delayed reaction to this death is upon me.  At least it only took a week.  I just wish I could have a good cry and get it over with, but my body just doesn’t operate that way.  Not that I never cry, and not that I think a good cry will truly “get it over with,” but it would help my body relax.  I absorb events and emotion in my body.  What my conscious mind doesn’t want to deal with, or for whatever reason can’t deal with, my body takes in physically.  This started WAY back in early childhood, and although I try to be better at it, it’s always my first reaction to “stuff” unpleasant emotion.  I think this is a big contributing factor to my depression AND my high blood pressure.

So here I sit, shaking, blood pressure up, feeling my pulse in my ears, adrenaline still pumping, feeling like I’m in “fight or flight.”  But the crisis is over.  I can relax now, but my body doesn’t want to.

I saw my psychiatrist today, who as usual pushed me.  So this is my homework:

1)  To start keeping my blood pressure log again (taking my bp a few times a day, marking it down, and also writing what’s going on inside me at the time) so I can report back to my regular doctor if my bp medication should be adjusted.

2)  I have nothing on my calendar for Thursday or Friday, so I’m to take one of those days and give myself a mini-vacation while the kids are in school – a “do nothing” day.

3)  To take my Ativan damn it.  I’m good at taking my Zoloft and bp medication daily, but the “as needed” anti-anxiety medication?  Not so much.  I have to get over thinking I have to be on the verge of a panic attack to take it.  Stupid, I know.  But the truth is I hate being on all these meds – however, the other truth is, that right now, I need them, and I just have to “get over myself.”

I share in case there’s anyone out there struggling with depression or medication, or stress or grief – any of these things.  We are not alone.  If we need help we need to move past our own ego, or conversely, our sense of unworthiness, and get the help we need.  I’m doing it.  I’m determined that this crash stays only a fender-bender.

Depression is no joke

In the newspaper this morning was an article/obituary for a local young woman, 19, who died on Friday evening.  She was beautiful. She was a decorated athlete in track and soccer at the local and state levels.  She was in her freshman year at a prestigious university, her whole life ahead of her.  Friday night she jumped off a parking garage, committing suicide.  Her family requested memorial donations be designated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Depression is a big ugly monster – a black hole of despair and self-hatred.  A chemical imbalance so twisted that when you look in a mirror, instead of seeing the beautiful person God created, you see a worthless, hopeless nothing.  It creates mental anguish so deep that it becomes painful to live with – painful for the soul and even painful for the body.  I hate it.  It’s my enemy.  It’s taken too many people I know, and it almost took me.

I’m almost 50 years old.  I have lived with the companion of depression on and off since I was a teenager.   I survived two suicide attempts, cut myself, have been inpatient twice, and been on more kinds of medication than I can remember.  What led me to my initial descent into depression is probably a combination of nature (family history) AND nurture (not going into details, but I know what they are…).

My worst years were my teens through early 20’s.  My best years were after I got married and my kids were born (to this day I’m amazed I didn’t suffer post-partum depression).  In fact, I was doing SO well, I thought depression was a thing of my past.  But I was wrong.

I’ve said before that I’m pretty reserved when it comes to my thoughts and feelings.  One friend calls me stoic, my current psychiatrist says I’m closed up tighter than a drum.  Well, I can see now the build-up of all the things I was “staying strong” through and could’ve seen it coming if I was paying attention.

1. My oldest child was diagnosed with asthma and a nut allergy when she was young, which required super hyper-vigilance about anything that came near her mouth or that she breathed in.  (we’re talking epi-pen allergic here, as in “anaphylactic shock,” like, DEATH – and asthma that required daily meds, an inhaler, and emergency room nebulizer treatments)

2. My second child has severe developmental delays which at one point we thought might involve muscular dystrophy and epilepsy.  Her eventual diagnosis was autism, which while not life-threatening is certainly life-altering and means LONG TERM major STRESS.

3. I had an unplanned pregnancy, (my son, who I love dearly, but still, at the time…)

4 & 5.  Both of my in-laws who I loved deeply died within four years of each other:  my father-in-law’s death coming unexpectedly while my mother-in-law’s took four brutal months of my husband traveling 2 1/2hrs each way to be with her through chemo while I stayed home alone with the kids because obviously we couldn’t subject her to our kids running around her house while she was so sick.

6. After my mother-in-law died my husband’s constant overnight trips back and forth to where she lived to deal with her estate, the lawyers, cleaning out and selling her house etc…

7. Trying to stay strong and be supportive for my husband, who was deeply in grief while trying to cope with all the legal stuff.

A year after my mother-in-law died (which was two years ago) I CRASHED.  Hit the wall.  I didn’t want to die this time – I think I have my kids to thank for that.  I mean, I thought I was a horrible mother, but I never thought they’d be better off without me.  They needed me, even if I was a mess.  And a mess I was.

I cried all day.  I cried over getting them up for school.  Cried making their lunch.  Cried looking at the dishes in the sink.  Cried looking at the ever growing pile of laundry.  Cried picking them up from school.  Cried at the thought of making dinner.  Cried at the thought of homework time.  Cried facing the bedtime rituals.  Cried myself to sleep.

I was functioning, getting through the day because my kids NEEDED me, but I was in a kind of hell.  Then I stopped sleeping, and that was probably what brought everything to a grinding halt.  In the past when I was depressed I would be lethargic, sleepy.  In this depression I was trying SO hard to function for my kids that I got “over-wound.”  Plus the only time I felt any peace was when I was alone, in the quiet of the night, when no one required anything of me.  I didn’t want to let that go, so my body kept me from sleeping.

Finally my husband said, “It’s time.”  I felt like a failure.  I thought I was done with therapy, with medication.  Yet I knew I didn’t just need a therapist, I needed a psychiatrist.  I needed medication.  The stress and grief had taken such a toll on my body chemistry that I was drowning and would need medical help to set it right.

It took some time.  Anti-depressants are not happy pills.  Even the optimal dose will not save you from tears or sadness.  I describe it like this:  the medication raises your threshold for “dealing.”  You are still confronting your issues, but no longer feel like you’re sinking in a black hole.  You have more mental strength to cope.  I also needed anti-anxiety medication because I desperately needed to sleep and was physically shaking with anxiety about getting through the day.

I was lucky to find a good doctor who did more than “just listen.”  I needed someone to be “in my face.”  To tell me point blank when I was full of shit.  I’d been with “listening” therapists before, who wouldn’t offer much input, and that has its place, but this time I needed someone more interactive, someone to push me to recognize my own grief, my own stress, my own needs, which I’m so good at burying.  I’m still with her, still on medication (although my anti-anxiety meds are “as needed” now and I haven’t taken one in months – but I still have them around just in case…), and I’m in no hurry to stop.  The combination of talk and medication is working well, so why mess with a good thing.

Stigma still exists around mental illness.  I haven’t talked about my depression with many people outside my immediate social circle (one of the many reasons I don’t use my last name here).  Many religious people think they can pray it away.  People still think depression is as easy to “get over” as a bad day, and nothing could be further from the truth.  Clinical depression (more than just a bad day) is REAL, and DANGEROUS.  Just ask the family of the young woman who died Friday night.  Ask my friends whose son overdosed on his psych meds at the age of 15 just when things were starting to look better.  Or me, about my uncle who shot himself, or me about myself (who thank goodness is still here to share…).

I share my story because when I write other posts about suffering I’ve been through, and good coming out of it, I’m not talking platitudes.  My struggle with depression and my close calls with death are VERY real.  Yet I choose to USE those experiences to make me  compassionate,  patient, grateful for the life I have now.  I am also sharing because the story of the young woman who jumped off the parking garage is yet another wake-up call that we should all be vigilant in looking out for signs in others, but in also taking care of ourselves.

If you’re struggling, PLEASE get help BEFORE it becomes a crisis.  You may feel like a failure, but in fact you are a super hero – STRONG and BRAVE because you are taking control of your life back, and refusing to let mental illness define you and win.  No matter what anyone else may tell you, no matter what you may be telling yourself, YOU DESERVE IT.  And if you’re receiving treatment, but it’s just not working, speak up.  Tell your therapist you need to try a different “style,” tell your doctor you need to adjust your medication.  PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not give up.