Friday, May 16, 2014

8 Months Free

May 1, 2014

So it’s been 8 months since I stopped taking any anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication, after 5-and-a-half years of being on them. (Over the course of those 5+ plus years, I took 3 different medications. Number 3 was the one that worked best for me)
 I think it’s time to update everyone (and myself) a bit on what I’ve gained and lost from this process.

I made this decision on my own, and asked for my doctor’s support.  We designed a “taper off” plan for me to follow, which I proceeded to do, and before I knew it, I didn’t have to remember to take a pill anymore.  I didn’t have to call in refills, or budget for the cost of the medication.  When going on an overnight trip, I didn’t need to pack my pill.  I didn’t need to worry about keeping it in my carry-on while flying.  I could stop worrying about all the horrendous chemical reactions going on inside my body.  Shedding all these things made me feel like I freed up tons of brain space.  I gained confidence, for a while, and optimism about my ability to cope with my emotions and stressors using my own skills and strength.

So, how do I feel?  What is it like?  Am I “cured”?
I wish it was all good news, or that I could say I’m all better now.

I feel like I’ve lost my energy, my sparkle, the pep in my step.  I can’t help but notice how much more taxing it is for me to get up early, and stay up late.  I enjoy being active.  For the last two years, in addition to working my full-time job, I had a class, a Bible study group, or something I was volunteering for, at least 4 evenings a week.  Plus, sometimes I work overtime on Saturdays, and was volunteering at my church on Saturdays, and then I added some volunteering time on Sundays twice a month.  Sometimes, I would attend all 3 of my church’s services in a weekend, because I had the energy and desire to.  I enjoyed hanging with friends, and sharing about my life, smiling, talking, and laughing.  
When I stopped taking my medication, one of the first things to go was my motivation for evening commitments.  Out the door went youth group, for which I volunteered as a leader, and Bible study.  I started skipping out on my Tuesday night dinners that I had at a friend’s house.  I lost interest in being around people and making small talk.  All I wanted to do was go home, and be home, with my cat.  (She has been the best companion for the nearly 4 years she’s been part of my family)

“It is like” not really knowing how to get my old self back.  Is this reserved, independent person who I’ve been all along?
“It is like” I have to work really hard and plan ahead all the time, to make sure that I’m going to be in the right mood at the right time, for whatever it is my responsibilities are at the moment, be it work, volunteer, or social.
“It is like” I’m excited about not depending on a drug anymore, but I don’t feel as proud of myself as I used to feel.  
“It is like” every day is just a routine, something to get through, something to accomplish.  
“It is like” I have to work really darn hard to create the life I want, all the time; the feelings I want, the choices I want, the opportunities I want.  

“It is like” all these questions come up.  
“Was that person not really me?”
“Have I been fake for the last 5 years?”
“Do all my friends only know - and like- the medicated Gilda?”
“Does no one want to hang out with me because I’m depressing to be around?”
“Can I even handle my own life?”

The only choice I see is to keep trudging forward.  Because even at a crawl, I’m not waving that white flag.  The only thing I can choose to believe is that it does get better with time.  That I’m (STILL!) not done growing yet.  

Some days, I’m pretty miserable.  I get fed up with people and commitments; I find myself overly critical, feeling envious of those who possess things or live lifestyles different than mine.  There are moments where I let myself start spiraling down the black hole again, being angry at God for my circumstances, placing my worth in other people instead of in what He has said about me.  

Eventually, I distract myself.  I pick a coping skill (usually rigorous cardiovascular exercise) and go with it.  I hope to write more about the methods of self-defense I use against the enemy of the ever-looming cloud of doom.

Am I cured?  Choosing to separate yourself from something is the first step to ridding your life of it.  I work in the mental health field, so I’ve seen and know what Severe and Persistent Mental Illness looks like.  My level of anxiety and stress doesn’t fit that diagnosis, so I don’t know that “cure” is even a correct term (or that "cure" is a correct term for those who DO suffer from Severe and Persistent Mental Illness).  I believe that anxiety and stress should be managed, and if they are not, then they can lead to a chronic condition.

I know that my stress and anxiety have come from years of building certain thought patterns.  I continued to build these thought patterns as I grew up because I didn’t know any better.  So now, as a young adult, I start the hard work of undoing all those patterns of toxic thinking.  It isn’t easy.  There’s scientific research on this, folks.

So the truth is, if you decide that you can beat toxic thinking, and believe with all your heart that you will, it will still be difficult to do so, and take time.

I choose to be public about this because I refuse to be labeled or judged.  If I put everything out there, then there’s no stories people can make up about me, or judgements that people can make about “how it all started”.  And I can be an example of determination and strength.  

So.  Eight months down.  

There may or may not be a huge celebration involved for my 1-year anniversary.  :)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mom-ish Friends


“Mom-ish friends”

I know I use this term a lot.  
I think I may have coined the term, actually.

You see, not all little girls grow up with a mommy to look to for answers to life’s questions, or to pick them up when they fall down.  Some little girls grow up meek and quiet, watching their life go by in a whirlwind around them, across two states, two schools, and two homes, with two parents who were together, yet not, and always seemed to have something to argue about.  

Some little girls grow up with all their basic needs provided - food, clothing, transportation, schooling, pets, even - and so, they never even realize that they are missing something.  They don’t even know what entitlement is, so how can they feel it?

These little girls grow up into pre-teens whose friends want to be all huggy all the time, and they realize this is the first time they remember giving and receiving hugs.  So then these little girls start building their identity around their friendships.

Then boys want to start giving and receiving hugs, and these little girls realize they don’t ever remember hugging their fathers.

But then these little girls get stuck living with their father, while the person who holds the title “mother” is in and out, back and forth, across two states, working, making whirlwind decisions at very loud volumes.

So, trust begins to build in father-daughter relationships, but then mothers get jealous and make up lies and stories and do everything in their power to rip away the relationships that they never cared enough to build themselves.

So then little girls end up confused and caught in the middle of custody battles, not understanding why they have to choose one parent over the other, upset and experiencing separation anxiety when it’s a “mom weekend”, but not sure from which person they feel anxious about separating, the mother or the father.

These little girls eat too much and don’t get enough exercise, but rely on Nickolodeon and Disney Channel for company.  (They fight too much with their sisters to ever get along peacefully for any actual amounts of time)

Dads win the custody battles and little girls continue with schooling.  When boys want to start holding hands at lunchtime, there’s no mommies to ask for advice.  There’s just daddies to hide information from.  

Little girls find their peace in books and schoolwork, spelling and arithmetic, and get a “Good job, mija” when they bring home a good grade, which by the way, is always an “A”.  
Junior high goes by with no more from Mommies than demanding questions and high expectations when they come to visit.  

By high school, little girls have found some more of their identities and escapes in sports.  Building bonds with teammates is easier than building bonds with family members.
The schoolwork gets more intense, and little girls grow more confused and feel more pressure.  By this point, they’ve mastered the “Thank you for cooking dinner, Daddy” and help with housework and take on more responsibility than they maybe should.

By age 15, little girls have seen how some of their friends interact with their mommies.  They’ve seen the hugs, and the eye-rolling, and the kisses on the cheek, and they hear the “Love you’s” and they wonder, “Why is my family so different?” But by this point, they don’t really care.

Because by this point, they’re getting hugs and kisses from boys and doing well with sports, and algebra and biology and theology at their Catholic high schools, and they’re headed toward a college scholarship.

Then Daddy dies and leaves Mommy in charge.

And there’s so much anger and hurt feelings all over the place that little girls don’t even know how to handle themselves.  But they don’t have to, because they get college scholarships to faraway places like Kansas, so they get to run away.

But every time they come for a visit, it’s fireworks, and not the good kind.  And all along, they don’t know who they are, or who they’ve been, or known guidance, or a mother’s love.  For Mommy was too busy figuring herself out to pay any attention to her Little Girls.  
It wasn’t completely her fault.  She just didn’t know how  

Thank goodness for Mom-ish friends, who step in when Little Girls are 20, 25 years old and help answer all the questions; who stand by and offer words of repair and wisdom, gestures of healing and kindness.  For it’s not the Little Girl’s fault that she wasn’t given what all Little Girls should have.

Thank goodness for Mom-ish friends.