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. :)