I was a wannabe depressive in middle school.
I knew people who had threatened to commit suicide and had been through serious trauma. I was a bit of a drama queen and latched myself onto those people. I remember contemplating suicide-not enough to follow through-enough to wonder how I would do it. I never have tried, and have never seriously thought about it since, even in my darkest days of depression.
How I wish I could tell my 13 year old self that the drama I experienced in those formative middle school years would be nothing like adulthood and that I should enjoy life and lightheartedness as much as possible.
I took my first anxiety medications several weeks into my late husband’s cancer battle and diagnosis. I experienced my first panic attack in the waiting room of Johns Hopkins Hospital that year, 2008, as I paced the floors with my Mom waiting on the results of a 6 hour long surgery that could have killed my husband Kevin. I remember not being able to catch my breath, my heart racing, the feelings of impending doom. There was little hope in my heart in that room.
Shortly after my family doctor prescribed me anti-anxiety meds and sleeping meds which I took on and off for several years throughout my husband’s illness and eventual death. As I type this, I feel the familiar fast paced drive of my heart, sharing these memories and wanting to forget them at the same time.
I began seeing my first counselor regularly about 2 years after my husband passed away and I found myself unable to move forward from my grief. I felt incredibly stuck and the anxiety was not getting any better. I found myself diagnosed with a condition called ‘superventricular tachycardia’ which can be triggered by anxiety. The SVT would cause my heart to go in rhythms of over 100 beats per minute. It was a scary time. I was dating again. I was putting myself back through college. I was working a couple jobs. I was stressed.
I met with a traditional therapist who also specialized in a non traditional therapy – EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). My friend Megan, also a therapist, recommended both my therapist and this treatment which has great results in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was a therapy I went into without thinking too much about. Because I think, if I had thought too much about it, it wouldn’t have worked. It’s a therapy that uses sound and feeling, through wearing headphones and listening to sounds going back and forth between both ears and holding vibrating pads that also vibrated in between each hand, that, in simplistic me terminology, helps you go back in you memory bank and connect feelings and emotions with specific events. I think it’s a great treatment for anxiety because instead of just feeling impending doom about nothing and everything, I could pinpoint what that feeling was specifically about in my memory bank.
The first two months of therapy left me incredibly drained. It’s not a therapy you can quit a few weeks in and expect results. My brain was working overdrive after each session, trying to reconnect itself with parts of the brain that had stopped talking to each other after my trauma. The trauma of watching my husband die and being his caretaker. The trauma specifically related to a few key events while he battled his rare cancer: going on life support twice, his heart being shocked, several severe blood loss episodes leading to near death, several times being told he would die within 24 hours, and ultimately, our last 24 hours together as I watched him die. Just him and I were in that room those last 12 hours. 8+ years later that memory still brings a shock of tears to my eyes and I’ve been through a lot of therapy.
I was able to see this therapist on a sliding pay scale at a faith-based counseling center who respected my lack of faith and loss of faith over this time in my life. Without a sliding scale, there would have been no way I could have afforded this therapy. I’m still amazed I was able to pay for treatment since my health insurance did not cover my therapy.
At this time I was also placed on anti-depressants which I took for almost exactly 1 year during the time I was in school. I needed something to help me focus to get my class work done. It helped immensely. I felt a stigma about medication at this time. I didn’t want to be on it long term. My mother and father were both on anti-depressants and helped me feel better about being on them. My mom, in addition to losing her son-in law and watching her youngest daughter become a widow, had dealt with her own cancer battle. My father, was diagnosed with two types of cancer (the type 2 showed up in conjunction with the type 1 after a 7-year remission from type 1) and the constant tests and treatments were a lot to handle, mentally. Meds were important for them to function with the constant worry.
I went off meds and went back to life a year later, stopped therapy and felt pretty good about everything. I had some anxiety come up around the time I remarried which, I expect now, is totally normal. Big life events tend to do that.
Fast forward to 2015 when I find out I’m pregnant. After my husband has had a vasectomy. Unplanned. Terrified. Vasectomy failed.
What I didn’t mention was that a few months before I found out I was pregnant I had begun seeing a therapist again. I had spent the winter before in a deep depressive state with little motivation for anything. This from a gal who loves winter and Christmas.
Now, my therapy sessions were less about my family background and grief and more about, whoa, I’m pregnant, what do I do with this news?
It was a really big emotional rollercoaster with many session spent sobbing, not knowing what to do.
I miscarried a day before my first doctor appointment. The baby’s heartbeat had stopped at 7 weeks, not long after I first found out I was pregnant. The irony.
I went through a traumatic miscarriage. I say traumatic not because it was any different than what other women experience, but because in general it is traumatic. There are painful contractions. For hours. There’s so much bleeding and clotting. There’s just hours of pain, and misery, and watching death right before your eyes.
For me, again.
And here I cry. I was so torn about this child, but when I got on board, I was on board. We had a girl’s name picked out. We had a room dedicated to becoming a nursery. And now I was watching death all over again.
2 months later I found myself back on anti-depressants.
I went to therapy every week, then eventually every other week.
I had one other setback. I experienced an hours-long anxiety attack that ended up with me in urgent care with my blood pressure somewhere around 225/100. When they did the EKG and everything came back normal, my BP dropped to normal.
My anti-depressant med dose went up.
Therapy continued and I finally felt good again. Motivated. Able to quit my job and start a new self-employed adventure. I was able to feel grounded enough to live. At the time I was planning to ask about stopping therapy, my therapist informed me she was moving away.
The timing was great.
Yet two weeks ago I found myself in a state of anxiety again which triggered my SVT (superventricular tachychardia). I had a doctors appointment, by chance, 2 days later, and was put on a Holter monitor for 24 hours and written a medication for anxiety.
The Holter monitor came back normal by SVT standards-only 1 episode in 24 hours. Most likely, I was dealing with anxiety.
Self-employment is tough. I have been bouncing back and forth between the two companies I own and it all just became too much.
So now I wait, with anxiety medication in hand, for that next attack. I work out 4-5x a week and try to track what I’m eating so that I get healthier and hopefully alleviate some of these SVT symptoms.
I’m on the highest dose of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds that I have ever been on.
When I went on medication the second time around I only chose to do so after demanding my therapist re-evaluate me in 6 months to come off of it.
But 6 months later I found I felt so much better that it was worth being on meds.
I went to see the musical “Next to Normal” a few weeks ago at a local theater. The first half I spent in tears watching the bi-polar mother deal with her demons and her dead son, and I felt so connected to her.
I remember them talking about how trauma can trigger life-long depression and other depression related disorders. My eyes opened. What?
I guess that’s true. I had, have, PTSD.
I have anxiety.
I have depression.
I have grief.
I take meds.
And if I’m being wholly honest with myself and with you, this may be something lifelong. I’m almost 2 years on my meds again and although I have anxiety triggers, I am able to *mostly focus and run 2 companies and continue living the life I desire.
And I am happy. I can be happy.
I still get cloudy in my grief.
I still have days of feeling my self-worth is nothing.
I still have moments and hours and days of anxiety triggered by failure.
It’s going to be a life long journey to deal with mental illness. I know now that I’m not alone in this in my grief community, in my circle of friends, even within my own family.
It’s #oktosay I have a mental illness.