"all aboard the antidepressant train."

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Today will be the first day in over a year that I won’t take a little white pill from the prescription bottle on my dresser.

I’m halfway through the process of transitioning off my psychiatric mediation, and I think this milestone has prompted me to reflect quite a bit on what the last year has held, in the midst of valleys and mountains, triumphs and challenges, and strength in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Thankfully, the process of weaning off my medication has been quite chill. I remember the waves of anxiety and fear I felt about going on meds in the first place – so nervous about potential side-effects, whether this would actually help at all, mixed in with uncertainty about what life was going to look like as I packed up a few belongings and drove home for my medical leave.

Antidepressants are weird. I’ve heard the horror stories about outrageous side effects, some even as shocking (and rare) as prompting suicidal ideation. I was scared of them making me feel like a zombie, losing all ability to feel and enjoy things around me. I was nervous about being reliant on them, needing them to balance my emotions for the rest of my life. And I was just sad that taking meds meant I wouldn’t be able to drink (obviously not the biggest issue, but when you’re a craft beer lover like myself, this can be a huge bummer).

Surprisingly, my experience taking medication has taught me a lot more than I anticipated.

First and foremost, I found out a lot of people have taken meds to help them cope with and treat their mental illness. Some close family, many friends, and others would share that they too have been there. It was strangely comforting, knowing that I wasn’t isolated in this weird medical bubble of people popping pills – no, many others have used medication at some point in their lives to manage a variety of things.

I learned that I needed to take medication for where I was and what I was going through. Meds are obviously not for everyone, and I resisted for so long. But after finally accepting where I was and what needed to happen, I had to let go and trust the process. It took about 4 weeks for me to see any improvement, but when it started, my God…it felt like the sky opened. I hadn’t felt happy or stable is so long, that the feeling was unfamiliar and unusual. I had been depressed for so long that the first time I actually felt happy almost brought me to tears. Those four weeks felt like a year, it felt like everyday I was analyzing myself to see if anything changed - and then suddenly, it did.

I learned that recovering from mental illness sometimes prompts you to revisit your life and your beliefs. It feels great to feel like myself again, but that person is definitely not the same person I was two years ago. There’s pieces and parts that ring true, but I feel new parts of myself starting to establish themselves and become core fixtures of who I am. I have a deep appreciation for my quiet strength. I feel more connected to my creative work and ability to share that with others. I treasure relationships with my friends, family, and coworkers deeper that ever before. I believe in rebuilding, reconciliation, and redemption more than ever before. I feel a renewed sense of vitality for life, my work, and my future.

That is quite different than the small soul that sat in a doctor’s office in January of 2017, accepting a prescription and an unwanted future, scared of what was to come and convinced that healing was too far away to grasp.

To contrast, my appointment with my doctor a few weeks ago felt the farthest from that. “You don’t show the signs of someone who needs to be on this medication anymore. Cut your pills in half for two weeks, then transition to taking them every other day for another two weeks. You should be good after that.” I didn’t have a laundry list of questions, I didn’t break down into tears sitting in the pale little room, I simply gathered the materials he printed out for me and left, getting on with the rest of my day. I felt okay.

Maybe it’s because it’s been a whole year since I went on medical leave for my mental illness, that I find myself comparing where I am now to where I was then, more often than I’m used to. The Leah of last year was so unstable, in so many different ways. Now, I feel more like myself than I ever have, more stable and happy with my life, and finally at peace with all that this last year has held. It’s what empowered me to begin sharing my story more openly, using my voice and words to remind others that things do get better, even if you believe they absolutely never will.

Every time I hear Logic's single "1-800-273-8255," I feel my heart twist in my chest, the way it does when words hit too close to home. I don’t believe I was seriously considering suicide at any point of this past year, but I will be honest and vulnerable and say there were times when I found myself thinking about it rationally. I would wake up to my alarm, and try to find any reason to get out of bed and do the day before me. It felt like such a heavy task before me, that my mind would often retreat to finding a way to end it. I would find myself mentally creating “pros” and “cons” to continue living – thankfully always ending up getting out of bed.

Becoming suicidal was one of my biggest fears about being so depressed. It was a deep, deep, fear of mine, that those rational thoughts would become so common that I would end up doing something I would regret. Even going on medication fueled that fear, as I felt uncomfortable with the idea of having a bottle of pills in my apartment. My therapist would often tell me that fearing suicide was actually a good thing, as it meant that I didn’t want it to happen. I remember her trying to ease my fears, “If you were really suicidal, you would be thinking about it constantly. You would be creating plans, collecting materials, saying goodbyes. I can see that you don’t want to do that. You don’t want it.”

And she was absolutely right. But that same conversation led her to tell me I needed to get more help, whether that was through taking a medical leave, or beginning a long process of treatment with medication.

If I've learned anything through the past year, is that there is quiet strength in reaching out for help when you need it. Allowing her to call a Doctor in town and set up an appointment for me showed strength. Stepping away from work and going home, to my supportive family and familiar comforts took strength. Continuing my journey with medication and trusting the process took strength. Quitting my job, moving home, and making decisions for myself and my needs showed strength. I learned to forgive, and choose to believe in reconciliation and redemption, rather than revenge.

In graduate school, we learned about the concept of a “shipwreck,” that often prompts college students to rethink their values, beliefs, and personal vision. It often comes in the form of something traumatic, enough to blow through the sails on your boat, building rough waves that toss and turn you until you can’t take it anymore and jump overboard. You swim to shore, and as you recover from this shipwreck, you begin to reevaluate your life and where you are headed.

And that’s where I’ve been and continue to be. The shipwreck I’ve experienced has taught me so much, and I think it took a year of going through the process, trusting it each day, and returning to this new version of myself to realize there is still so much more to come. I feel a cautious optimism, that good things are on the way.

It’s the same way watching the sunset outside of my office window makes me feel, or the way snuggling my mom’s dog and hearing my dad laugh from the other room spurs overwhelming feelings of gratitude. It’s running miles down country roads at home, occasionally hearing a car honk it’s approval. It’s laughing with my coworkers, amazed at how this opportunity dropped into my lap as soon as I gave up control and let life lead me where it may.

It’s understanding life ebbs and flows, and as long as I allow myself to float along the waves, I won’t need to fight them. I won’t need to swim back to shore, fighting against what I think “should” happen, only to end up laying the sand, exhausted by own effort to control things out of my control.

I'm thankful for the gentle waves around me.
They have been a welcome addition to this new season of life.

Respectfully submitted,