Whew. Life has been… tricky lately. I’m so thankful to be feeling better both mentally and physically after my cancer scare. I had a follow-up appointment with my breast surgeon this week and she was very pleased with how everything is looking. I’m going to have another ultrasound in four weeks to keep an eye on it and I’m feeling incredibly lucky for this outcome. The emotional stress of waiting for biopsy results was brutal. In an odd way, I was grateful for the major anxiety and depressive episode I had last summer because I could work with my anxious thoughts and not against them. I am also still on my anti-depressants and I took some time to reflect on how I’m feeling on that as well.
Last month, I had my six-month checkup with my internist specifically to chat about the medication. I could hardly believe it’s already been that long. When you’re in the throes of depression, it can feel never-ending. Vividly, I remember the doctor prescribing me Escitalopram and saying it could take about six weeks to start taking effect. Those six weeks felt like a daunting eternity stretched ahead like a never-ending black tunnel. I couldn’t believe I would have to wait that long to feel the fog lift. But slowly, it did. And now, in what feels like a blink, I was back at my doctor a half a year later.
Taking anti-depressants was also prescribed to help with my anxiety. I’ve been an anxious person for my whole life. I’ll never forget talking to my therapist a few years ago about the time I spent 20 minutes in the q-tip aisle trying to decide between generic and name brand. It was a decision that paralyzed me for seemingly no reason. But this was normal for me, I’d agonize over decisions that would likely take most people several seconds. We chat about that story today and I laugh at it now. I have come a long way from that q-tip debacle but I still have my anxious tendencies.
I guess that’s why going on the medication felt like such a silly concept in the first place. I had managed my anxiety and depression for years (32 to be exact) so why was it necessary now?! I felt like a cheater, like a weak person for giving up and taking a pill. It was a hard mental hurdle to get over at the time. It took me a full week after being prescribed to start taking it, but man am I glad I did.
All too often we’re so mean to ourselves. If a friend came to me telling me she felt like a cheater for taking medication, I would be angry at her for being so hard on herself. I would tell her how powerful, strong, and brave she was to take her mental health so seriously. I would tell her how much I admired her resolve to find a solution for the difficult spot she was in. The furthest thing from my mind would be that she was weak. Even as I write this now, I’m smiling. It feels good to be kind to treat yourself like a best friend.
The goal with my medication was to get me out of the dark depression and anxiety loop that I was in. Since I didn’t have a history of medication, they didn’t think I would need it long-term. Rather, they thought that six months would be an appropriate amount of time to re-assess. So, here we are. It’s funny because I was so hesitant to go on the medication in the first place. Now, I’m worried about going off of it. Oh, life aren’t you hilarious.
Of course, nobody is forcing me off the medication. My doctor was lovely and told me to take the next few weeks thinking it through. The good news is, I’m on a very low dosage so weaning off of it shouldn’t be too tricky. But I’m scared. I’m scared that if I go off of the medication, I will fall into that dark, deep hole again. I’m worried that intrusive thoughts will make themselves home in my mind. It was a really difficult place to be last summer, and I really don’t want to go back there.
But, I’m also a different person than I was last year and we’re in a different place in society. I’ve found meditation, I recommitted to being active, and the world isn’t totally on fire anymore. The vaccine is successful, the US Administration is capable and kind, and small neighborhood businesses have survived. I’ve discovered I’m an empath and have taken the time to learn what that means and how to protect myself.
Perhaps most importantly for myself, I am allowed to walk dogs and volunteer with animals again. I feel purposeful again. Losing my passions was a smaller price to pay than so many others. I don’t take it for granted how lucky I was through the pandemic to have so much. I also recognize how important it is that I live a purpose-driven life. Volunteering and working with animals isn’t just something I enjoy doing, it brings me fulfillment. It’s no shock to me now that a purposeful life is linked to better health, happiness, and satisfaction.
Throughout all of this, I’ve tried to be open about everything. When conversations allow for it, I casually share that I’m on medication in hopes of decreasing the stigma that surrounds mental health. I’ve chatted with so many people about their experiences and laughed while swapping stories. It’s been eye-opening and empowering connecting with so many people taking the same care for their mental health as I am.
Overall, I’m feeling like myself again. I’m excited about my days, my work, and things that previously brought me joy. I’m sleeping really well again without my mind racing at all hours. I’m able to let the anxiety come and go without taking a hold of me. I feel good.
So, where do I go from here? I’m still making my decision. With the cancer scare, I wanted to give myself some more time. I’m looking forward to weaning off the medication. While my side effects are minimal, I don’t love remembering to take a pill every day. I’ll be monitored closely by my doctor and my therapist if and when I go off the medicine. I’ve learned a lot not only about mental health but also myself. It was hard to see at the time, but I truly believe I’m stronger and more compassionate from this.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, please urge them to seek help. NIMH has incredible resources including a free crisis text hotline. They also have resources to help you or a loved one find the resources they need. Please take care of yourself.
This sweet girl Lunette has since been adopted, but Chi Town Pitties has plenty more cuties in need of a home!