Friday, May 23, 2014
I owe my recovery from severe postpartum depression and anxiety to many different things. Loving care from my family, regular exercise, taking "introvert time", and perusing my passions all played a pivotal role in bringing me back from the brink.
As important as those things were, I absolutely would not be here today if it wasn't for medication. That sounds alarming, but it's true. Looking back on it now, I can see how close I was to tragedy.
That has been very hard for me to admit. For the first six months I was on Zoloft, all I could think about was how to convince my doctor to let me stop taking it. At the time I subscribed to a commonly held misconception that taking antidepressants made me weak, that that taking a pill every day somehow made me less of a person. I've always had an internal drive that makes me want to do things on my own--or not at all.
During my second six months on Zoloft, something changed. I was stable enough to look back on my life up until that point and realize that I hadn't really been living. My depression and anxiety didn't start when Noni was born; it was something I had been suffering from since early adolescence. I was just so accustomed to it that I didn't even realize that being afraid to leave the house, to be a passenger in a car, and to call people on the phone, is not normal. Having an hours-long debriefings with myself after any kind of social interaction to identify everything I did wrong, is not normal.
Zoloft introduced to me the concept of a semi-normal life, and how awesome that can feel. After half a year of blissful normality, I began to question my belief that I could think my way out of mental illness, that I could overcome it if I simply tried hard enough.
When my one-year Zoloftaversary was approaching a few weeks ago (the time at which my psychiatrist said he would feel comfortable letting me wean off my wonder drug) I found that I wasn't sure if I was ready to give it up.
I've heard it said that medication is a crutch. Well, there are lots of kinds of crutches. Sometimes you use a crutch because you have a relatively minor injury and you're too lazy to go to physical therapy.
And sometimes you need a crutch because your left leg has been blown off.
(Ok, I guess one could use a prosthetic in a situation like that, but it ruins my metaphor. Stay with me here.)
I have considerable momentum built up after a year of remission. I have a whole bag of (mostly healthy) coping mechanisms that I know how to use when the going gets tough. I now know to make eating right, exercising, and nurturing my interests a priority. I've discovered how to share my feeeeelings. I've learned to ask for help.
I was worried that it wouldn't be enough. As much as I thought about it, I couldn't tell if I was using my crutch out of convenience or necessity. I guess it's something you can't really know until you throw it aside (Gradually! And under a physician's guidance!) and try to walk.
I made the decision like I do most big decisions. I closed my eyes, held my breath, and jumped. With the caveat that at the first sign of trouble, I will accept the fact that I need help. And that it's totally ok if the help I need is an (FDA-approved, of course) chemical.
My dose is currently half of what it was two weeks ago, and as I suspected it hasn't been an easy transition. Of course I decided to do this during a particularly stressful juncture in our lives (possible employment and housing changes, hooray!) and it's hard to tell if I'm obsessing because I'm without my Vitamin Z or if my life right now would make the most stable person in the world obsess about things they can't control.
Besides the emotional stuff I'm going through a little bit of physical withdrawal, which is pretty common even when gradually lowering the dose. Oddly, it seems very like my experience getting adjusted to being on Zoloft in the first place, albeit MUCH more mild. But I've got tremors, tingling extremities, ringing in my ears, and "brain zaps", which feel a little like a bolt of lightning ricocheting around inside my skull. Fun. Times. Can't wait until this part is over!
I'm at peace with however this little experiment turns out. If I can be this lovely Normal Eva without it, then great. But if being on Zoloft long-term is what it takes to maintain my mental health, then that is what I'll do. No guilt, no second guessing myself, no self-loathing. Just moving forward.
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