When Meds are the Problem

trust

Glennon Doyle Melton, one of my favorite writers and mental health advocates, recently shared this about the return of her depression, “You guys. I got a little jacked up again. And I’m in the middle of the mess now.”

We often wait to share a story until there’s a clear beginning, middle and end. Our lives become fodder for fables and parables, tied up nicely by the time our story is finished. Sometimes, we drag out the middle because that’s where the exciting stuff happens. Yet, sometimes we’d rather fast forward to the end because the middle can leave us scared, uncertain and feeling powerless. It hurts.

When you’re in the middle of the mess, you hope the ending is a happy one. More than anything, you need to know someone else is in the trenches with you. Right now, I’m in the middle of the mess, and I’m scared.

I’ve battled depression on and off for 18 years, half of my life. I’ve taken various antidepressants (when needed). One year ago this month, I started taking antidepressants again. My mind no longer felt like my own, and the darkness was too much for someone who usually tries to look on the bright side. I needed a chemical force to help my brain remember being alive is, in fact, a beautiful thing. I, quite frankly, needed it to stay alive.

As an optimist, my depression tends to blindside me. So when it rears its head, I’ve typically approached my doctor and therapist with open arms saying, “Heal me! I’ll do whatever you tell me to!” I admittedly didn’t research the chemicals I was inviting into my body. I just trusted the system. Since I’d taken it for a few years during college, shortly after it came onto the market, it felt safe enough.

So when my doctor listed a few options. I was the one who requested a certain medication for my depression. I credited my medication for helping save and rewire me, and I’ve been an advocate for antidepressants as a sometimes necessary component to healing. However, for the past few months, I’ve been a shell of myself. The rewiring now feels faulty. I can’t shake the feeling the chemicals that helped save my life are now slowly ruining it.

Daily headaches. Extreme fatigue. Weight gain. Brain fog. Memory lapse. Social isolation and anxiety.

I’ve done the sleep studies and blood work, taken the Vitamin D and re-evaluated my diet. Still, something is just off. Very off. The only constant is these side effects all started after I went back on my antidepressant. When you think you’re near the end of one chapter, only to find the next page takes you back to the beginning, it’s disorienting. It’s easy to feel embarrassed and fear others watching you unravel, but there’s no shame in it.

After finally doing the research I wish I’d done initially, I’m now about to begin a new phase in my mental health journey, tapering off my antidepressant. I’ve read the withdrawal horror stories. I’ve experienced the “brain zaps” when I inadvertently miss a dose. I’m terrified. Yet, I also remember a time when every day wasn’t such a physical struggle to get out of bed and stay awake, pain free, all day. I want to get back to that place, and I’ll do it under medical supervision.

For the first time, I’m in a position where I have to trust my instincts and be my own patient advocate. As an ENFP “people pleaser” personality type, choosing not to just “go with the flow” and “trust everything will work out,” is a new experience for me. I like being easy going. Yet, as a result, I’ve allowed myself to be a passive participant in my own health, not questioning the advice and medication that’s been handed to me. It’s time to be empowered and engaged and to raise a little hell.

If you’re in the middle of the mess, too, then you’re in good company. This life gets awfully lonely when we’re trapped in our heads, feeling like we’ve failed in our recovery. However, when we ask around, we quickly discover we’re surrounded with others stumbling on the same path. If your mental health journey is just beginning, I send you love and encourage you to be your own advocate. It’s not easy to trust our brains when so many of us feel betrayed by them.

So just keep fighting and listening to more than one voice who thinks they know the right way to “fix” you.  It’s your life, your brain, your body, but you don’t have to shoulder the fear alone. If you’re on the other side, then help us remember there’s a light and it’s got enough wattage for everyone.

This post originally appeared on The Mighty

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Never Alone

For anyone who is grieving, some days are like this.

Grief2

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What a Stolen Purse Taught Me About Grief

grief

My purse was stolen during my father’s funeral.

His death was sudden. Unexpected. I got a late-night call that an ambulance was taking dad to the hospital, and he was brain-dead when I got there. Dad was 60. I was 27.

The purse was $250.

I’d left it in the room where our family gathered to pray before the funeral. It was unlike me to leave it unattended, but I was already carrying so much grief, I didn’t want to pile on. After the service, we searched the church for an hour. We then headed home, empty handed and fatherless. When I called to check my voicemail, the woman who stole my purse answered and hurled obscenities at me. I don’t remember much of that conversation, other than screaming, “My father just died! My father just died!

She hung up. We drove to dad’s hometown to bury him.

That phone call marked a turning point. A hardening. Where I’d spent the funeral service feeling connected to everything and everyone – I felt an overwhelming sense of being watched over – I spent my father’s burial stone-faced. Detached. There is no one watching out for us, I decided.

There’s not a lot that I remember from those first two years after he died. So much of that time was spent in a numb haze, losing months – not just days – of my memory. This is what I recall:

  • Bursting into tears every morning when I woke up.
  • Crying in my car on the drive to and from work. Every day.
  • Going to movies by myself most week nights so I could step into someone else’s reality for a few hours.
  • After joining friends for dinner, returning home and spending New Year’s Eve alone – asleep before midnight – because I didn’t want to celebrate a year that my dad would never know.

My coworkers pitched in to replace my purse, and they presented it to me when I returned to work. It was the most beautiful gesture, yet still I sobbed in my office, wishing I could just have my dad back instead. That purse personified my grief as I learned the following:

Grief is a thief.

Grief robs you of joy, time, and sanity. You might lose a few months of memory. Consider that a self-preservation blessing.

Many of the items in my purse were replaceable: keys, credit cards, cell phone. But some weren’t: a Spamalot playbill from a father-daughter outing, an Easter card from dad and the pictures I’d taken of the flowers at his visitation.

I began to cling to everything and everyone, not trusting their safety when they were out of my sight.

Grief weighs you down.

Grief hurts. It physically hurts. Headaches, panic attacks, chest pain, aches and fatigue. They can all be unwelcome visitors during the healing process.

But it’s also a twisted comfort. Grief is isolating, but it never leaves you alone. In the moments we wake up crying, the car rides with tears streaming, grief is our companion. When everyone moves on, forgetting our loss, grief remembers.

I was surprised by how much I fell in love with my grief. I nurtured it, gave it room to grow. I rarely fought it. To excuse my grief, to send it on its way, felt like a betrayal. It was all I had left, so I let it consume me.

As the strap dug into my shoulder, the weight of my loss felt heavier. My purse now carried my rage, my bitterness, my apathy. And my unspeakable grief. But I rarely set it down, and I never left it unattended.

Grief transcends every season.

Sometimes celebrations during your grieving seasons are a beautiful reminder of how life goes on. Sometimes they hurt more than you thought possible. Both reactions are OK. Sometimes the days leading up to a holiday or anniversary are more painful than the actual day. Everyone – men and women, family members – grieves differently. There’s no right or wrong way.

For two years, that heavy black purse accompanied me everywhere, regardless of the outfit, occasion or season. The sheer darkness of it suited my mood, and that was good enough.

Grief deteriorates.

The physical responses to grief lessen over time. The tears become more manageable. The regrets are replaced with memories. But just like with anything, this doesn’t happen overnight. With significant losses come significant months and years of pain.

Through the years, the purse began to fray. Eventually, the strap snapped, succumbing to the weight it was carrying. I emptied it and tucked it away in my closet.

Grief is always with you, but you won’t always physically carry it.

“Your absence has gone through me like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color.” — Anonymous

For a few years, my grief made me bitter, fearful and lonely. Where I was once an optimist, I now found myself waiting for the other shoe to drop. For the other “purse to be stolen,” if you will. Any late-night phone call would send me into a panic that someone else had been snatched away. The physical responses were overwhelming and exhausting.

Nine years later, my grief has made me more compassionate, empathetic and loving. I remember how friends, coworkers and church family rallied around our grieving family in thoughtful and creative ways. So many of the strongest supporters were other members of that grieving club I never wanted to join. They modeled what it means to be there for someone, unconditionally, bringing light during one of their darkest times. Or just sitting with them in their darkness.

I ran across the purse one day while cleaning my closet. The classic Coach C’s created a makeshift infinity pattern. I traced it and felt the frayed threads against the groove of the leather. I knew it was time to let go, and I parted with my purse that afternoon. My grief would always live with me, but the bitterness didn’t have to.

To those who are grieving:

With time, you’ll adjust to a new “normal.” You’ll start to feel like a new version of your old self. Your personality might change. It might not. Often, simply not crying in public is a win.

It can take two years to process a significant loss. The intensity weakens, but the longing remains. Some of your biggest support will come from the most unexpected people. Some friends and family won’t know how to help and will disappear for a while. Love them anyway because they love you. They’ll come back. And one day you’ll be there to welcome them to the club.

 

This post was first published on The Mighty and The Huffington Post.

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3 Things You Need to Know About ‘Smiling Depression’

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
-Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

“How are you? Really?” This is my mom’s standard line of questioning any time I dye my hair darker. In her mind, darker hair equals darker mood. She’s on to something, but in my case, she has it backwards. She shouldn’t worry that I’ve “moved over to the dark side” when I, well, move over to the dark side. What’s really cause for concern is when I dye my hair blonde.

I’m best at hiding my depression when I’m blonde.

When I’m brunette, I feel authentic. I literally let a little more of my darker side show.

When I’m blonde, I’m a fraud. Trying too hard. I’m bubbly, social, and easy to get along with. It’s an artificial light, in every sense. When I’m blonde, I’m the face of smiling depression.

  • What is smiling depression?

A relatively new diagnosis, smiling depression is just that: appearing happy to others and smiling through the pain, keeping the inner turmoil hidden. It’s a major depressive disorder with atypical symptoms, and as a result, many don’t know they’re depressed or don’t seek help. Those who do would prefer to keep their struggle private.

They are often partnered or married, employed, and are quite accomplished and educated. They’ve usually struggled with depression and/or debilitating anxiety for years, and have had some experience with therapy or medication. Many who know they are depressed don’t disclose it due to fear of discrimination from loved ones or employers. Their public, professional, and social lives are not suffering. Their façade is put together and accomplished. But behind the mask and behind closed doors, their minds are filled with thoughts of worthlessness, inadequacy, and despair.

The image many of us have of depression is inaccurate and incomplete.

“Oftentimes, I am the only person in this individual’s immediate circle who is aware of how he or she is feeling on the inside,” said Dina Goldstein Silverman, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry.

  • Why is it dangerous?

According to Silverman, there’s a troubling connection between smiling depression and suicide. In contrast with a patient who has little energy to even get out of bed, chronically depressed patients who are suicidal and report a surge of energy might be more likely to initiate a suicide attempt.

Significant traumatic life changes, such as a recent job loss or divorce, are often predictors of suicide attempts, particularly in men. In some cases, having young children or being devoutly religious may serve as protective factors. But many of us know the exceptions to that statement.

One of the deaths that rocked my community the hardest was the suicide of a Sunday School teacher and youth counselor. Active in our church and several non-profits, he mentored many and loved connecting people. Was he disheveled, withdrawn, and a downer to be around? Absolutely not. He was encouraging, thoughtful, and went out of his way to attend and organize events. Often in a suit and always put together, he was who we aspired to be when we grew up. Did we ever ask him how he was doing, if he was hurting, or if he needed someone to listen to him for once? No. We bought in to the façade and couldn’t see the pain hiding just under the surface.

His life was one-of-a-kind, and unfortunately his story is not. Many who’ve been impacted by a friend’s suicide say the same thing: “I just had no idea he was suffering. He was the last person I would have expected to do this.”

  • How can we help?

Create awareness to de-stigmatize mental illness. Pay more attention to ourselves and our loved ones. Ask the hard questions. Specifically, notice if a loved one begins giving away possessions (often a symptom that someone is considering suicide), or begins to isolate and withdraw.

If you have a friend who suddenly stops responding to phone calls or texts or cancels plans, don’t hesitate to ask them what’s going on and if they’re feeling okay. Or offer a low-key activity you can do together where they know they can be heard and are not alone.

If you’re a physician, notice the co-morbidity rates for patients suffering from asthma, obesity, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease, and include a screening for depression and anxiety. And be prepared to make appropriate referrals to psychologists and psychiatrists.

Many people suffering from smiling depression are perfectionists, or they don’t want to appear weak or out of control. The more we can shift the conversation to show positive role models with depression – those who advocate for the tailored mix of therapy, exercise, medication, sleep, diet – the less shame will be associated with the depression.

“As a therapist, I try to encourage [my patients] to develop authentic social relationships, so that he or she can experience the relief of being heard, understood, and validated by friends and loved ones, and build genuine connections,” said Silverman.

 

If you think you might be depressed:

On the days when your brain seems to be fighting you for your life, remember and know that you are enough, you are worthy, you are loved, and you are not alone.

Find the activities and pursuits that are meaningful and make you feel productive and fruitful. Reach out to someone you trust, consider contacting a therapist, and let both help you flip the script running through your mind.

Rather than become “submerged in a vortex of negative, self-defeating thoughts,” Silverman encourages her patients to learn self-compassion and be present and fully engaged.  “Mindfulness is the opposite of perfectionism in that it focuses on a balance without judgment, and it’s an important set of skills that someone can learn in therapy.”

Above all, please don’t give up. Please don’t let depression win. You are not alone.

 

This post was first published on The Mighty.

 

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Say it Hot

“Be still when you have nothing to say. When genuine passion moves you,
say what you’ve got to say. And say it hot.” -D.H. Lawrence

passion

My left wrist features an inked homage to this quote. It’s a reminder that words are valuable, words are impactful, and when impassioned you must use your voice.

My call to adventure happened at the end of April.

One morning before work, I sat in bed and spent a few minutes crafting a Facebook post about my struggle with depression. My social media presence until that point had been fairly lighthearted, but I felt called to be raw and transparent with my struggle. Through years of journalism and creative writing classes, coupled with years of therapy, I’ve grown accustomed to “using my words” to share my most intimate stories.

My hope was that one person would read that post and say, “yes! Me too! I don’t feel so alone now!” What happened in the following days was an unplanned push into the world of blogging. A world I’ve stalked, admired, and talked myself out of for years.

A few hours after I shared my post, my old youth minister asked if he could share it on his website. Another friend from college asked the same. Over the weekend the post gained some traction, and I felt emboldened enough to pitch it to The Huffington Post and The Mighty. I heard back from both.

A “few seconds of insane courage” jump-started my foray into blogging, and you can find the post on the following sites:

Huffington Post
The Mighty
United Methodist Reporter
Youth Worker Movement
Highland Park United Methodist Church

Now the fun part begins! Being open to those encounters where I feel impassioned to share my voice … and then actually following through.

Thank you for supporting and joining me on this journey. It will no doubt be a ridiculous one.

All the best,
-LC

 

 

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