I have suffered with bouts of depression and anxiety ever since I was a child. I would guess that these seasons of sadness began sometime in grade school, although I was not clinically diagnosed with depression until age 16. I have always been a highly sensitive person and feel the sadness of others in a very deep way, often taking it on as a personal burden. At times, these feelings become overwhelming and I become trapped in a world of deep sadness and anxiety, frightened to even leave my bed. I remember as a young child that adults would often ask me frequently why I was crying and I simply could not comprehend that adults could not see the sadness and pain that seemed to be everywhere around me.
I was 16 when I was placed on antidepressants for the first time. I remember the feeling of freedom when the Prozac began to work and I no longer felt the oppression of a constant stream of bleak thoughts that I felt I had no control over. It felt as though I could finally take a full breath after years of living with an elephant on my chest. With this freedom also came numbness -- an inability to truly feel joy, but I was so grateful for the lifted weight that the numbness seemed a small price to pay.
In the past 20 years beyond my teenage years I have had three periods in which I was on antidepressants for a short period of time -- the most harrowing of which was the extreme postpartum depression I had after the birth of my second child, which led me into anxiety that bordered on psychosis. Each time I was grateful for the relief that antidepressants provided me and even more grateful when I could safely stop them again. I consider myself lucky to not have to be constantly dependent on medication but struggle with asking for help when I know that I am in another bout of depression.
A few months ago I took the last Lexapro in the bottle and realized that I was out of refills. With a start I realized that I had been on Lexapro for two years -- a much longer period of time than I was comfortable with. I had asked the doctor for a prescription when I realized that the latest bout of depression was out of control and I was having trouble sleeping, eating and going about my day-to-day life. However, I had never meant for the antidepressants to be a long-term solution. I knew that it was time to come off of them and learn to manage my life again.
I admit that it is terrifying to live again without antidepressants, when they have helped to manage my emotions for such a long time. I fear the terrible sadness but fear the unreasonable anxiety even more. When my anxiety is at its worst, I cannot sleep and am frightened and jumpy at all times. It can be a living hell and can take my life spinning out of control in a very short period of time.
In the first months without the medication, I am always surprised at the myriad of emotions I experience. I do notice more sadness and anxiety when I am medication-free but I also notice more joy and energy. Antidepressants leave me feeling a heavy, measured slowness and without that feeling I feel more alive than ever. If I manage my self-care, the days of depression are usually few and far between.
I find that life comes at me in stops and starts -- days of joy punctuated with days of sadness that only envelope me for a short time before releasing me from their sticky grip back into the arms of happiness. When the days of depression are few, I can sink into the feelings and release them when I am though, even finding worth in the days of sadness as my creative soul tends to come alive and I bleed ink onto the page without any laboring. I dance with the grief and sadness as easily I spin in the arms of joy, the contrast of the two reminding me that every feeling has a purpose.
For today, I will slow dance with life without medication streaming through my veins. I will find the worth in the good days and the bad and care for myself in the same loving way as I care for my beloved children. However, if there comes a day in which it is, again, time to ask unabashedly for help and an antidepressant prescription to manage the darkness, I will do so unashamed. This life is a blessing and a curse and some days we all need a little help towards the light.
This post was first published on The Zen RN.