The First Step

Last month, I broke. I cracked. There was no warning, no pebbles falling gently down the precipice in advance of the landslide. It just happened. In the wake of it, I’ve had to come to terms with things I kept buried. Feelings stuffed inside lest I have a human reaction and feel them. This is me baring the depths of my soul for the first time for the world to see. For myself to see.

I’ve often said that I was born anxious. The stories have been passed down through the years: I cried the entire first few months of my life. I couldn’t be laid down or left alone because I was too tiny, needy and loud. Mom would cook supper with me tucked in the crook of her left arm. I’ll laugh now and say “Yep, I was anxious even then.” As a small child I worried about things no child should. The evening news would keep me laying awake for hours at night. Every hurricane, tornado, unsolved murder and car accident had me convinced that we would be the next victims. I was so worried to use the school restrooms- why, I have no idea- that I’d go home in physical pain from withholding all day. I didn’t like new places or people so I’d avoid them. Adults would say that I was a quiet, obedient child. Mostly, I was just an anxious child.

I was 13 when I realized that the way I felt wasn’t normal. It was also then that I first found an outlet for those feelings. I’ve struggled with how I can explain this but beyond just saying it there really exist no words to use because it defies explanation. At 13 I started to pull my hair out. One strand at a time. I found it cathartic in, again, an unexplainable way. It was almost as if with each pull a worry went away. It began with my hair and by my twenties I was also pulling my eyebrows and eyelashes out. I know now that this is actually a diagnosed psychiatric condition called trichotillomania. That isn’t what is wrong with me though. I could stop any time I wanted. I wasn’t bald, like many of the people with it were. I was different.

Denial. That’s a hard one, right? Here I’ll present a list of my denials, arranged by age.

19- my dad dies unexpectedly.

21- my husband commits suicide.

22- traumatic pregnancy that almost kills me.

22- four year old niece dies tragically.

23- I lose my son.

25- find out second husband is a predator.

31- Avery is born at 25 weeks and spends 4 months in the NICU.

32- Avery is diagnosed with cerebral palsy and polymicrogyria.

33- Mom has a massive stroke and is no longer able to care for herself.

32-34- second trimester loss and three early miscarriages.

Did any of these things cause me depression? No, not me. I was fine.

But really, I wasn’t. I was in denial.

A month ago Sunday I woke up with a sense of dread. I could feel my heart beating faster and harder than it ever had before, like a drum inside my chest. I couldn’t catch a breath. Hyperventilating. I felt as if my world was coming to an end. I was unable to form a thought. To eat or drink. My brain was on a non-stop cycle of “you’re going to die. Everyone is going to die. Your leg pain is cancer. I think I have MS. Avery hurts. He’s in pain. There’s nothing you can do. Arick’s job is dangerous. He’s in a hole right now with a gas line.” And any other of a list of 1,000 things my brain chose to torture me with. It would NOT stop. I ended up in the hospital three times. They’d dose me with benzodiazepines and I’d feel better until they wore off. When they did, the end of the world came back.

By the middle of the week I was in such bad shape I called a crisis line. I was considering checking myself into the hospital. I wasn’t suicidal but I knew I needed serious help. The lady spoke to me for an hour and together we made a plan. The next day I walked into an office in tears and begged them to help me. They did.

How had I carried the burden of so much for so long? I know now that for years I’ve needed an outlet that I was too proud, too ignorant, to admit that I needed. I think this was always coming, just beneath the surface. I’m so ashamed of myself. I’m embarrassed that for years I thought that needing help meant that you were weak. I was so stoic, so stupid.

I’ve been on a regimen of antidepressant and anti anxiety medication for three weeks now. It hasn’t been easy. I mean, I was anxious to take the anxiety medication to cure my anxiety. No one tells you that the first pill you swallow isn’t going to miraculously make you feel all better. That it is going to take time. That it may even make your anxiety worse before it makes it better. The first week was hell. I didn’t think I would make it. I was a Xanax zombie on Mother’s Day. I feel go guilty…..  But around day 10 I woke up and I felt different. I wasn’t anxious. It was starting to work! It was like something switched off (or maybe on?) in my brain.

I’m three weeks into treatment now and I definitely feel different. I’m happier than I’ve been in years. I’m also less stressed, calmer and I don’t cry at commercials. I feel…balanced. The intrusive thoughts are gone. They no longer disrupt my life. I got lucky that the first medication that I tried worked for me. They aren’t cookie-cutter. What works for me may not work for others. Sometimes it takes multiple tries to find one that works. I’m not embarrassed to need it anymore. I’m glad I found it. Asking for help may have saved my life.

Medication has given me back a life I didn’t know I wanted to live.

If you are suffering from depression and/or anxiety, do not do it alone. Confide in those close to you and make a plan for getting help. Don’t be like me and try to weather the storm alone. It doesn’t mean that you are weak. It actually takes so much more strength to take that first step.