I didn’t realize how much of a fog I’d been walking around in until it wasn’t there anymore.
When I stopped taking my SSRI last summer, I wasn’t expecting much to change as I’d never really felt much of a positive effect—and I certainly wasn’t expecting my depression and anxiety to get worse.
My depression is chronic, the kind that used to be called dysthymia and is now called persistent depressive disorder. It’s usually like a low-grade fever, with occasional spikes. After a while, you learn to live with it—muddle along—and many people are never formally diagnosed because they think that this is just what everything is supposed to be like. It’s not.
As far as I can tell, I’ve had dysthymia with varying degrees of severity nearly my entire life. It can be triggered by stress and social isolation and there is some evidence that there is also a genetic component. I became good at pretending everything was okay out of self-preservation: it’s really hard to cope when your parent takes away the things you find comfort in because they believe they are the cause of your emotional and mental distress.
Depression combined with anxiety is a bear of a thing to deal with, particularly when you don’t have a support system or any sort of safety net outside of home-especially since depression is a lying jerk that tells you no one cares pretty much constantly. When that lying jerk voice is combined with the persistent message from your family that you’re nothing special–it’s toxic.
Believing that I had no one to rely upon but myself for most of you young adulthood, I developed a lot of strategies designed to get me through the day: lists to make sure one-off and work tasks are done and routines to pay bills and manage the rest of my life. But even routines and lists aren’t always enough—but most of the time, I managed to look like I was fine. And I mostly was.
And then last year happened. I had a cancer scare which lead to a re-evaluation of the day to day choices I make which affect my health and to make some significant changes. There was (and continues to be) a lot of uncertainty at my job. And there was the whole damn election.
There are ways in which 45’s outlook on the world is like my father’s and that outlook is something I’d prefer to not dwell on too often. And there it was, in the news. Constantly. This was not something I was expecting to come crashing back into my world and to say it was upsetting would be a tremendous understatement.
In October, for the first time in my life, I started therapy. Which has been a tremendous help. I didn’t realize how useful it would be to get an outside perspective. Having someone point out that that many things you dealt with growing up were not okay was like getting help with a tremendous burden—a one I didn’t even know I was carrying. It’s helped me to reframe an awful lot and it’s given me the distance I need. I am able to put my personal history into a context that is clearer and that makes more sense.
And then the election happened.
My anxiety and depression ratcheted back up and I mentioned this to my doctor during an appointments. She prescribed a different class of anti-depressant, an NDRI instead of an SSRI. Which, apart from inconvenient but manageable side effects, is working. It began working almost immediately.
It’s like my brain has glasses now. That sounds like hyperbole, but the shift in my mindset has truly been that dramatic. There are days when it feels like the world has changed in some sort of fundamental way (even though it’s still pretty much a dumpster fire when it comes to politics).
I also have more energy and I seem to have acquired the ability to both focus and not only set goals but to plan out the steps I need to take to achieve them—who knew that this was even a thing? It is magic! Okay, it’s actually science—but it feels like magic.
I’ve been applying my new-found ability to focus to my career, where I’ve been feeling stuck. Now I have clarity on where I want to go and what I need to do to get there (and luckily, it doesn’t require that I go back to school). There was a reason why I kept hitting walls when looking at the different places where my career could go—I wasn’t looking in the right places, in part because my brain chemistry wouldn’t even allow me to hope that the shift I wanted to make was even possible. It is possible and I can finally see the path.
And it also means I have also been able to set clear goals for my other work—including Pretty Terrible. I want to do more writing so I’ve used this energy to begin to build processes and schedules that are functional instead of aspirational and which give me the space and time I need to write.
There’s space in my head that used to be needed to help me put one foot in front of the other. I can now use that space for other things. I feel less stuck. It’s hard to describe the way I feel now as compared to how I’ve felt nearly my entire life except that there was this really dense fog that made everything so hard and now there isn’t—things certainly aren’t easy, but I can at least see what I’m doing and where I’m going now.
I’ll take it.