Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Third Time's the Charm!

When it comes to antidepressants, all I know is my own experience. Drug therapy always seems to be a contentious issue, at least among LDS people. Maybe that's because we have great faith in God and in our relationship with our Savior; we believe we can be healed by the power of God and through the Atonement. Sometimes, though, I think we forget that many of the medical miracles we are blessed with in our modern age are brought about by God's will and through his power. I remember hearing someone say in testimony meeting that Lasik surgery was a miraculous healing for them. Maybe antidepressants are the same kind of thing. Anyway, I have been on antidepressants three separate times in the past five years. Yes, I have spent more time on the drugs than off but I think that my going off and on again has given me a pretty good idea of how they work for me.

The first time: Four months after Number 1 was born I realized I was nuts (i.e. paranoid, vaguely suicidal, angry, constantly tired, unable to enjoy anything--even reading!, and anxious). After talking to my doctor I started taking 5mg of Lexapro every day. After a couple weeks, I was quite pleasantly surprised when one day I was able to walk past the razors in the bathroom and not have fleeting images of slit wrists (whether those wrists were mine or not, I don't know). Also, my back, neck and shoulders didn't hurt as much because I wasn't try to keep my body from its usual anxious trembling. However, I still cried a lot and would get so angry I'd have to scream myself hoarse in a towel or break things to be able to stop seeing red.

Unfortunately, I was quite embarrassed by my status as a person who has to take pills and thought my body should be able to manage itself (why do we all think our bodies are perfect just the way they are? I know I'm hoping that my freckles, along with my chemical imbalance, will be gone in the Resurrection). So I took them for what was supposed to be the shortest time advisable: 3 months. Turns out that was misinformation and you need to stay on an SSRI for at least 6 months once you start taking it. People who do less than that usually end up having a relapse. After three months I quit and felt horrible. My anger got worse and some of the violent thoughts returned. My paranoia started to creep back in. But, I started exercising and writing and running a book club and getting more sleep and my life felt very managable--except for a few depressed days here and there and my body-shaking anxiety and cup-shattering anger.

The second time: Then, I was delighted to discover, I was pregnant with Number 2. The pregnancy was pretty good until about 20 weeks. Then I started to have trouble disciplining Number 1. I was always coming down hard on her and I actually swatted her bum out of anger once. I also pushed her over once. These things were unacceptable to me and I couldn't understand how itwas happening. I loved her so much--I didn't want to hurt her and so far I hadn't really. But I had come close, far closer than I ever thought I would. It was obvious the potential was there. I waded out the last few months of the pregnancy hoping someone would ask me about my previous PPD experience and hoping I could deny it, but that they would press the issue and take it out of my hands. No one did--except for maybe my sister who encouraged me to start my medicine again. After a smooth delivery and first few weeks, when I did my best to act how I knew other mothers acted with their newborns, I lost control of my life. When Number 2 was about three weeks old I found myself screaming at her and Number 1. I would call my sister or husband and cry and yell and cry. I knew I wasn't being the mother God intended me to be. The guilt was horrible and I wasn't sure if I could trust myself. I went in for my three week PPD screening, which was standard at my new OB's office, and she told me that I had one of the highest depression scores she had ever seen. She sent me home with a perscription and several referrals and business cards for therapists.

This time I was on twice the dose I had been on before--I was taking 10 mg of Lexapro--and the difference was amazing. Not only did the violent thoughts disappear, but so did my anger. It was like I had been sleep walking for the last couple years and finally woke up. I had more patience and energy--I felt way better than I had during my first course of antidepressants. Turns out, I hadn't been on a big enough dose or taken them long enough to really get better. (I tried working with an LDS therapist but, oddly enough, she and I just didn't seem to understand each other.)

That time I stayed on them for a year. Then it was time to have the next baby and I weaned off them. I didn't recognize this at the time, but I don't think I was ready to quit taking them when I did. Once they were out of my system I became convinced that my husband was going to leave me (paranoia, again!) and that I was an unfit mother (guilt, again!). My anger came back, this time as door slamming and, yes, I did break some door frames. My anxiety was back too. One morning, I arrived at a preschool field trip crying and shaking so badly all the other mommies thought somebody had died. I couldn't bring myself to tell them that I was just freaking out because I was late.

The third time: We got pregnant with Number 3 right after that and I couldn't start taking my medicine again. So I joined the YMCA to get some exercise, which always helps, and opted for therapy, which also always helps. In therapy my new therapist (who was not LDS but was very open to learning about it through me) and I focused on my anger issues and did a lot of cognitive behavioral therapy to stop my guilt cycle and to help me stay out of the red zone. I loved it! I finally felt like I was understanding my emotions and was able to control them. That sense of self-mastery was new to me and really boosted my confidence. Maybe I wasn't actually deperssed! Maybe I just had poor emotional skills! Ha, ha, ha. Depression is like a bad rash--once you think it's gone it just starts itching somewhere else. By my the third trimester I was on my way downhill and, even though I felt like a failure for it, I started taking my medicine two weeks before the baby was born.

That failure feeling didn't last long. Since we were able to head it off at the pass, my depression wasn't too bad. Being on the pills this time just made me feel groovy. I no longer had the pressing need to finish everything on my to do list before the baby was born. And even after Number 3 was born, instead of worring about how I'd repay them, I was happy to let other people bring me dinner. So what if the laundry was wrinkled and the dishes were never all the way done? I wasn't crazy and I liked that.

I'm still on the medicine right now. I don't know when I'll stop taking it. I feel good and pulled together and my family needs me to be that way. After all, you know the old saying, "When Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." Well, this mama doing all right.


Charlotte said...

An extradorinarily well-written post! This should be an article somewhere. Really. Thanks for sharing your experience with me. Having been (somewhat) a part of it, I never put it all together like that. You are very brave for putting all of that out there and I really appreciate your candidness.

Heathie said...

Ditto to what Charlotte said; very well written, should be an article somewhere.
I appreciate your openness, and I also appreciate what you said about modern medicine being inspired. I think as LDS women (and perhaps just as women in general) we think, "I should be strong enough to deal with this. And whatever I can't deal with, I will just leave to divine intervention." I really do think doctors were inspired to come up with ways to treat things!

Laura said...

I think, well, at least, I hope people's attitudes are changing about medicine and mental illness. I just hate the implication that I have to choose between my faith and my happiness! I feel very blessed to live in an age where I can get the help I need. Thanks for reading my blog, guys! It really encourages me :)

Darlene said...

Hey, Laura, I'm glad I found your blog. I hear you loud and clear about the cultural baggage associated with medicating depression. We do the weirdest things to ourselves! I once heard of a well-meaning RS lady declaring, "The scriptures are my prozac!" I wasn't there or they would have heard from me. Such a damaging attitude!

I had some cognitive behavioral therapy once and it really changed my life. But if you have chemical issues, you can't solve them by just changing your thinking. (As you've found out.) I'm glad you're not beating yourself up about it anymore. You're doing what's best for you, and God led you to it, so just rejoice!

BTW, have you ever considered writing your experience as an essay and submitting it to Segullah? They love to hear real stories about real people and their challenges.

Laura said...

Hi Darlene! Thanks for stopping by :) I actually have submitted a couple things to Segullah, but nothing has been accepted yet. Maybe I'll try again--after all, third time's the charm!

Oh, and if the scriptures really are that woman's prozac, good for her. I just hope she's open to other people finding the help they need, even if their solution is different than hers.

m said...

Wow Laura. Fantastic. I am so proud of you. Please always remember that I'm here with you/for you. I'd do anything to help you on a hard day and I'd put my life on it that you'd help me. You spoke a story that we've all lived.