No Judgment Zone

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Sometimes I think too much

We know the old saying, ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover.’ We know this applies to people, yet we do it anyway; we judge. Looked at another way, is the idea that you never know what is going on with another person, unless they share it with you. I am going to share, with the hope that it helps others.

I take Zoloft and I have for many years. Some may read that and think, ‘Big frickin’ deal! Doesn’t everyone?’ Others may be surprised since my life is so charmed (and it is). And some may wonder why I would share something so private.

It is that last one that motivates me to write this post. Struggling with depression and anxiety is no different than other illnesses. I think there are some who view having cancer or diabetes or high cholesterol as a private matter – but not out of shame.

I hesitate to label myself as mentally ill. I have never been clinically depressed, as I understand that term. I have suffered only one panic attack that I recognized as such, and that was when I was a teenager. But, I have struggled my whole life with persistent melancholia. Whether that qualifies as a mental illness according to the DSM, I will leave for a doctor to decide. The label doesn’t matter, I was struggling through my life. It took a few things to get me to finally seek help.

One significant trigger was my son. When he was an adolescent, he asked me why I was always so unhappy. That opened my eyes to the impact my moods were having on my children, and that maybe it was getting worse. I also realized that I was fed up with ruminating. When things would go wrong, let’s say a family member said something that hurt my feelings or an interaction at work was frustrating, I would replay the incident in my head for months, imagining what I should have said in response, or how I would talk to them about it, only to do nothing. I would get stuck in that place and time, I couldn’t get out of my own way. One more factor led me to reach out and that was my daughter was approaching college age and she would be leaving home. I wanted to prepare myself and I wanted to handle the stress of that process better.

I asked my internist for a referral to a psychologist. I wasn’t thinking that I needed medication. I thought talk therapy would be sufficient. The referral worked out well – the therapist was a terrific match for me. She took a cognitive approach and we agreed that we would look at adding medication down the road, if we thought it would help.

After a number of months of weekly visits that were useful, I still wasn’t progressing the way I hoped, we revisited the medication question. We decided that I would try Zoloft (my internist actually did the prescribing). It was the right decision. It hasn’t been a miracle drug. The big difference I noticed was that I wasn’t in my head all the time. I could move past the aggravations and hurts that are a normal part of life, but previously I was not able to let go of. It didn’t suddenly fix my self-image problems, or remove all anxiety or regret, but it made it less of a struggle.

After a while, having learned some strategies and having better insight into myself, I thought I would try stopping the drug – I discussed it with both my therapist and my internist. I weaned off of it. After about a year, I realized it wasn’t a good move. The aftermath of my father’s death was a particularly challenging time for me. I also came to the realization that whatever it was about my brain that led me to ruminate was still there – it wasn’t going away. While I may have been able to manage it behaviorally, it took so much mental energy to do it that it was exhausting. I needed to come to peace with taking the medicine for the foreseeable future.

I write this because during all the years that this was playing out, I had numerous occasions where people commented on how lucky I am, or how happy, assertive, or comfortable (insert positive characteristic here) I seem to be. I am those things, some of the time, and not without considerable effort. If only they knew, better living through chemistry! Now they know!

So, there are three points in my sharing this. First, don’t make assumptions based on what you see. There is an internet meme that says you never know the battle someone else is fighting. Every time I see it, it resonates. Start with compassion. Second, it shouldn’t be a thing for someone to share that they take an anti-depressant, anti-anxiety or any other medication that helps to regulate mood. We shouldn’t sit in judgment. We may be moving in that direction, but we aren’t there yet. Lastly, I hope it is helpful to someone to know my story.

 

7 thoughts on “No Judgment Zone

  1. Linda I give you so much credit for facing your demons and taking a considered approach to learning to live with them. It angers me to no end to hear uninformed members of the general public spout off at how medication is the panacea for dealing with mental health issues. The way I see it is that until someone’s walked in an adult, adolescent or child’s shoes who are dealing with it, they really have no right to judge.
    I wish I’d taken a more proactive approach to dealing with so far undiagnosed ADHD. Someone close to me was several years ago and since receiving therapy and medication has a new lease on life. I’m told it runs in families. Maybe now I’ll finally feel compelled to take that first step.
    Thank you.

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    1. I think for people of our generation it is really hard to take that first step – we were expected to cope. That it was a sign of weakness, rather than strength, to seek help. Whatever choice you make, trust your judgment.

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  2. Linda, I am continuously moved by how you capture ME in your words. Yay Prozac – I too have tried weaning and discontinuing but I think my little brain factory that makes seratonin isn’t as large as some other people’s. So maybe this should be the next #METOO movement – to really be OK with how different our bodies are? We look different (hoorah – wouldn’t it be awful if we were all clones?) we act differently (nature and nurture?) and our chemistry is unique. Isn’t it grand that we live in a time when we actually have choices? And through medication and counseling, we can choose to be fully alive and engaged in our world. Not that I can always do this – the uggghhhhy demons are still in residence, but the seratonin usually keeps their yelling down to a manageable level. Your courage to share your life story (which weirdly is often also mine) gives me not only strength but also peace. Thank you

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  3. Richard Cory
    BY EDWIN ARLINGTON ROBINSON
    Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
    We people on the pavement looked at him:
    He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
    Clean favored, and imperially slim.

    And he was always quietly arrayed,
    And he was always human when he talked;
    But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
    “Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

    And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
    And admirably schooled in every grace:
    In fine, we thought that he was everything
    To make us wish that we were in his place.

    So on we worked, and waited for the light,
    And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
    And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
    Went home and put a bullet through his head.

    Obviously, it is too stark to say either take medication or put a bullet through your head. But, I do think the point of doing things to help yourself is brave and that stigma about treating mental illness, taking antidepressants, dealing with these issues, belongs in that well described junk heap of history.

    Thank you.

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  4. Linda,

    You are an example to all of us of honesty and compassion. I totally love you and your blog posts. Very well expressed as usual.

    Like

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