Adventures in Therapy: An Eye on the Prize
Around the time when I really started having to interact with peers, I imagined a fantastical version of myself hoping that someday I would figure out how to be it. The Gina of the future would be confident and no nonsense. She would not take everything personally, and if she had a problem with someone or something, she would handle it head on, honestly and directly. She would be her own person regardless of the expectations of others and especially regardless of the insecurities of others. She would defend herself and others when needed. She would be amazing. This started when I was 5, so the language then was perhaps not so flowery or sensical, but it evolved into that as I grew older and the dream seemed more and more out of reach.
I viewed it mostly as a fantasy because I couldn’t imagine ever being able to actually do any of these things well. Over the years I learned how to act the part often. People have often viewed me as confident and level headed, original, unique, no nonsense. But it has, for the most part, been a façade. In life, you do what you have to do to be successful, if you are able. There were many times when this ability waivered horribly making things like excelling in college extremely difficult. I had the desire for a comfortable life and did what I had to do to achieve that, but I was a mess at the same time. In the moments when I was not a mess, I would condemn myself for not being like that all the time.
Recently the problem became prevalent because I found myself living the life that I wished to live and was still a mess. I had managed to rid myself of toxic people. I live in a beautiful house filled with wonderful people who love me. I have a career that can be fulfilling if I apply myself. I make music in a band with my best friend. I really can’t ask for more. And yet anxiety and sadness fill my days. When left too long to my own devices, my mind becomes flooded with awful thoughts about things in the past and fears about the future. I have invented realities that don’t exist, and in them I am the loser. Negativity is the norm and positivity is an uphill battle.
Coming to terms with the idea that I suffer from a mood disorder was difficult. I assumed that the only people who were medicated were people who had Real Problems. From my view, I functioned well enough…I just wasn’t happy. I thought it was greedy of me to seek help this way. “Who do I think I am? Someone who can have everything?” I found myself calling it a First World Problem because I had so much and was still not alright most of the time. But each time I lost it again, each time I found myself out of control with grief and anxious madness, I realized that it doesn’t matter if I’m not the worst off in the world. Refusing to get help because I didn’t feel I deserved it as much as someone else was just another symptom of the disease and wasn’t a reason to continue to suffer.
Before I had my appointment to get a prescription, I read this post about how to get people you care about to seek help on JT Eberhard’s blog. His writings about his struggles with his own mental illness are powerful and brilliant. And though he was writing for people who would try to help someone else, I was comforted by the familiarity of the entire thing. I had this same struggle within myself. I had all kinds of reasons not to try medication, but one very important reason to do it: Misery does not have to be my general state. My entire life does not need to center around keeping myself afloat.
So I started Zoloft and the first couple of days were terrible. Then something miraculous happened. For three days I was that incredible woman that I imagined all those years ago. I had occasion to deal with three potentially very stressful situations in a row and found myself able to navigate them beautifully. Without the anxiety, I was suddenly aware that anxiety was always with me before. Everything I did or said carried with it some level of fear. To be without it felt like being finally free of some kind of demon that possessed me and suddenly I felt fully like myself because it was who I always wanted to be. I was euphoric. I thought for a second that the bad side effects were over with quickly and that all that was left was perfection. I basked in it. I felt like life could finally begin with gusto!
On Saturday I woke up feeling anxious and sad. I didn’t like that, but figured it would pass if I got myself moving. I started going through the motions of the day and then noticed that the kitchen sink drain wasn’t functioning very well. A little while later, Shaun emerged from the shower and told Ginny that the shower wasn’t draining. I went and involved myself (something I didn’t need to do right away) and immediately starting getting really stressed out as things we tried didn’t work. I went to Home Depot and bought a drain auger and Draino and then attempted to fix the problem when I got back. I was turning into a mess. I was upset and angry. I made Wes help me. Nothing we tried worked. He went to take a shower. I fell apart in the back yard.
I sat on the back steps of the yard and cried for a while. I cried because I felt like the three days before were just a big tease. I kept saying out loud, “Please…why won’t this go away? Please, just go away!” Somehow I thought that I had found something that would help me not have to work so hard all the time and it abandoned me. I felt like I would never be free of this bullshit ever.
I went upstairs to talk to Wes and he reminded me that I would never be able to stop working but that things should even out over the weeks. I had no other desire except to curl up in bed, so I did. We had plans to go see Rise of the Guardians (which I loved, by the way) and Wes tried to help me but I was being frustrating, unwilling to admit why I was upset and condemning myself as stupid and crazy instead. Eventually he got me out of it and made me get up and move. I went downstairs and Jessie was there to talk some real sense into me. I told her I was upset because I had what I wanted so badly and then it went away. I told her that I thought I had finally figured out how to be easy on myself and not work so hard every second. And she said a wonderful thing. She had her arm around me and explained that I might have to fight still, but that I don’t have to do it alone. And this time she didn’t just mean that I was surrounded by people who love and care about me. She said that it won’t just be me alone with a sword on the battlefield…Zoloft would be next to me with a bigger sword and lasers shooting out of its eyes.
I, of course, started laughing at the image and was able to get myself over the hurdle at the moment. And told Wes again how happy I am that Jessie is in our lives. I often don’t know what I’d do without her.
I often don’t know what I’d do without any of the people close to me. One of the things that my outburst showed me on Saturday is that a lot of my motivation for getting help has been to be less of a burden to the people who love me. It made me aware of how I still view relationships as transactional. If I take too much without giving back, everyone will tire of me and leave. It was one of the things I had to admit out loud and Wes reminded me that my value to people is not in what I do for them. He also reminded me that the people who love me now loved me before I took big steps to improve. Clearly my emotional issues were not a deterrent to Wes 9 years ago, or Shaun a year and a half ago. I was worse then. I am better now. I have to remember all of this.
I didn’t feel very good for the rest of the day. We had to call Roto-Rooter to deal with the drains ultimately and they didn’t get to the house until 8pm or something. It was Saturday and it was expensive. Shaun had spent all day cooking for the dinner we had with his mom and Wes’ mom and all in all I would say it was a success, despite the plumbing ridiculousness. But I had a hard time being present because anxiety aside, I was dealing with other side effects again too. I was a little stoned, and a little crazed, and had no appetite, and all that fun stuff. I calmed down more when the plumbing was fixed, but I knew that it wasn’t just about that.
I am hoping that in the next few weeks I will find a middle ground, an evened state of being that makes it easier to stay stable. I know that I can’t expect for the issues to not be there at all ever, but I want to be better equipped to handle them when they arise, which is the point of Zoloft ultimately. I was so excited by the early results that I was using the meds as a crutch to not center myself in the face of stressful stimuli. I forgot the rational promise I made to myself before starting (and after talking to friends who have dealt with this too): The medication doesn’t stop the thoughts from coming. It just makes it easier to deal with them.
On Sunday I upped my dose because I was supposed to, so I’m evening out again. I will say that though I still wake up anxious and can have battles with badness, I think that it is actually starting to work because I’m not anxious all the time anymore. This morning it took me two and a half hours to get to work due to public transit crap and I got depressed near the end after dealing with the ordeal alone for a long time. Initially, I was fine, and I stayed fine for a while. That’s an improvement and I’ll take it. And the awesome days last week show me that days like that are possible, and I’ll take that too.
It’s cliché, but I have to take this one day at a time still. I remember when my ex’s grandfather was suffering from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s at the same time. He was on a bunch of different medications but for the most part was not present anymore. My ex mentioned that there were miraculous days when all the medications would click just right and he would be him again for a little while. I didn’t really understand it then, but now I think I do a little. In this life there are good days and bad days. It is what we do with them that counts. While I’m getting used to this stuff, there will be good days and bad days. The bad days are not a punishment for being too crazy even for pills. The good days are not proof that everything is solved forever. None of this is absolute, but it’s all progress. It’s making my happiness and mental health a priority in my life.
I appreciate the people who have been reaching out to me, sharing their experiences with this kind of thing. I think it’s important to know that none of us are alone. Everyone’s experience is different over all, but with some common themes and it’s really good to know that there are people to bounce ideas off of, to ask the “is this weird?” question, or to simply rejoice in the ups and work through the downs with.
Happiness runs in a circular motion. Love is but a little boat upon the sea. Everybody is a part of everyone anyway. You can have everything if you let yourself be. -Donovan