Tag Archives: medication

Depression and Anxiety Resources

17 Nov

I’m updating my page about postpartum depression and anxiety with a series of my favorite Learned Happiness posts. My journey to health is not unlike many others in the PPD community and yet it has its own subtle nuances and my story is, of course, my own.

I’ve pieced together my journey from the depths of postpartum depression and anxiety to the amazing place I find myself today – one of balance and mental health instead of mental illness. I will always struggle with anxiety and the depression it brings with it, but it is a part of my life instead of the entirety of it.

Learned Happiness – My original piece on how my depression created a cycle of learned helplessness and how I hope to break that cycle with this blog.
Therapy – A post about how my attitude toward therapy changed during my treatment and why I believe it’s so important.
Lows – Two steps forward and one step back.  Despite healing after my first bout with PPD, I found the lows returning and challenged them with all the self-care and depression tools I had.
Health Activists Writer’s Monthly Challenge – The WEGO Health HAWMC post about what my anxiety is and feels like.
Because I Can – Why I write about mental health.
Mother’s Day Rally – The first time Katherine invited me to write for Postpartum Progress and I went all fangirl and freaked out.  You must read all the Mother’s Day Rally for Mental Health Letters to New Moms.  They are inspiring.
Antental Depression Part One – I was seven weeks pregnant with Bean when I began having intrusive thoughts and felt my world collapsing around me.
Antental Depression Part Two – Thank you to Postpartum Progress, the Mother’s Day Rally Letters, and Marlene Freeman at MGH.  This is where my life began to truly turn around.
Rainy Day Letter – Yael Saar was kind enough to host me at PPD To Joy.  This is part of her Rainy Day Letter series.  The other letters?  Worth sitting down with.  Bring some kleenex.
A Rough Couple of Weeks – On increasing medication mid-pregnancy and all the feelings that come with it.
Dog Tired – On my pregnancy progress.  Evidence that with the right medication and therapy, a second pregnancy can be joyful.
Invisible Wounds – Anxiety and depression are “invisible” to the outside world, but they are very real illnesses.
Ready – Feeling ready for the second baby, prepared for possible PPD, and supported by my IRL and online army.
Warning Signs – A post informing my friends and family what to look for after my second baby was born, written just before her arrival.  My PPD went unnoticed the first time around.  I believe the key to my health the second time around was being upfront and honest with my support network about what to look for and how to help me.
Happy Birthday – The joyful arrival of Bean.
Expectations – How lowering my expectations postpartum helped me stay mentally healthy after my second baby was born.
Panic Attack – The panic attack nine weeks postpartum that had me waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Time Capsule – A HAWMC prompt post about what would be in my PPD time capsule.
When We Know Better… – A HAWMC prompt with my favorite quote.  How does knowing better the second time around translate into a better postpartum experience?
Self Care – Another HAWMC prompt about why I write about mental health.  Hint:  It’s mostly for me.
Persistence – My favorite post of all time.  Inspired by a tree.  Yes, a tree.
Haiku – I wrote terrible haikus about mental health.  Seriously terrible.  But the links to Sweetly Voiced’s diabetes haikus are worth the click!
Tweet, tweet. Boom. – One silly conversation with my husband.  That’s all it took to tell me I was really on the way to being well.
Mother’s Day – “To love her more than I feared her.”  That Mother’s Day I had all I really wanted.
Anything – Five months postpartum, the anxiety and obesessive thoughts returned.
PPD, the Second Time Around – On feeling hopeful and full of joy despite the return of my postpartum anxiety.
Giving Up Control – Why does everything mental health-related for me end up being about my childhood?  On seeking out a reason for my anxiety and how that helped me put it in its place.
PPD and Marriage – PPD rocked my marriage.  Hard.  My husband was hurt just as I was.
I Need Your Help – My post for Strong Start Day 2012 in which I admit to intrusive thoughts about falling down the stairs.
When Birthdays Aren’t So Happy – Dealing with the joy of my oldest daughter’s 4th birthday and the trauma of the anniversary of my PPD onset.
Breastfeeding on Psychotropic Medication – Why I choose to breastfeed while medicated for depression and anxiety, with special care to support women no matter how they feed their babies.
Not For Weak Stomachs – A horrid month of health issues, which I dealt with without any mental health complications.  This was a huge week for me, realizing that my mental illness was well-controlled enough to allow me to deal with crises calmly.  Also?  I was carried down the stairs by a team of firemen while wearing only my underwear.  Good times.
So You Think I Shouldn’t Have Had Children – My response to Anderson Cooper’s piece about the “trend” of mothers taking antidepressants and the horrid FB comments on his fan page in response to the story.
Don’t Call Them “Happy Pills” – On medication and stigma and a primer on how my antidepressant and anti-anxiety pills work.
I Am Not Okay (But I Will Be) – My low days and irritability may periodically return, but armed with therapy, medication, and support, they are short-lived.
Talking Climb Out of the Darkness With My Daughter – Doodlebug and I made a video about postpartum depression and why we were hiking in 2013.
A Tale of Five Medications (Or Don’t Lose Hope) – All about my medication journey, why it is so hard to find the right medication formula and how stigma kept me from being treated for much too long.

And that bring us to today.  A day where I am healthy enough to be an advocate with thirty-something posts on mental illness.  Which honestly?  Is humbling.

I’ll be adding them to the resource page and updating my sidebar this week with my favorite blogs about mental health.  The more we talk about this, the more people we help.  I’m proud to be a part of that.

A Tale of Five Medications (or Please Don’t Lose Hope)

2 Oct

I have a confession to make:  I take antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication every day.

Oh, wait.  You already knew that.  Huh.

Well, what if I told you that there was a time when I thought only weak people took antidepressants.  People who didn’t try hard enough…who were cray-zee.  Not people like me.  Educated. Sober. Financially stable. Successful. I cringe as I type this, wanting to slap the old me in the face for her ignorance and prejudice, but at the same time knowing that I simply didn’t have the framework or experience to be able to understand.

Medications

These days, I know that medication is a tool for treating mental illness.  It is not a sign of weakness, but a medical treatment for a medical condition.  Not to be taken without cautious consideration and the advice of doctors (note the plural there), but for many of us, essential.  I am not  a different person on the medication; I am a better version of myself.  But it wasn’t always that way.

I was diagnosed with postpartum depression in winter 2008, after suffering in silence for months after my first child was born.  I saw both a LICSW and a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at the time and at my first psychiatric appointment, was reassured by the nurse’s calm and confident demeanor.  “I just love getting moms like you,” she said, “because I know that we can help you.  You will be better.  You will feel like yourself again.”

Nurse J went over my health history.  She talked over many options.  She answered my dozens of questions about how the medications worked, and (most importantly to me at the time) how long I would have to be on them.  I thought it was like antibiotics.  You take it for x days and then you’re better.  Needing it for longer meant I was “one of those people.”

Despite my hesitation, I began a small dose of Citalopram and I waited out the horrid side effects: zombie brain, nausea, headache.  Each day I was convinced the meds were doing more harm than good.  Until one day, a few weeks later, I cried a little less.  The day after that, I found it easier to get dressed.  And for a few months, I felt okay.

Then I decided that since I was okay, that I must not need the medication anymore.  Besides, though the headaches and lethargy had waned, the lack of libido and *ahem* performance were less than desirable.  So with my doctor’s support, I began weaning off the medication.  If I’m telling the whole truth, I think I knew it was too early to wean, but I was determined not to need the pills anymore.  Determined to “do it by myself.”

I cannot describe the depth of the nothingness that returned but I can tell you it had me running back to my therapist and NP.  We decided to add Wellbutrin to the Citalopram.  Wellbutrin has a reputation for helping with sexual disfunction, so I reluctantly agreed to try it, though inside, I was terrified.  Now I was on TWO pills?  One medication was bad enough, but how could I be crazy enough to need two?

When I just happened to get a case of the hives three days into the Wellbutrin (which I think was actually caused by a new detergent), I was actually elated to be able to call my doctors and tell them, “I have to stop the Wellbutrin.  I have hives.”  And so, I went back on the Citalopram – the lowest dose possible, in an attempt to curtail any sexual disfunction.

The lowest dose?  Wasn’t enough.  But you couldn’t convince me of that.  “It’s not working,” I declared to the new NP that had taken over when my old one moved on to another practice.  She suggested increasing the dose but my mind was made up.  This was not the med for me.  So she switched me to a mood stabilizer, Lamictal.  And when the crushing headaches lasted for 4 weeks, that was changed to Trileptal, a second cousin-once-removed of Lamictal (or something like that).

The Trileptal made me almost narcoleptic for the first three weeks.  But when it started to work and the side effects eased, I felt like myself again.  Less prone to angry outbursts, and less like an emotional rollercoaster all month long, I found something akin to normal.  But you can’t take Trileptal while pregnant (or at least the doctors I spoke with advised taking something better-studied).

I quit cold-turkey when I found out I was 4 weeks pregnant with my second child.  A surprise pregnancy.  After a trip to Vegas.  And three weeks later I was having intrusive thoughts about throwing myself down the stairs.

I found my old NP and went to see her as soon as possible.  She advised against the lesser-studied Trileptal and suggested I go back to the Citalopram.  “No, I don’t want to be an ice queen,” I stated.  So she suggested I try a more “pure” form of Citalopram: Lexapro.  After one dose, I had a violent panic attack.  I was literally unable to leave my bed and was crushed by irrational, indescribable fear.  And so back to the Citalopram I went.  I filled the prescription and then sat on my living room floor and sobbed.

I was terrified.  What would this medication do to my baby?  How could I even need it again?  Would it ruin my marriage? What if I never, ever stopped taking it?

Through Postpartum Progress, I was able to find a psychiatrist who specializes in perinatal mental health.  She walked me through the statistics, the studies, and the likely outcomes of my many options.  And after hearing her recommendation, I took the Citalopram throughout my pregnancy.  I continue to take it while nursing, along with an anti-anxiety medication called BusPar.  Because of the normal weight-gain of pregnancy (and increased blood volume), I increased dosage several times while pregnant and am currently at a higher dose than I ever thought I’d be okay with taking.  I have been on it for almost 2 years now.

It’s working. It allows me to function and feel like myself.  And I’m okay with needing it.

afraid quote

I tell you this very long story because before taking psychiatric medication, I had no idea how hard it is to find the right one.  I didn’t understand the nuances of weighing the benefits vs the side effects and calculating the most beneficial dosage.  I didn’t know it would be so frustrating or that I would fight what I’ve discovered to be an essential treatment for so long.

I was afraid and blanketed by stigma.

So please.  If you or someone you know is in the process of finding the right medication for a mood or anxiety disorder, please don’t lose hope.  Don’t settle for less than you deserve.  Advocate for yourself and ask your doctors hundreds of questions.  Tell them the truth.  But most of all, don’t be afraid.

Medication isn’t right for everyone.  Only you and your doctor can decide that for sure.  But it has helped people, and for some of us (like me), it’s worth the long, hard, drawn-out process.

p.s. Y’all know I’m not a doctor, right?  This is just my personal experience.  Consult your doctor about all medical decisions and do your own research.

Fear of Flying

19 Jul

It’s 8:22am and in 1 hour and 38 minutes I can take another Ativan pill.

Then I will wait 20 minutes for its effects to kick in.  My heart rate will slow back down, my stomach will no longer twist and turn.  And my thoughts will return to their regular, slow pace.  And until it begins to work its magic, I will breathe.  In my right nostril, out the left.  In the left, out the right.  Over and over again.  I will not able to do anything else.

1 hour and 34 minutes.

The panic comes on despite my protests.  Despite all reason and logic.  I know that statistically, air travel is safe.  And this is not my first time flying – I’ve been hurtling myself through the air at 400 mph from destination to destination since I was a small child.  I used to love it.  And then I developed this anxiety disorder.

1 hour and 29 minutes.

Before I was diagnosed (and medicated), I had to fight the panic alone.  From my early 20’s on, I suffered from fainting spells, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, heart palpitations, and dry mouth when traveling.  I would describe my anxiety surrounding flying as just shy of a phobia.  But I had people to visit, places to see, and I pushed through each episode, though they left me emotionally and physically drained.

1 hour and 23 minutes.

See, I think that even though air travel is safe, and even though I kind of LOVE seeing the world as a patchwork quilt out my window, there’s a part of my brain that sees the giant metal bird and thinks the math just doesn’t add up.  I mean, I understand the science of flight, but that doesn’t make jumbo jets any less miraculous.  The idea that I’ll be 5 miles up in the sky triggers a fight or flight response that I simply can’t control.

31 minutes.  (I had to go get coffee and donuts.)

Now, armed with cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapies (and mostly with my medications), I can prevent the adrenaline and cortisol from overtaking my brain.  And even though nervous butterflies annoy me during takeoff and landing, I feel like I’m finally traveling like a normal person.

26 minutes.

So.  Here I sit at gate 36.  Waiting for a flight.  And for more Ativan.  Unashamed for needing it.

waiting in the airport

Don’t Call Them “Happy Pills”

15 Apr

It’s no secret that I take medication for my anxiety and OCD.  It’s in my intro on the sidebar, for crying out loud.

Every morning, it’s 1 1/2 antidepressant pills and 2/3 of a long-acting anti-anxiety medication.  And in the evening, another 2/3  of the anti-anxiety, along with my prenatal vitamin for lactating moms (yes, I’m still nursing), and lately some ibuprofen for my earache.

Medications

I don’t take them lightly.  After all, these medications are altering my brain chemistry.  I’ve worked closely with my doctors and therapist to find a medication combination that works for me while balancing the side effects.  I’ve considered the risks and have researched their effects on breastfeeding.  I’ve adjusted doses and schedules more times than I care to count.  And this is all after spending a year fighting against taking anything at all because of the stigma and my misunderstanding of how psychotropic medications work.

My antidepressant works by soaking the nerve cells in my brain with seritonin.  Seritonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible in part for regulating the intensity of moods.  See, a normal brain releases seritonin, exposing the nearby brain cells, and then reabsorbs it.  My brain either does not produce enough seritonin or reabsorbs it too quickly.  SSRI’s (selective seritonin reuptake inhibitors) work by blocking the reabsorption process, thereby allowing the nerve cells to bathe in the seritonin for longer.  In my case, more is better.

The long-acting anti-anxiety medication increases dopamine levels and, along with melatonin,  has been shown in studies to rebuild neurons.  Dopamine is part of the “reward system” of the brain and is responsible for many functions, including mood, movement, working memory, learning, and motivation.

These medications work together to relieve the crippling anxiety and buzzing energy of my OCD and anxiety disorder, both of which have contributed to depression in the past.  They allow me to strap my children into my mother’s car and watch as she safely drives them for a sleep over without slumping to the floor in paralyzing fear that they will crash during the ride.  They help regulate my reaction to hormones like cortisol (the stress hormone; think fight or flight) during arguments with my 4-year-old.  Without this regulation, I am susceptible to anxiety-induced rage.  And most importantly to me, I couldn’t have slugged through the messy, emotional work of therapy had my seritonin and dopamine levels been unbalanced.

What they don’t do?  Is make me happy.  Instead, they allow me to feel the happiness that my unbalanced brain chemistry was robbing me of.

So do me a favor and don’t call them “happy pills.”  It makes you sound ignorant and makes me feel stigmatized.  It’s medication for a medical condition.  Period.

 

** I don’t have to remind you that I’m not a doctor, right?  I’m just one person sharing her story.  Medication decisions are personal and are best made with your doctor’s supervision.**

A Rough Couple of Weeks

6 Sep

Y’all?  It’s been a challenging couple of weeks.  In the blink of an eye, I went from being motivated, confident, and optimistic to overwhelmed and anxious.  That’s the thing about depression and anxiety – just when you start to feel safe, it can creep back into your life.  I often wish it could be removed surgically – cut out permanently – but that’s just not how it works.

The doctor warned me that as pregnancy changed my body, medication doses would need to be adjusted.  I knew all along she was right – after all, I’d already increased the dose once before.  But secretly, I was feeling so good that deep down, I hoped we had found the perfect combination of medication and therapy.

When I started to feel edgy, I talked to my therapist and we agreed to give it a few days.  After all, sometimes a bad day is just a bad day.  It’s all-to-easy to overreact to a bad mood after you have experienced the lows that accompany a mood disorder.  I took deep breaths, reached out to friends, let my husband know how I was feeling, and spent my time living self-care.  After a week?  It just wasn’t enough.

The amazing thing is that I was actually managing the episode quite well.  All the self-care and coping skills were allowing me to function normally: to work, care for Doodle Bug, and enjoy time with friends and family.  But it took so much emotional energy that I was exhausted.  Pregnancy is tiring enough.  I didn’t need to be struggling to feel good.

My mom asked if there was anything wrong.  She suggested that life has been stressful lately and that we’ve been very busy.  She was right about one thing – we have been so very busy.  But it’s not been anything worth being overwhelmed by.  In two years of therapy, I’ve become very good at looking internally for issues.  And I knew for sure that life was good.  All the busy?  It was a good busy.  This wasn’t life getting me down.  It was the chemical imbalance in my brain.

I was sure of it…so why was it so hard to call the doctor?  I know I was afraid of the side effects.  No one wants to sign up for a week of zombie-brain and headaches.  But I think I stalled partially because, well, it sucks to have to increase meds.  I know it’s not my fault.  And I know I need the medication to correct my chemical balance like a diabetic needs insulin.  But I feel a little like I’ve let myself down, no matter how unrealistic that is.

So.  I allowed the feelings to be what they were, but I chose to ignore their narrative.  I called the doctor.

This is day one on the new full dose and I’m a little fatigued…but also feeling less tense.  I knew I did the right thing when I called the doctor, but now I also feel like it, too.

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