As I’ve written before, I have struggled all my life with anxiety and depression. That being said my symptoms wax and wane. Most of the time I am really functional. And then there have been the few times I have really crashed under the weight of it all.
I had one of those crashes two years ago.
(Thanks Facebook memories for celebrating the anniversary of this. How thoughtful).
The crash was bad enough and I was wise enough that I got some help crawling out of the anxiety and depression filled hole I was in. I got back in therapy. I went to a psychiatrist for the second time in my life. I got on some good anxiety meds and an SSRI (medicine used to mostly to treat depression but that also handily helps with anxiety. OCD be gone!)
Within weeks I was feeling better. Within months I was feeling really better. About six months in I realized I felt better than I had in YEARS.
It was like I had been so low level sick for so long I forgot what having a healthy mind felt like. It was a revolution.
I felt so great I asked my Doc when I could come off the drugs.
You see when I had my first crash in my 20s, I only took Klonopin and Paxil for about a year. I got a lot better and then I got off the meds. I couldn’t wait. The Paxil had several undesirable side effects including causing me to gain about 50 pounds.
The memory of the Paxil year was so strong I resisted medication for decades. Then when I had the bad crash two years ago, I had a long talk with my doctor who reassured me the drugs are better now and that she wouldn’t stick me on something I wasn’t happy with.
Let me tell you how scared and reticent I was two years ago to take that SSRI again after all those years . My Doc was really patient with me and ramped me up slow. To my surprise it was really smooth getting on the med (unlike my experience with Paxil which aggravated my anxiety. My hands shook for weeks getting on that med. And don’t even get me started on the random dots of light I saw from time to time. Side effect city).
But the new drug was much better. And I was much better. I have gained 50 pounds over the two years I have been on it, my one bad side effect. My Doctor and I go back and forth on if its the medicine that is making me gain weight or my lack of anxiety and OCD that lets me enjoy eating again. Say what you want about OCD but it is a GREAT diet aid.
OCD me: Must not eat cookies. Cannot eat cookies. NO cookies.
Without OCD me: Cookies smell good. Cookies taste good. Eat cookies. Love all the cookies. Cookies best thing ever. Life is Wonderful!
But I digress. About a month ago I heard that there was this genetic test that could tell you which are the best psych meds for you. I figured, “What the heck, let’s try it.” It cost a few hundred bucks but the science of it all totally seduced me and it would give me information (including what pain meds work best for me) that would help me for the rest of my life.
So I swabbed me cheek and sent in the test thinking it would tell me I was on all the right meds. After all, I felt so much better.
So yesterday I had my follow up appointment with my Doc to review my test results and guess what we found. My SSRI fell in the “not as useful for my particular type of DNA” category. It also fell in the “has a lot of side effects for my DNA” category. Maybe it is not just the occasional cookie I now eat that made me gain 50 pounds.
Now I know this is good news in many ways. My Doc immediately pointed to a SNRI med in the “best” category that she loved and wants to switch me to. “You’ll do a lot better,” she said. “I thought I was better,” I replied. She looked me in the eyes, “You’ll be even better than you are now.”
I know this is good news. But a part of me feels so sad. Not just because I have to come off one med and start another. which I dread (Thanks Paxil. No surprise you were in my “worst” category).
I feel sad because I am starting to realize that I have never known what “Good” feels like. I have never experienced life except through the lens of anxiety and depression. I couldn’t know what normal brain chemistry felt like if I tried.
Now part of me already knew this. I look at people who seem so strong and hearty and happy all the time. People who don’t get crippled by fear or depression. I wonder what it must feel like inside their selves.
And a part of me knows that even as a child I was scared a lot. That fear lurked around every corner. That I was withdrawn and slightly sad most of the time. There is a portrait that hangs in my parents house of me around ten years old. In it I look for all the world like my puppy just died. I have always hated that portrait. Because I know the artist captured something of my essence that day. And that essence’s eyes were so sad.
Not that I have never been happy or carefree. Not that I haven’t learned how to cope with anxiety and depression. Our deepest weakness bring our greatest gifts after all. I have a lot of gifts from my old pals anxiety and depression. I am caring and deep and thoughtful and know about a thousand ways to calm myself and others down.
But at the end of the day I have to admit my best happy and carefree moments were still bordered with anxiety and depression. Even though I am doing better now, when I am truly honest with myself there are days when I still really struggle. It is never as bad or as long as my worst of times, but it is there.
So it is with mixed emotions that I embark on the road to “even better.” Can my anxiety and depression ever really be cured? What will “even better” feel like? Will I even recognize myself?
But the thought of being able to do things I have never done lures me. I want to be able to walk across a swinging bridge with my family and laugh instead of having a panic attack. I want to board an airplane without thinking twice. I want to take a job without worrying how it will impact my anxiety and depression.
I don’t know if “Even Better” will let me do all those things. But I think I have to try.
So here’s to the ongoing uphill road to getting better. To finding my new normal. It is a little scary to think about climbing up this new hill. But hopefully it will be worth all effort.
Do you have anxiety and or depression stories? Feel free to share. Our common knowledge makes us stronger.