How John Green Tackles Mental Illness in Turtles All the Way Down

I bought the new John Green book, Turtles All the Way Down, this week. I actually had been planning on buying Green’s latest work for months before its release because I LOVE John Green. Yeah, I started with The Fault in … Continue reading

Braving The Wilderness by Brené Brown: A Book Review

I was feeling a little down and disconnected the other weekend. The fractured, polarized, and often angry society we live in had been hitting me particularly hard. In my sullen state I did what I often do to cheer me up, … Continue reading

What We Really Learn on Middle School Field Trips

This past weekend my daughter attended the State Science Fair at UGA. When we found out she had made it to state, we were of course proud and happy. I remember my thinking being “Wow, what a great experience for her academically!” followed immediately by, “It will be even better for her to go away on her own for a weekend.”

You see I can be a little overprotective of my girl. And she can be a little overly attached to us as a family. So when I heard that the kids from her school were to ride up on a bus together and stay in a hotel together while being chaperoned only by their teachers, a part of me panicked. But the rest of me said,

“It is time. Let her go.”

So away she went Friday morning at 5:30 am on the big yellow school bus ostensibly to further her knowledge in science and engineering.

We texted a few times. She let me know they got there okay. We told her “goodnight” and “good morning.” But that was pretty much it.

On Saturday our family drove up to see her awards ceremony and then we packed her up in the car to head home. Once we were in the car and headed out of town I asked her, “So how was science fair?” A part of me actually expected her to tell me thing she learned about, you know, SCIENCE.

But here is what followed.

“Well, the bus ride lasted forever. And Jenny say with the boys in the back of the bus and not with the girls which I thought was weird. And then we met some cute boys while we were waiting to be interviewed by the judges. O wait, I just found one of them on Instragram. You think I should follow him? The hotel food was really expensive so we ate all our meals at the mall next door. I ate orange chicken for dinner and breakfast and lunch! It was really good orange chicken but now my stomach kind of hurts.  We walked around Sears for an hour and sat and talked in all their lawn and garden displays. Sears is awesome! The boys were so crazy all weekend. Why do boys act so crazy?”

Yeah, this went on for about an hour until she finally fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. Too much orange chicken and gossiping in the hotel room at night. Not enough sleep.

I was irritated for about a second that no one made her eat anything other than fried chicken covered in orange flavored sugar sauce for a whole weekend and embarrassed that she had tormented the sales people at Sears.

And then I remembered my own story.

My eighth grade year our brave teachers took all the kids in the honors science classes on a field trip to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. A pretty cool field trip for sure. There are a few things I remember about actual Space Camp. I remember the machine that pushed you into the wall with centrifugal force and then dropped the floor out so we were supported only by the Gs gluing us to the wall. I remember eating freeze dried ice cream.

But mainly I remember this:

Our teachers had us staying four kids to a room at this cheap hotel. I was in a room with three of my best friends and all of us had a crush on the same guy. He was tall, dark, and handsome. He even had a little facial hair coming in. We were over the moon for him. And as fate would have it his hotel room was right next to ours.

I cannot remember whose idea it was to sneak out of our room after “lights out” and knock on the boys’ door. We were all pretty much good girls so that fact we did this at all still surprises me. The proximity of all that testosterone and cuteness must have been more than our adolescent selves could handle.

So sneak out we did and the boys were more than glad to host us in their room. Now let me say nothing really bad actually happened. We just sat on cheap hotel beds and talked and giggled. And apparently we giggled loudly because after about 15 minutes of adrenaline filled rule breaking, we heard a loud knock on the door followed by one of our teacher’s voice demanding we open the door.

All I remember was the panic I felt. I am sure we were all scared. But most of the kids stayed to face their doom while myself, the future minister, and my buddy Quentin, the future lawyer and judge, both ran for it. Quentin and I ended up cowering in the shower together hoping we would be conveniently overlooked.

A word about Quentin and I’s shower encounter. I didn’t think anything of it at the time other than I was hiding with my friend and hoping not to get caught. But looking back on it now it was a bit of a revolutionary of moment. You see I was a young white girl and Quentin was a young black guy. Now my parents would have been furious about me hiding in the shower with any guy no matter the race, but if Quentin and I had been in the shower together for whatever reason 50 or 100 years before good old 1986, my reputation would have been tarnished for life and Quentin would have likely been arrested or shot or worse. We were in Alabama for crying out loud. But thanks be to God and Martin Luther King Jr. in 1986 the son of a former slave and the daughter of a former slave owner could not only sit together on the red hills of Georgia, they could hide together in the showers of cheap hotels in Alabama.

But the bonding moment ended all too soon when we heard the door to the bathroom open and our teacher’s footsteps cross the linoleum floor. I am sure it was a bad moment when the other kids got caught in a hotel room together. But let me tell you when your teacher rips open the curtain to find your young girl self hiding with a boy in a shower, it is nothing less than mortifying.

Our teacher didn’t say much to us that night. She didn’t have to. We were all embarrassed and scared to death she would call our parents. But she didn’t. Because I guess she already knew what I am learning now. That sometimes the thing a book smart kid needs most is to learn how to live their life on their own. How to make choices and face the consequences.

25 years later I realize how important this moment was. The moment when I had my first taste of freedom. The moment I made a few less than perfect choices but lived to tell the tale.

And I have to say I don’t regret a second of it (Sorry Mom). Because we all turned out just fine. One of us has a career in law enforcement. One is a lawyer. One a stay at home mom.

And Quentin? He was a hot shot lawyer bringing justice to Atlanta for many years until he recently became a judge. Every once in a while I will see him on TV being interviewed about a trial or being honored for something. When I do I inevitably shout out to my kids, “Hey, I hid in a shower with that guy on a field trip back in eighth grade.”

I only hope my daughter’s memories of her first big trip by herself will last as long.





When Christmas Turns Upside Down

In the famous words of Joni Mitchell, “It’s Coming on Christmas.” It is the time of year when we deck the halls and sing the carols and watch the heartwarming movies and trim the tree. And these are good things as they remind us of the hope and light and love in the world and how it comes to us.

But this year I just can’t.

I’ve tried. We have the tree up in our house. It is up with about half of its pre-lit lights not working and totally undecorated.  I went to Lowe’s to buy some outdoor decorations in the spirit of Clark Griswald. But the wreaths and bows are still laying in the floor of my garage.

What is the problem you wonder?

I could blame it on two sinus infections in two months or how I struggle with depression in December, but I think its more than that. This year there is a bigger block.

I don’t know how to sing Fa la la about Jesus’s coming when so many people in this world are still suffering on their different crosses.

This week we watch as modern day massacre plays out in Aleppo. A massacre that would seem unbelievable were it not for the very real details laid out on social media. I struggle to even imagine what is happening much less how to respond.

For months we’ve watched as our nation’s indigenous people have suffered trial after trial in trying to protect the small amount of land they can call their own from outside forces that they believe would cause their land and people harm. I try to understand how after so many years of mistreatment these souls can have the courage to peacefully endure tear gas, rubber bullets, and water canons in sub freezing temperature to protect the heritage they hold dear. Even though the Native community has received some good news of late, I still feel no peace about their long term future.

Much closer to home, in the state of Georgia in the last month six police officers have been killed in the line of duty. Two at a traffic stop, two responding to a dispute between neighbors call, and two responding to a domestic dispute. These were good guys doing what was for them a regular days work. Now they leave a hole in the lives of their families and communities.

I would try to cheer myself up out of my gloom and tell myself it is not my problem. Except as a Christian, as a human, I know that it is my problem.

I’ve done a good bit of supply preaching of late and the Scriptures have been filled with not cheer, but warning and exhortations. Stay awake! Pay attention to what is happening around you says the first Sunday of Advent. The warnings go on to tell us what we do to the least of these we do unto God.

Then John the Baptists comes and tells us to repent. To prepare the way of the Lord. Prepare for the same Lord who tells us the story about the least of these. And the exhortation to get ready coming from a guy who lives in the woods wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and honey.

And then we hear the story of Mary and Elizabeth. A story that could be sentimentalized were it not for Mary’s great magnificat. A poem that tells about bringing down the powerful and and lifting up the lowly. Talks about filling the hungry and sending the rich away empty.

So in the midst of these words and warnings I think I’ll just keep that tree bare for now and be okay with that.

Maybe it is alright to cry a little in Advent. Maybe it is okay to feel the pain of the not yet, the pain of a world in need of its redeemer. A world that needs Jesus to come again and again until all things are made new.

When Christmas comes I will celebrate. For God has come to be with us. Even in our tragedy. Even in our pain. And this presence is our hope and salvation.

But for these last days of preparation, I will tell my heart it is okay to be sad. For my sadness means I am paying attention to the wounds of the world. I am seeing the places that need to be covered with healing and light and love.

Because Jesus’s coming does not mean I get to just sit back and drink eggnog and be happy about the birth of a baby.

For this is the baby born in the dirt of a stable to backwater parents who had very little rights in their own home land.

This is the baby that with his parents had to flee from their home and run for their lives. The refugee baby that was sheltered in a nearby land while countless others were massacred.

This is the baby that when you look in his eyes, it makes you get up and walk a different way for you have seen the world in a whole new light.

So if your Christmas has been turned upside down, Take heart. You are not alone. Let’s keep watching and waiting and looking for the Christ child in our midst.

For he is coming. One way or another. He will always come.


A Sermon on Psalm 121: From Night Wrestling to Mountain Blessing

Just a week and a half ago a hurricane hit our state for the first time in over a hundred years.

Like many of you, I grew up visiting our beautiful coast regularly. As a youth I often went to summer camp at Epworth By The Sea on St. Simon’s. It is a sacred place to me as I grew up in God’s grace under those old live oaks. But it is also special place to me as those oaks saw me not only grow in grace, but also just plain grow up from a child to a woman. I went from a scrawny girl away from home for the first time sleeping in a tabby cabin, to a teenager getting her first kiss on the Epworth pier during a youth weekend, to a young women attending her first ministerial retreat for Methodist clergy, all under the oaks of Epworth. That is a lot of life for trees and piers and tabby cabins to hold, but hold it all they did.

As a child my family vacationed in Savannah for a week every year. And then as young woman I returned to Savannah to serve my first church. Jason and I lived in our state’s first city for four years and through ministry and life I fell totally in love with that beautiful town and its people. On my Fridays off I would often meet Jason downtown for lunch and then spending the afternoon in Forsyth Park to read by the fountain and soak up the beautiful life that park holds. But occasionally on Fridays I would drive out to Tybee to take communion to one of our shut-ins in a nursing home there. After reading Scripture and praying and taking the bread and wine with my parishioner, Barbara, I would walk the beach and let the sand and waves carry the cares of my week away.

So the night that Matthew hit my beloved Tybee and St Simon’s, I was as sleepless and restless as Jacob long ago.

Would everything be okay? Would my friends and family on the coast be hurt? Would they lose their homes? Would the landmarks and touchstones I knew and loved so well survive? Would I recognize the world I woke up to tomorrow?

The fate of the Georgia coast was not the only thing that kept me up that fateful night. As the hurricane hit our coast, more chaos and scandal hit our nation in the storm that has been this year’s presidential election. As I drifted in and out of sleep the winds of the hurricane and the winds that have been whipping our nation merged into one big storm in my mind. A storm whose potential damage kept me wrestling with fear. I wish I could say as morning broke I was a changed woman. That I received a blessing. But our life is not always as quickly resolved as the Biblical narratives. I continued to worry and struggle for days even as we left for not the coast, but the Georgia mountains for our fall vacation.

On the way to our cabin I read over the Scriptures trying to find something that would speak to us all. Some word from God that would shine light on these confusing and changing times. So as I looked for comfort in Scripture as we crossed out of the Piedmont into North Georgia I came upon today’s Psalm. “I will lift my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord.” And for the first time in days I took a good, deep breath.

I don’t know about you, but the mountains have always brought me peace. Something about their largeness and ancientness reminds me of God. Their constant presence reminds me there is a God much bigger and stronger and older than me that can do mighty things. And this God that made the mountains is with me still. Through my every day. Through our every storm. If God can make mud into mountains, surely God can handle the chaos in my life now.

The mountains were a sacred place for the Israelites as well. When people wanted to draw close to God they went up one of the Holy Mountains and miraculous things took place. Bushes burned. Laws were given. God was present in real ways. So I had always read this Psalm as one that offers us the mountains as a comfort. I will lift up my eyes unto the hills and then remember my help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.

But after reading commentaries this week, I found Psalm 121 can be read another way. Psalm 121 is one of the Songs of Ascents, a group of Psalms that were prayed when pilgrims would travel to Jerusalem.

Now any journey is dangerous, but especially so in ancient times. One never knew what was lurking around the bend. So in this context I wonder is the mountain a comfort, or an obstacle on our journey?

This makes sense to me too. As much as I love mountains, there have been moments on what were supposed to be peaceful hikes that the terrain got tough and I was praying hard to God to “let not my foot be moved” for if my feet slipped on that windy perilous path I might very well plummet many feet to my death.

So is the mountain then a call to prayer for God to help us through the hard places in our journey? For setting out on any new journey brings fear and worry. For we know at some point the times will get tough. Unseen danger may arise. And we wonder on the pilgrimage if we will ever come back and find home like we once knew it again. For you see pilgrimages are times of change. Change for people and places and nations. And if you are like me you don’t want the things you have known and loved to change.

You lay awake at night wondering if you will ever see the live oaks at Epworth again or if the fountain at Forsyth park will stand. You just want something Unchanging you can hold onto while everything uncertain swirls around you.

As we were driving along Ga 400 and I was reading Psalm 121 another memory came to mind. I told you that during my time in Savannah one Friday a month I would go and visit my parishioner, Barb. Barb was not much older than I am now but she was quite sick. In fact Barb was so sick that we all knew she had already started the journey that will lead her from this world unto the next. As I visited with Barb every month in that nursing home by the sea, she would always ask me to read Psalm 121. I would read it from the King James and she would say it by heart along with me. “I will lift my eyes unto the hills, from whence commeth my help? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.” And every month as we said these words together she would squeeze my hands with tears in her eyes and small smile on her face. I would often look at her and marvel that though so much had changed for her and so much uncertainty lay ahead, this Psalm brought her such peace. It was if she could see into the distance, see that last mountain to cross and look at it without fear because she knew. She knew she was not alone. The Maker of Heaven and Earth was with her. And no matter how bad and scary things got God would be helping her feet make every step of the way.

And when you know in your core that the God who made the mountains is keeping you and everything in this world in God’s hand, even the mountain slopes and the storms aren’t so scary anymore.

Because no matter what changes the journey will bring, the unchanging God will be with us.

Loving us, helping us, keeping us. And that is more than enough peace and strength to keep us walking on our way. Amen.

What It Means To Take A Knee

I will admit that when I first heard about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem before one of the 49ers footballs games, I didn’t quite get it. Part of the reason for this is the way the media and everyone else was phrasing it. Kaepernick didn’t stand for the national anthem. Can you believe it? Does this guy hate America or what?

As I heard more about his actions, I began to understand that Kaepernick was doing it as a protest against racism in America. An understandable action for sure. But during the national anthem? That is a pretty sensitive moment for most Americans. A moment for national pride and respect.

And then I went to a USA Women’s soccer game in Atlanta. On the ride up my daughter, her friend, and I were all taking about our favorite players and how we couldn’t wait to see them in action. My daughter’s friend told me how her favorite player was Megan Rapinoe. She went on to say how she was worried about not getting to see Rapinoe play as Rapinoe had been taking a knee during the national anthem and her coaches weren’t pleased. Just to clarify I asked her, “Why is Rapinoe taking a knee?” Our friend replied, “Oh you know because of all the racism in this country. All the bad stuff happening to black people. She wanted to support Kaepernick in his protest of all that is going on.”

We went on to talk about a girl in her class who is taking a knee during the pledge of allegiance every school day because there isn’t actually “liberty and justice for all” right now. Apparently her teacher is not impressed.

We went on to talk about the Constitution and its Bill of Rights and specifically our First Amendment right to peaceful protest. We talked about our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, what it means to be the land of the free and the home of the brave, and other such things.

And then we got to the game and I forgot all about our conversation. We were so excited to be in the Georgia Dome and see our women play! And then the national anthem was playing. And there before my eyes was Megan Rapinoe silently, humbly, bowing down on one knee while the national anthem was sung.

And I don’t know it if was because she was a white woman or because she was on a soccer field or what, but suddenly I got it.

You see my kids play soccer. My son started when he was quite young. At that age kids often got hurt and fell down. Maybe they tripped or got tripped or were hit by the ball. This happened so much in the game with little kids dropping like flies that the league had a certain practice. When one kid saw that another player was down they immediately took a knee. One benefit of this practice was to alert the ref that there was a hurt player on the field (after all there are ten little kids running constantly, it is hard for one ref to keep track of them all.) Also, it helped to keep any other the other kids from accidentally running over the hurt kid and making things worse (they were little kids, these things happen).

So when I saw Megan Rapinoe taking a knee that night it all  clicked.

She was taking a knee to alert those in charge that there were people in her country, on HER TEAM so to say, that were injured and hurting.

She was letting everyone know that it was time to stop the game, check on the hurt person, and see what was needed to be done to heal their injury. Because we need them to be strong and well. Because they are a part of OUR TEAM and we need all our team healthy and strong to play the best game.

It turns out Rapinoe did play that night. She came in during the second half. And the boos raised the roof of the dome. And the girls got sooo upset. I told them to calm down as Megan had thought through what she was doing and surely knew there would be consequences. She just believed in what she was doing enough to face those consequences. Those are the ropes of social protest. And so they cheered for her throughout the game as loud as they could to counteract all the repeated boos.

Flash forward two weeks later and we are at a high school football game in another town as a part of my husband’s high school reunion. As the national anthem played two things happened. My son put my hand over my heart (To be honest I never quite know what to do during the anthem. I grew up standing at attention to the flag and singing along. I guess things have changed). One second later my daughter turns to me and says, “Should I take a knee?” I looked at her with big eyes and said, “Do what you think is right baby.” I watched as she slowly lowered half way down, panicked, and then stood back up again.

We all talked about the anthem moment in the car later. It turns out my husband was thinking the same thing as my daughter but backed out too. My daughter’s reason was this: She was already in a place where no one knew her or her heart. She already thought she stood out in a sea of pretty conservative white people (she is Chinese adopted and a socially liberal 13 year old). “I think they would have just ended up hating me and not understood what I was trying to do,” she said.” She obviously remembered the boos from the GA Dome. I talked about how I was again surprised it was time for the anthem to play (I really don’t get out enough) and hadn’t had time to think things through.

And such is the dilemma of social protest. Will people understand what you are doing? Will you change the way people see things or will they just hate you?

I guess that is why most social protests are planned well in advance with a lot of thought and with preparation to face the consequences.

So, Now that I have had a few hours to mull things over, I have made up my mind and am prepared to face the consequences.


Here is me belatedly taking a knee.


And it is not because I hate America, or because I don’t respect our veterans or troops.

I love my country. My Dad is a Vietnam vet. Half my friends are either vets or active duty military wives (we live in an Air Force town) and I respect and support them to no end.

I am not taking a knee because I hate America. I love my country. If I hated it I would just leave.

But I love my country and all of its people so much that I know we can do better. We HAVE to do better.

I believe in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution and our National Anthem so much I want them to ring true for all our fine citizens.

And the hard truth is right now they don’t. Some of my fellow Americans are hurting right now.

And it is not just the police shootings. (By the way I don’t hate police either. My most beloved friend is in law enforcement so I get it is a hard, hard job. Cops have my respect, love, and support too.) The shootings of late are the tip of an iceberg of institutional racism in our country. Racism that manifests itself in many different forms but boils down to the fact that many white people see and treat black people as “other”rather than “neighbor” or “team mate” or “friend.”

I truly believe we can stop the game for a minute to look at the hurts of our black brothers and sisters and then try to all heal the hurts together. I truly believe things can be better if we ALL roll up our sleeves, join together, and do the hard work of trying.

We have done it before. We ended slavery. We stopped many ingrained racist practices in the 60s like segregation and Jim Crow laws. We just need to try again and change the hurts that are happening today.

I believe in our country and I believe in its people and I know we can do better . We MUST do better to be who we say we are.

So here I am down on one knee with my hand over my heart, singing about the land of the free and the home of the brave, hoping, striving for it to be true for all Americans.

Will you join me?



After a year of conversations with folks about this post I have come to realize that the national anthem means something different to some folks than it does to me. I respect the national anthem as a symbol of our country, but for some of my friends who fought in wars on behalf of our country, it is a powerful, emotional symbol that holds more pain and pride than I can imagine. Interestingly, other veteran friends think the right to protesting during the national is exactly one of the freedoms they fought for. I would love to talk with my vet friends more about their military experiences and what the national anthem means to them.

But the long and the short is that I get why some folks say, “Yes protest, but not during them anthem.” I still go round and round on what would be the best way. Wear a black arm band with BLM embroidered on it? (Okay maybe the BLM folks aren’t as into embroidering initials as southern women). Maybe kneeling during another major moment? I don’t have all the answers, but I think we do need to keep talking to one another and talking about racism and being open to listen to what people on other sides of an issue might be saying and more importantly FEELING.

Much love to all my friends of color who have suffered the injustice of an oppression I have never experienced and much love to all my friends who fought in wars and suffered trauma that I can only imagine. Let us keep reaching out to one another and remembering we are on the SAME TEAM.


Adventures in Anxiety and Depression: Switching Meds

After I filled you in on my med change decision in  The Search for Normal: A Struggle With Anxiety and Depression I felt I needed to give an update. I am almost a week into my journey of changing anxiety and depression medicine after getting my results back from Genesight. Overall, the week has gone smoother than I may have thought, but there have definitely been bumps.

Some of those bumps of course are self created. During my appointment with my psychiatrist we decided I would move from taking 20mg of my current medicine (a full dose) to taking 10mg for four days and then taking 5mg for four days. We hope by then we would be ready to start the new med.

I gotta tell you that first night I went ahead and took the full 20mg again. My husband seeing me take the 20mg pill just looked at me and said, “Aren’t you supposed to be weaning down?” I replied, “Yeah, but we have a lot going on tomorrow, I’d better go with 20mg tonight.”

If you can’t read between the lines, I’ll  just tell you I was scared of weaning down. Scared of how it would make me feel. Scared of how I would react.

The next night I didn’t feel much braver, but the hubs looked at me and said, “Take the 10mg. It’s labor day weekend. We’ll be around with you for days.”

Sidenote: I really love my husband. He should be made a saint or something. 

So I opened the 10mg sample bottle I was given for just this task and took the leap. Then I chased it with my nightly dose of Klonopin and went to bed. Best not to overthink these things.

The first couple of days were not that bad. From time to time I could feel myself “checking my emotional temperature,” but nothing catastrophic was happening. I was a little cranky and anxious but I think a lot of this came from my own nervousness about the endeavor.

For here is one of the horrible truths about anxiety. You are often your own worst enemy. Since I have had bad experiences going on a new med before (read previous Search for Normal post for Paxil nightmare story), my mind and to some extent my body remember this trauma. They tense up and brace for it to happen again. The fear that is created by the dread is enough to make me feel worse. It is a self perpetuating cycle.

So I tried to simultaneously keep my self busy and be gentle with myself. There was a lot of movie watching and reading and cuddling kids and dogs. Mostly I just pressed on with it all. Two days of 10mg down, two to go. Just keep swimming.

All this while I know there is another step coming. My doc told me to drop off the prescription at the pharmacy right away as she knew there would probably be some dance between her and my insurance company on getting them to cover it. She thought that since we had the genesight results and my reports of side effects from my current med that we should be okay.

Well, let me just tell you. It was not okay. After haggling back and forth my insurance company told her that they were refusing to pay for my med. Even though it was on their formulary. Even though Genesight called it one of my best. Even though she has seen patients do great on it, recommended it for me and asked for me to be given the drug.

They refused to pay.

Why? Because the drug is expensive and they want me to try every cheaper option first. Even if it is not the best drug for me. Even though there is a chance the cheap drug will either not work as well or give me difficult side effects.

After losing the fight with my insurance company my doc called me and left me a message that we were going with a new drug that she thought my insurance might cover and to stop by to get the script so I could drop it off right away. Because of the dance.

But instead I had a panic attack. Because it had taken several minutes of my Doc giving me a pep talk on how she felt good about this new drug and how it was going to be great for me and how it wouldn’t cause horrible side effects like I’ve endured before or even the less horrible side effects of weight gain or loss of labido. . . .

(Okay, let’s just pause a minute and let it soak in that I’ll tolerate gaining 50 pounds and having to be talked into being intimate with the love of my life because both the experience of acute anxiety/depression and the side effects I’ve endured from other meds, yes you Paxil, were so bad that being obese and unsexy seemed like workable and even preferable options.)

It took this five minute pep talk to convince me this new drug was going to be okay. That I was going to be okay. Because I could trust the science of the Genesight test. Because I can trust my Psychiatrist. There was a lot of trust that went into me agreeing to change to this new med.

And then. Then my insurance company goes and blows all that trust building and bravery out of the water by refusing to cover this new med. And to pay it out of pocket would cost $200 a month. Or $2,400 a year. We could do that. But why should we have to? When I have an illness and there is a drug that will treat that illness but my insurance company just doesn’t want to spend that much money on me even though I pay them a buttload of money in premiums each month for just this sort of thing.

So after getting the phone message from my Doc I am crying and having a panic attack in the bathroom where my children can’t see me, frantically looking up this new med. A med I have not had a five minute pep talk about. A med that was not the first one my Doc pointed to and said, “I really like this one. This one will work really well.” And as I’m reading reviews on the new med which I know nothing about they are very mixed. Some people had horrible reactions, for some people it just didn’t work, and some called it a life safer.

Because here is another horrible truth about anxiety and depression. Even though there are wonderful meds out there that can help treat the illness, finding the right one for you is really a crap shoot. The drug that saves one person’s life causes another to fall into a suicidal hole. The drug that calms one’s person’s raging fear can ramp another up into a nightmarish fit of anxiety and irritability.

I cannot even describe to you what some of the side effects of psychotrpic drugs feel like. I can only tell you that the experience of them was so bad I would not wish them on my worst enemy. The best I can approximate is that it is like a drug trip gone VERY wrong. And my experience was not even worst case scenario.

And the worst thing is you are not experiencing these roller coaster rides as a strong, healthy individual. You go in already weak and broken and then the drug messes you up even that much more. 

Until you either ride out the first few weeks of your body adjusting to the drug and finally hit stability and then healing or you find the right med that works for you with no bad stuff on the side.

And then it is like a miracle. Because you suddenly feel so much better. And you never had to feel so much worse to get there.

And that was the real hope of the Genesight test for me all along. That I would find the right drug that made me feel so much better without having to deal with so much worse. Not even 50 pound weight gain and decreased labido.

After a talk with my husband (saint I tell you) I work up the courage to drop off the second drug at my pharmacy this morning. Because Genesight said it was good and my Doc choose it second. And I have to believe she wouldn’t send me home with anything that was bad for me even if it isn’t best.

And as I’ve typed this post I’ve gotten not one but two automated two from my pharmacy telling me they cannot fill this med until they get prior approval from my doctor. As if her prescription were not approval enough.

And while I wait for my Doc and my insurance company to agree on SOME medicine I can take for my illness, not my inconvenience nor my personal problem, but MY ILLNESS, I press on. I keep taking the 5mg of my old drug for a few more nights even though I can feel a difference now. It is nothing horrible or unmanageable. I can just feel that this net that was keeping me lifted up above the abyss of sadness and angst is slowly loosening its hold. It takes less to irritate me or work me up now. I feel a little more fragile. I cannot do as much in a day without coming to the end of myself.

So I’ll keep reading fiction and watching movies and drinking herbal tea and breathing deep and singing along to the radio loud and doing the hundreds of things I’ve learned through years of therapy and trial and error that keep the abyss at bay. And I’ll hold tight to the family and friends that surround me in a delicate time and hold me up and push me on and keep me going.

But there are moments when I am just so angry. Angry I have this disease of anxiety and depression. Angry that science and medicine are still so clumsy in treating it. And I’m furious at my insurance company that when I need them most they do their job in providing for me the least. That they refuse to do their job so they can improve their bottom line. That they take sick people’s lives which are already hard and make them even harder.

I pray that one day mental illness will get the treatment it deserves. Both from good science and research and from insurance companies who do their damn job.

Until then friends, just keep swimming.


The Search for Normal: A Struggle With Anxiety and Depression

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.