It Will Look Better With Ornaments On It, and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves

Two months ago, I sat in the psychiatrist’s office, wondering what words I could use to explain how hard it had been just to get there, how far I had traveled.  But as soon as I started to speak, the tears began, and I wiped them away with my sleeves and at the same time wondered at a psychiatrist with no Kleenex box at the ready.

I talked and talked and talked, and cringed when she asked me if I had ever exploded at my child.  I tried to explain my complicated family history in ten minutes.  I felt as though it was important, for some reason, never to utter the words “Well, I have this blog…” and I justified my decision to stay home with my son a little bit more than I wanted to.  And then I sat back and waited to hear the words that I had prepared for, that I was a tidge depressed and that a nice full spectrum light and some mild anti depressants, preferably with a nice weight loss side effect, would fix me right up.

Instead, she swiveled in her chair.  Turned, and looked me right in the eye, and said “You are, in my opinion, without a doubt, bi polar.”

And she prescribed me an anti psychotic and she said it might make me tired, and to come back in two weeks.  To call her if I had any weird side effects.

And I walked out the door and I asked Mr. E to guess what was wrong with me, and he did not guess Bi Polar, not on the first guess or the second guess or the third.  My best friend cried when I told her, because she was afraid and because I am who she talks with when she is afraid and she had no one to talk to about being afraid this time.  I emailed my mother and she called me from some foreign country where she was stuck for work, expecting news, I think, of Eli, and I took a deep breath and I let it all out and I started walking back towards her, back towards the place where I could tell her anything, from the place I am now where I tell her nothing, where I trust the internet with more than I trust my own mother.

And then I took the first dose of the medicine, on a Friday night, and it turned my world upside down.  I sat bolt upright in bed, and couldn’t speak, my muscles locked into tension, my brain racing with fear and worry.  I googled chat rooms and read about weight gain and felt like I couldn’t breathe.  I collapsed onto Mr. E  in the fetal position and cried as hard as a person can cry for twenty minutes and I felt as scared as a person can get.

I left a message for my psychiatrist and she may not be as supportive of the decision to stay at home as one might like but she called me back on a Sunday, so as far as I am concerned, she is  a keeper.  I quit taking the medicine that instant, that’s what she told me to do, and gradually the muscle aches ebbed, but that evening the tension in my head ramped up so far and so fast I had to stick my hands to my sides to keep from throwing a plate on the floor, and the anger that had been all around me for so long burned as fast and as bright and as loud as ever.

Two weeks later, I visited my psychiatrist again, and this is when I realized that brain medicine is no different than any other type.  There is no “absolute 100%” in medicine, and I might as well not be Bi Polar because my body won’t tolerate the medicine that I’d have to take even if I am.   But we talked and we talked and we talked some more, my brain doctor and me, and there are more furrowed brows and pointed questions about moods and how I feel when I wake up in the morning and eventually I am handed some samples of Lex@pro and a prescription for when the samples run out and I walk out the door to try again.

It might be that Lex@pro gives me a headache, and it might be that it makes me a tiny bit sick, at first.  I am gun shy now.  And I never get the feeling I want when I take a drug that is supposed to make me feel better.  I want it to feel like when you take Vicodin, and your world gets bright and shiny and glows, and you feel drunk and powerful and smart and sleepy and so so so so amazingly happy, all at the same time.  But it turns out that no, Lex@pro isn’t heroin, unfortunately, and I don’t get any kind of happy buzz from it.

I tell everyone that it can take 6 months to kick in, and they seem disappointed.

I ask Mr. E if he notices any changes, and he frowns, a small frown, and makes a non committal grunt, each time I ask.

But then, I start to feel better.

I want to be honest, and I need to tell you that I do not feel as though a glass has been wiped clean and I am viewing a whole new world. I am not on a magic carpet ride. I have not become unselfish, and focused, and good at math.  I still can’t find my way from point a to point z and I get off topic and I have not discovered the key to happiness or cold fusion.  I have not yet turned my treadmill back on.  But the difference is that for the first in ages, I am ok with all of that.

And family came to visit me and it did not make me nervous, in particular. I felt calm about things that I would not have felt calm about, a month ago.  I didn’t need to announce “I am in a very bad mood” when Mr. E got home from work, because I wasn’t in a very bad mood. I let some things go, and I didn’t care.  Some things still made me nervous, but almost nothing made me angry.

And then my free samples ran out and I went to get my prescription filled and my insurance balked and my doctor did not respond to faxes and I spent three days without taking my medicine, and the first day that I was off the medicine I felt a little concerned – no one wants to be jonesing during the holidays, right?   But then I felt fine and declared myself, in my mind, fixed, as though that little tweak in my brain that needed tweaking had been tweaked right up, and I was cured!  Must be one of those more advanced cases, me.

And then yesterday my prescription was finally ready, and there I was, on day three without medication, annoyed, and anxious.  And Eli whined to go out even though he wasn’t wearing pants yet and he didn’t want to put pants on, and then the car door snagged my jacket and the dog tried to eat Rice Chex and I had to put away the Christmas boxes that no one had put away even though they had been in the living room for four days and my jeans were too tight and it all seemed like a really big deal, and at the end of all of that, I was angry.  And when Mr. E came home I said “I am in a very bad mood” and it turns out that the bad news is that I am not fixed, my brain has not snapped back into place overnight and my whole life has not been realigned magically but the good news is that the pills help, they really really do.   Those three days without medicine were a gift, the kind that shows you what life is like without something you need, the kind that makes you look up and think “huh.  I guess I turn my anxiety into anger.” and then you start to see what life would be like without that anger, what life is like when you don’t have to justify, to fight, to explain away, to announce bad moods every night.

A fog is lifting.  Rage is dissipating.  And I need pills to make that happen, and to keep the fog at bay, and that’s cool.  I’m totally fine with that.  I just wanted to tell you about it, so if it’s happening to you, you can see that the way you think you are, the way you think you were made, the explanations you give for all of that and the way you cope all the time and work so  hard just to be you in this world.

Well, trust me.  Things can be better than that.  They really really can.


35 Responses

  1. That was so well written.

    I’ve had tremendous luck with that med in treating my SAD as well. In fact I have a call in to my doc to renew my scrip for the winter. I crashed big time over the weekend (I tried to make it funny on the blog, but by Sunday night Rich heard me yell at the kids again and looked me dead in the eye and told me to “Cut it out. Now.” and I knew it was time).

    I have a friend who refers to the med as her “best friend, Lexie.” 🙂

  2. I’m so glad you’re having some success with your meds! You’re so right about mental illness being like any other kind of illness – there isn’t a guaranteed cure or treatment that works for everyone all the time. Unfortunately, it’s a trial-and-error process.

    Sometimes one type of medication will work wonders right off the bat and you can’t believe you waited so long to get help. And then sometimes what was working stops working, and it’s frustrating and scary and you become a regular at the doctor’s office while you try out new pills (and they insist on weighing you. every. single. time. Like THAT’S not gonna contribute to my depression?? Sheesh!).

    But eventually you will learn to see the signs sooner rather than later that things may need tweaking again. And you’ll figure out what combination of medication and therapy and exercise and whatever else works for you (I had success with acupuncture, btw – might be worth a try for you).

    So I didn’t mean to ramble on and on, but I did want to say that I’m glad good things are happening in your head! Every time you write about this, I feel validation for all the things I’ve experienced that are SO difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t been through it. Thanks for being able to put it all into words 🙂

  3. I’m glad, E.

  4. This sounds great.

  5. I am happy and hopeful for you. There is no formula for peace and happiness. It takes a million different ways to reach the same destination and no one way is wrong. I’m glad you’re finding yours, friend.

  6. I am proud of your honesty and of your choices.

    I, too, have to take medicine. 4 times a day. I HATE with every ounce of my being that I can’t deal without it… but seeing what my body does without it, seeing how miserable I can be without it, I can’t do anything but take it.

    I hope and pray that things start to level out and that you find your perfect balance.

    Good Luck, sweets!

  7. good news. it’s a hard road, but aren’t they all?

    I always liked the analogy that it’s sort of like being super overtired. If you’re exhausted, everything gets magnified, everything gets out-of-control. But if you can just get a few good nights of sleep, it all becomes easier to take. The drugs are like a few nights of solid sleep. They won’t make you magically happy, but they’ll give you a much better place to start from.

  8. Thanks for this Elizabeth.

  9. I am so, so, so happy that you have found a doctor and a drug that, together, are making things a little bit better. And your writing is, as usual, beautiful.

  10. This is the greatest piece of yours I have ever read. And I’m very happy for you to be able to finally get some perspective – it’s everything.

  11. Beautiful.

  12. This was quite a post. I am so glad you have gotten help. There are members of my family that benefit GREATLY from their medications and THANK GOD you are smart enough to let the medicine help you. I know that it can be hard to accept that you need it, but what an enormous difference it makes in your day-to-day pleasure in the world around you and in the world of those AROUND you.

  13. Excellent post- thank you for writing it. And I’m so glad that you are OK with the pills and not fighting what is making you feel better.

    Your thought that “huh. I guess I turn my anxiety into anger” made me pause and think. I wonder if all of my issues over being disappointed in people and expecting too much of other people might just be rooted in the anxiety that I carry around with me every day – like a blanket that wraps around me from the moment I open my eyes to the very last second when I can finally turn off my racing brain late at night. I never considered this before and it is making me think hard. Thank you.

  14. thanks for taking my life and my brain (I mean YOUR life and YOUR brain) and making it literary and true and beautiful.

  15. Way to hang in there, Princess. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right combination of medications, or the one right medication. As always, eloquently said. Peace,

  16. Thank you for sharing this.

  17. I’m so so so glad that you’ve found something that’s working for you. Since you wrote the posts about going to the doctor, I’ve been wondering how things have been going — and I’m glad that you’re starting to feel a bit better.

  18. You never cease to amaze me with your beautifully written posts, even about difficult times and circumstances. I’m glad things are looking up.

  19. So happy to read this.

  20. I am so happy for you. I know it must be like a weight has been lifted. At least, thats how it was for me. Sometimes medication is needed unfortunately.

  21. To tell the truth, when you had NOT posted in several days, I was worrying. So glad that the new, resumed meds are doing the job. I don’t “get” what difference it makes, for the reasons behind the need for said meds. When you need ’em, you need ’em. I have to take lots (LOTS!) because I have an artificial heart valve (no time for medical history that no one wants to read) so I take 7 meds a day. But, hey, it beats the alternative.

    More power to you, E!

  22. Your honesty is fantastic, and I’m so happy to read that the fog is dissipating. That was a hard diagnosis to hear, I’m sure, but you’re handling it with much aplomb.

  23. This is so good. It is so good to read what you’ve written, to know that you are taking this opportunity to help yourself. And yay! It looks like you are on the right road, even if it is rocky every now and then.

    I am really, really proud of you and very happy for you.

  24. Being able to talk about it is invaluable, whether you do it here or with a therapist. My husband is on some serious medications, and it is so hard sometimes for me to watch him without a real outlet. He has me, yes, but he chooses not to talk about things as much as he could, and that makes things hard more often than it should.

    I am happy for you, so very, very happy.

  25. Hi, I’ve been lurking for a while & after this post I just wanted to tell you that it’s so great you found something that works. I know its a huge relief. I’m on the same meds and the way you described it is so similar to how it works with me. I’m not a super happy person & all my problems aren’t fixed, but I don’t despair as often & when I do the sadness/anger/hopelessness doesn’t stay around as long as it used to. I can make my way through issues as they come.

    Thank goodness for modern medicine! I”m happy you found something to help you.

  26. sooo many people are going to benefit from hearing this. I am so glad you found a med that works well for you. *hugs*

  27. Though each women’s journey is different, when you write about this, it feels so much like mine. Those drug free days ARE a gift, because it reminds you of how far you have come, how much better life is. like you said, it doesn’t CHANGE you, it makes it ok to BE you.
    And I want you to know…though it doens’t really so much END…it does get better. and easier. And one day you will be giggling with your son and realize, wow, I didn’t have to force that at all. I MEANT that joy.

  28. I admire you so much. For so many things.

    For realizing that something wasn’t right. For taking steps to overcome it. For letting it hang out there for all the internet to see. For your amazing writing and your excellent taste and your creativity and the fierceness with which you love your child. And, for being okay with it all. More than okay, actually.

    Today, you are my hero.

  29. Thanks for sharing with us. It is a pleasure to read your posts – the happy ones, the sad ones, the hopeful ones, every one of them.

  30. First, I am so very glad that you feel better.
    Second, thank you very much for sharing. I admire that. I have been working on a post about my depression for awhile now, and just haven’t been able to finish it. It is so hard to admit to those we love (and even those we do not know) that there is something REALLY WRONG inside, how we are feeling, how angry/sad/anxious we are. The fear is paralyzing for me sometimes, to admit that I NEED HELP, especially since I am a helper by nature.
    Thank you, thank you.

  31. Good for you. It can be so hard to come to that place where you are okay with taking meds to make your brain work right, and GOOD FOR YOU that you got there. It is so tricky to find the right balance of the corrects meds, a doctor you can trust and a spouse/partner/family member who will be gentle and honest about what is going on in your head. It sounds like you have figured it out and that is awesome!

  32. I had a similar experience after the birth of my second daughter. I fought going on any meds for about five months. Finally, I “gave” in because I was so angry and alienating everyone in my life. Once I had been on them about two weeks I thought, “My god, this is what normal feels like.” I didn’t realize it but I had been depressed my whole life. The trauma of my early life changed the was my brain is wired and I need help to produce the appropraite chemicals. My daughter just turned 10yo and I cannot imagine ever going off anti-depressants. I am glad you are feeling better.

  33. I’m sorry I’m late to respond to this…I’m quite behind on my blog reading. I just want to reach out and say, “Yes, yes, yes, I completely understand.” I was on medicine a few years ago. I expected a miracle fix, but it’s so much more like what you described: the “miracle” is more of a realization, a coming to terms with how you feel on the meds and how you feel off and how amazingly shocking the difference is without it being so different that it turns your life upside down. It’s just a sudden realization of feeling “righter” (is that even a word?) than you have in a long time.
    I don’t have the courage to write about my experience on my own blog because I never told my parents, nor most of my friends, I guess because in a way, I’m still ashamed, though I don’t know why.

  34. Glad your insurance company got you your meds. Otherwise I was going to say that Celexa and Prozac are both on the $4 list at Wal-Mart and Target. Thank god some anti-depressants are affordable.

  35. I had the same experience you had. The depression, the anxiety, the rage… Lexapro helped me so, so much, and I applaud your courage to discuss it here. I did the same things you did- I was TERRIFIED to admit it, to go to the doctor. I felt like such a failure. Now I know it’s not something to be ashamed of, and I am doing so much better now. I’m not perfect, nobody is, but if I need medication to be the best mama, wife, and ME that I can be, then so be it and bring on the Lexapro!

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