May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Check on your loved ones, talk about your experiences, break the stigma around mental health issues. Together we are stronger.
In the summer of 2020, my brain broke.
I know that sounds like hyperbole but I assure you, that’s what it felt like. The mental scaffolding I had constructed around my Self collapsed and the only thing staring back at me was the Abyss I work so hard to keep at bay.
For most of my life, my scaffolding was so good I didn’t really know the Abyss existed. Sure, I have a deeply angry core that I keep in check, but I had worked hard to feel generally happy and successful. I volunteered; I rode my bike; I went to yoga classes; I went to educational classes.
My happiness was predicated on other people’s praise of my hard work, which in turn would make me work even harder. Every successful job landed, every performance review, every raise, every accolade, every call-out where my performance was highlighted as worthy of recognition and praise …. my Self fed off these moments and craved more.
Things were good: work hard, get rewarded. cool.
Then came some stressful years. Times when I felt like no matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. And ultimately I know now that it really wasn’t about me, but it silently, steadily, chipped away at the walls of my Self and the supporting scaffolding.
So in March 2020, I’m in a brand new job when the realities of covid invading New York … turning everything we “know” to be “true” upside down …. that in one breath said I was being laid off and in the very next breath asked if I wanted to keep my job at a colossal paycut …. I did what I do best.
I worked my ass off to prove my value and worth to the doubters. And to keep my own anxiety about the state of the world at bay.
If I’m busy, I obviously don’t have anxiety. I am strong; valuable; dependable. I can ignore the gnawing sense of fear and dread that’s building up.
Which brings us to August 2020.
The accolades have suddenly turned to demerits without explanation. I find myself sitting in yet another online video meeting and being taken to task when I feel the scaffolding fall away …. replaced by pure panic.
If you’ve never had a panic attack, they suck. There is no sense of reality or the ability to take charge of your direction or have control over anything. For some people, it feels like you’re dying – and while that happened a few times in my twenties, that’s not what it feels like when my brain breaks. It feels flat, out of control, and you have no way to wrestle the beast back into its cage.
So I did what anyone would do.
I logged off the video meeting, told my boss I was having a panic attack, and that I’d talk to them in a few days when I got my head back on. Then I gathered my dogs and we crawled into bed to just exist.
(moment to recognize my privilege to ignore my life for a few days while I rebuilt my mental state)
I submitted an online intake for a therapist and booked an appointment with my doctor. (Recognize my privilege of having good insurance.) My therapist helped me work through my root issues (or at least shine a light on where my behavioral changes need to be completed by positive mental talk and realigning my personal success bar) and my doctor prescribed an SSRI (Lexapro), which helped tremendously. It took the edge off without making me feel like less of Me.
Don’t be afraid of medication; we all need a little help every once in a while.
After a year or so, and about 20lbs of weight gain, I tried a few other antidepressants:
(NOTE: don’t take my experiences as Gospel; if you’re having issues, talk to your doctor or therapist about options right for YOU)
Zoloft (SSRI) – made me super depressed. Three weeks in I was questioning the meaning of anything (why do we do anything at all? it’s so meaningless) and my husband literally said “Depressed Laura isn’t fun. You need to call your doctor.” I am thankful he was looking out for me when I clearly wasn’t in the right headspace to do so for myself.
Prozac (SSRI) – made me moderately depressed, like the entire world was encased in plastic cling wrap and I couldn’t touch it. Distinct lack of Joy in my life and an increase in nihilism.
Cymbalta (SNRI) – this one was interesting. I felt super compartmentalized – like my anxiety was over there, in a box, … waiting to be dealt with. I felt disconnected from my experiences and my default mental thoughts were all negative. I also experienced hyerpsomnia as a side effect, making functioning exceptionally difficult. (I love sleep but this was excessive)
So I’m back on Lexapro because I feel like me, just without the anxiety. The electric buzzing coursing through my body is quieted and I can think, act, and still be my Self. Because honestly, when I took the time to rebuild my sense of Self during covid-times, I like when I take the time to do things that make me feel good that don’t rely on someone else’s opinion of my performance.