My Journey with Anxiety and Depression and Why I Choose to Take Medication

It’s been awhile since I’ve written here. In fact, it occurred to me today that I haven’t written a new post here since before updating my blog look.

Now seems like a good time to write since I keep getting emails from some of you who are experiencing anxiety and depression and the sometimes stigma that comes along with considering taking medication to help.

Specifically, I’ve been asked to share my journey with anxiety and the choice to try medication.

First, I want to tell you how I felt before going on medication: (excerpted from an (in)courage article I wrote in October 2017):

It feels like being stuck in a glass box. You can see out but you can’t get out.

It feels like you have to cook a feast for 50 people while also cleaning your house and schooling your kids, and you have less than a day to do it (but really you have nothing to do).

It feels like drowning and trying to swim is just too hard.

It feels like rage under your skin.

It feels like fog.

It feels like loneliness when you’re surrounded by people.

It feels like being in a slow-motion dream.

Everyone else seems so normal. Everyone seems to have energy. Everyone seems to be able to get dressed and do things and take pleasure in air and people and pumpkins.

I am tired. I am so tired and I am sad and I feel overwhelmed nearly all the time for no reason. My body crawls with anxiety, in the middle of the night, during the day.

I am jealous of people who seem to be able to function well and get things done and enjoy life.

I am tired. I have tried to claw out of this box, this thing that has me under it. But I can’t. I can’t fix this weary soul.

“God, help.”

I don’t know when it got so bad, and honestly, I thought what I was experiencing was depression. When I went to talk to my doctor and after he evaluated me, he said I was experiencing anxiety which usually leads to depression; they’re like sisters, he told me. At first I was confused by a diagnosis of anxiety because I’m such a chill person. I don’t tend to overly worry, and I really do trust God with everything, albeit imperfectly. But the more I thought about it, the more I could see it.

As one example, I would wake up in the middle of the night, several nights a week, with a feeling of steel moving up my shoulders and neck accompanied by overwhelming feelings of not doing enough for my kids. I felt guilty about anything that didn’t involve me being a good mom, a perfect mom, doing all the right things. My husband constantly assured me I was a good mother, but I couldn’t hear it, I just thought he didn’t understand.

I felt tired most of the time, but I’d had my blood checked, my thyroid checked, and a physical, and all was normal. I had only two or three good days in a whole month, meaning, I felt motivated and awake enough to get stuff done, whether that was housework or writing.

I for sure didn’t want to see anyone, even my good friends, unless it was a good day. I had convinced myself that I, the extrovert, had become an introvert. I even skipped a fourth of July fireworks celebration with my family opting instead to stay home and be alone.

There were traces of anxiety and depression at different times in my life, but the last few years I noticed it getting worse. I was convinced I just needed to eat healthier, take supplements, workout, and read my Bible more consistently.

My husband had begun making comments like, “You’ve lost your fun.” One dear friend who I vacationed with didn’t understand why I kept going back to my room to sleep instead of hanging out with everyone. It was like pulling teeth to convince me to have fun. It wasn’t fun. Nothing was fun. Just leave me alone.

I had cried out to God several times over the years about my depression, asking Him to help me. And He did. He surrounded me with love and tenderness and He used friends to encourage me and lift me up. I felt held even in the darkest times. I’ve been open to dealing with and healing root wounds and sin and repenting when need be. But even my happiest times, my gratefulness (I am so grateful for my life and my family), the darkness just lingered. Often it felt like a heavy blanket over me that I couldn’t get out from under.

I had concluded that this was just a burden, my “thorn”, that I would have to live with. I decided that I would bear it with praise in the pain. One day, when the sadness covered every inch of my soul, I play worship music and just cried and thanked God that He was with me in it. I wasn’t alone.

Deciding on Medication

I had never, ever considered taking medication for my depression.

The idea of putting something into my body that could potentially cause cancer or a heart attack or some other awful side-effect made me put the idea on the “no way” list. Plus, I thought the only people who needed medication were people who were really bad off, or suicidal or something. I was not suicidal.

In October 2017 my husband and I decided to put our children in school after homeschooling for ten years. That’s a whole other story. Once they were gone and I was home alone during the day, the depression got worse. I would cry on and off for hours, not understanding why. And then feelings of worthlessness would set in because I wasn’t working, feeling unable to write or do anything of purpose. My kids going to school was like a Band-Aid being ripped off; somehow, they kept the wound covered.

I didn’t want to tell my husband how I felt because he was a very “pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps” kind of guy, and I just felt stupid. I didn’t even give him an opportunity to be anything other than what I perceived him to be. I talked to friends instead.

My friends were so kind and supportive, and a couple of them mentioned to me that they had used medication for depression and it helped. I had no idea. Then I read a blog post where Liz Curis Higgs talked about her depression and how she was taking medication to help. She writes: "If your body needs more serotonin, then swallow your pride and swallow the pill your doctor prescribes for you. Don’t let the fear of “What will people think?” keep you from getting the help you need." 

All of a sudden, the idea of medication began lingering in my brain, and the fears of side-effects faded.

I told one friend, “I think I’m only considering medication because I’m writing a book and I need to be able to get it done. If I weren’t writing, I would just live like this.”

She replied so wisely, “But Sarah, maybe God is saying you don’t have to live like this.”

Maybe you don’t have to live like this. 

Maybe I could live in the light. Maybe I don’t have to suffer in the dark. Maybe, just maybe, something is a little whack with my brain chemistry, but I don’t have to live with it.

That’s the day I called up a doctor she recommended, a Christian man at a Christian medical practice, who was kind and sympathetic, and who told me there was nothing wrong with getting help. I left there with a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication.

I still hadn’t told my husband.

Instead of telling him, I treated him unkindly, being short with him and angry that I couldn’t tell him. Really, I was feeling shame and taking it out on him.

Being a good and kind man, one morning he asked me to go to breakfast with him because he wanted to talk. I told him I didn’t have time. “Please” he said.

I agreed, and over a restaurant breakfast, and with tears in my eyes and unfounded fear in my heart, I told him about my depression and anxiety and the meds I had just picked up.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” He asked.

“I was afraid you’d think I was stupid.”

“You never even gave me a chance.”

He was right. I didn’t give him a chance, yet here he was initiating a breakfast to set things right. He held my hand and said, “If you need to take medication, take medication.”

And now I do, without shame, and it has helped.

The Meds are Working

“THE MEDS ARE WORKING!” I typed in all caps in an Instagram post.

I sleep through the night and I want to do things again. I don’t feel as tired as I used to feel. I’d say my anxiety is all but gone, and the depression, while showing up subtly at times, is also nearly gone.

I am functioning much better than before, and I am so grateful that there was help for me. I would have lived with my anxiety and depression before, but now I know I don’t have to live with it, and I am praising God for medical advances and medication that helps wonky brains out.

Many of you know that I’ve been working on a book about the traumatic relationship I had with my mom. Well one of the things I did for the book was read through my mom’s journals and I even interviewed one of her ex-husbands. It became so evident that my mom suffered from depression and anxiety, and I think that somehow her brain chemicals went right on down the line to me. And they might continue on to my kids, in which I will know how to acknowledge it, talk with them about, and be open to all the help that’s available.

Our brains are subject to the fallenness of this world, and sometimes the redeeming is found in medical help, as we all know with all sorts of various medical issues and problems so many face. Medical intervention is a gift.

If you are depressed or experiencing overwhelming anxiety, I would encourage you to be open and honest with safe, kind people, and be willing to talk to a doctor. You may not need medication, and I’m not advocating that everyone with depression and anxiety get some. I’m saying, be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, have Him search your heart and see what’s going on and where He you might need healing or repentance, and if He leads you toward the option of medication, you have no need to fear. He is with you and ultimately, in control of every bit of your body and mind. You do not need to be afraid.

Well, wow, that turned into a much longer post than I planned. I hope this is helpful for those of you who struggle and for those of you who know people who struggle with depression and anxiety.

If you have questions, I’ll do my best to answer them, but know that ultimately, I’m going to point you to the guiding of the Spirit and to a wise, kind doctor.

With love,

Sarah Mae

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Sarah Mae

Sarah Mae spends her days home-making, home-educating, writing, reading, and drinking salted caramel mochas. Her family embraces life in the beautiful Amish country-side of Pennsylvania. She is the owner of the community site Allume and the co-host of the national Christian women’s social media conference.

Truth for the Downcast Soul

There’s a girl I know who is precious and young and has a tender smile that makes you think she’s just fine.

But I found out recently that this girl has darkness swirling around her mind and she can’t shake it and she’s just very sad. She’s so sad in fact that she wants to cut herself or hang herself, and my God, she’s only a young thing. And my brain tells me maybe she was abused in some way, but maybe she just suffers from the darkness. I don’t know. What I know is that she needs to know that even in the dark, there is light, because there’s nowhere she can go where God won’t go for her, where He isn’t already.

You all know I have been in the depths, but I’ve also been on the wings of eagles. I have felt God and I have soared with Him, even in my darkness, even in the anxiety and depression, there have been heights with such awesome views, I can only praise Him.

One of the reasons I love Jesus so much is because He is close to the brokenhearted. He is gentle and kind and tells me to come and rest with Him. He tells me I’m not alone, and I’m not my brokenness. He fills me with light and beauty and He leads tenderly. I have never feared God in the sense of being afraid of Him; He’s my Father. I fear Him in that I respect Him and remember He is God (!!!), but I know I can run to Him with anything and everything, and He will surround me in grace and mercy and help.

Why am I telling you this?

I’m telling you these things because maybe you have a darkness swirling around you and you need to know that God wants you to know that He hears your cries and He wants to heal your broken heart. He will be with you in the depths, and He will be gentle with you.

If this is you, I created something to encourage your spirit. To get it for free, just click here or enter your email below.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Psalm 139:7-12

Love, SM

Sarah Mae

Sarah Mae spends her days home-making, home-educating, writing, reading, and drinking salted caramel mochas. Her family embraces life in the beautiful Amish country-side of Pennsylvania. She is the owner of the community site Allume and the co-host of the national Christian women’s social media conference.

Give Yourself Time

My youngest daughter is so much like me.

There’s this fieriness to her, this loudness, this tenderness, this bent toward wanting to scream and then cry when someone wrongs her; she is so dear and so thoughtful and so… worried. She’s worried she won’t be able to control her temper, find peace in conflict, or just breathe long enough to not yell at her brother when he irritates her. She thinks she’ll never change.

“Oh sweet Caroline, you are so much like me,” I tell her as we drive, just the two of us.

“No, mom, not really.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because you know how to control your anger and I don’t. I’ll never be able to.”

And there it is, the lie that she’ll never change, the start of a downward thought process that can lead to despair if not corrected in truth.

“Care, how old are you?”

“Eight.”

“Well, I’m 37, so I’ve got some years on you, and through those years God has helped me to have self-control, and He will help you too, but give yourself time to grow and learn and surrender and wait as He helps you. You can have self-control. Here, I’ll share some of what I’ve learned…”

Read the rest over at (in)courage today!

SM

Sarah Mae

Sarah Mae spends her days home-making, home-educating, writing, reading, and drinking salted caramel mochas. Her family embraces life in the beautiful Amish country-side of Pennsylvania. She is the owner of the community site Allume and the co-host of the national Christian women’s social media conference.

The voice in our head that speaks condemnation

Every week it’s the same thing.

We study for the spelling test and my child cries and says, “I’m so stupid! I’d rather not be in this world. Everyone is smarter than me.”

They go down a dark trail of negative self-loathing and harsh talk about themselves. It’s awful, and it’s sad and it’s hard and it makes this mama feel so helpless. I pray and I ask God for all the grace and patience and gentle words and gentle touches to help, but it’s a fight. And I know the enemy will use this disposition that my child has to try and steal and kill and destroy.

I think, why? Why does my child look at themselves so poorly? Why can’t they see what I see? That they are a wonder, smart and funny and passionate and driven and thoughtful and made with purpose? 

And then I turn the gaze inward and I think of all the ways I have spoken harshly to myself. I think of my own particular bent: I’m so stupid. 

I don’t say it out loud, but I speak it in my head and my heart. I’m dumb. I have nothing to contribute to the world. What’s the point? And now that I’ve seen my child say these things, I wonder, Does God view me the way I view my child? Does it break His heart when I condemn myself? Is it painful for Him to see?

Click here to read the rest over at (in)courage today.

Love, Sarah Mae

Sarah Mae

Sarah Mae spends her days home-making, home-educating, writing, reading, and drinking salted caramel mochas. Her family embraces life in the beautiful Amish country-side of Pennsylvania. She is the owner of the community site Allume and the co-host of the national Christian women’s social media conference.

Maybe you don’t have to live like this

“The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, and good news refreshes the bones.” Proverbs 15:30

“I think I’m only considering medication because I’m writing a book and I need to be able to get it done. If I weren’t writing, I would just live like this.”

“But Sarah, maybe God is saying you don’t have to live like this.”

Maybe you don’t have to live like this. 

Maybe I could live in the light. Maybe I don’t have to suffer in the dark. Maybe, just maybe, something is a little whack with my brain chemistry but I don’t have to live with it.

I’ve been on medication for over a month now, and I feel normal again, like myself again.

I was the frog in the boiling water. Slowly, slowly, insidiously, this sadness filled me up and then one day I couldn’t tell you anymore whether I was an introvert or extrovert. I couldn’t tell you what I liked to do or the last time I enjoyed going somewhere. The boiling happened so slowly that I don’t know when it began or how long I’ve lived in the hot, dark water. I don’t know when I started to lose who I was.

It was like I was living in a dream.

But now I’m awake, and to mix all the metaphors, I feel like I’m in the sun, like I’m out of the boiling water, like I can see clearly, and most wonderfully, I know who I am again. I didn’t lose my personality. I am still me.

I wrote a love letter to myself this morning to help me understand again who I am. The beginning of the letter goes like this:

Dear Sarah,

You’re struggling to figure out who you are lately. If someone asked you, “Who are you?”, you’re not sure how you would answer. That’s okay. Let’s see if I can help.

First, you are loved and chosen and seen and known by God, who is your Father and who loves you with a faithful, steadfast, pure love. You are His daughter and He knows every intricate piece of your heart and soul and mind. What you don’t know, He knows. What you don’t see, He sees. Where you feel lost and confused, He is sure. So the first thing, dear Sarah, is that you are a loved and known daughter of the God of the universe.

I’m not advocating medication on a whim, I’m just telling you that I am better. Something was wrong, but now it’s right. That’s all I know.

I also know that my mother struggled with depression, so maybe there is some genetic stuff going on. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m writing a book about the redemption of humanity and the thread through it is the story of my mom and I and the crazy, complicated, hardness of it all. Our story is messy and sad and confusing and nothing short of miraculous. Maybe it’s that my hormones adjusted my brain or that this human body is just not perfect here on earth.

All I know is that I was blind but now I see. And I give God all the glory.

If you’re boiling, or if you don’t even know you’re boiling but you know something is off, I want to encourage you in a two specific ways that two different friends encouraged me:

1.) It’s okay to put everything on the table.

Anything can be put on he table for discussion, whether it’s homes to buy, educating our children, anybig life decision, there is nothing wrong with putting it on the table.

And in that putting in on the table, we lay our hands open knowing and trusting and believing that He is faithful and He guides.

2.) Maybe you don’t have to live like this.

Maybe you don’t have to boil. Maybe God is calling you out to the light. He wants obedience over sacrifice. But the real point I’m trying to make here is this: God loves you and He wants you to live in the light. This doesn’t mean you won’t ever suffer or be in hellish circumstances. What it means is that there’s an inner peace, an inner light, an inner joy that can never be taken away, and sometimes we need outside help to find that joy again. And that’s okay.

The paradox for the Christian is that while we may suffer, we can also experience great joy. And we are free to get help.

The Scripture at the top of this post affirms that God understands our human hearts, and how we need light and joy and goodness to keep on. Here’s another version of that verse that I just love:

The light of the eyes rejoices the inner man, the heart, and good news takes away the ashes.

We have a God who sees us and loves us and helps us and takes away the ashes.

Lord, would you search our hearts and know our hearts; test us and know our anxious thoughts. Show us anything in us that is offensive or hurtful. Unfold freedom for us, bind up our wounds and heal our broken hearts, and lead us in the everlasting way. Amen. (Psalm 139:23,24, Psalm 147:3)

Love, Sarah Mae

P.S. Try writing a love letter to yourself. I know it’s weird, I acknowledge that, but it’s also helpful and kind.

Sarah Mae

Sarah Mae spends her days home-making, home-educating, writing, reading, and drinking salted caramel mochas. Her family embraces life in the beautiful Amish country-side of Pennsylvania. She is the owner of the community site Allume and the co-host of the national Christian women’s social media conference.