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.
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.