#tbt: Tales of a second-grade Laura

In honor of the holiday we’re doing this a day early. Check out this journal entry from 26 (!!!) years ago. Note the line near the bottom about how “Some people ONLY get Valentines from their parents.” This is still something I’m working through.

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Reaching the Light

Note from Laura: This post was not written by me. It was written by a very close friend of mine, who is going through a hard time. In the interest of supporting her and supporting lessening the stigma surrounding talking about mental health, I’m sharing it here, with her permission, and actually at her request. She is a fellow writer and understands the power you feel in getting things like this off your chest and out into the world, whether spoken or written or drawn or whatever. I absolutely hate what she’s gone through, but I also completely get it. Depression and anxiety can be debilitating. But you don’t have to go through it alone. My friend’s hope – and mine – in sharing this with you is that if you feel this way, you are not alone. You are not broken. You are not beyond repair. You can come out the other side stronger and you have many who are willing to help you do so, usually many, many more than you know. Here’s my friend’s story.

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There’s a quote that I’ve always gravitated toward, attributed to the ancient philosopher Plato – “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This summer, this quote has been circling around in my head, and I think about it often as I interact with people daily. Because this summer, I have been living this quote.

Three months ago, I experienced a trauma that rocked me to my core and has left me scrambling to pick up the pieces ever since. There were a few minor events in the months leading up to the big one, like small tremors before the big earthquake, that weakened my body’s defenses and made me more susceptible to a chemical depressive episode, and when the big event happened, it was too much for me to handle alone. For the past three months, I have been treated for depression, anxiety, and acute stress as a result of this trauma.

Because of the nature of what happened, I was only able to share what happened with only my immediate family, a few close friends, and my work family. Most people in my daily life had no idea that I was struggling to function at the most basic level. I was fighting a hard battle that they knew nothing about. It’s estimated that one in four Americans will experience some sort of mental illness at some point in their life. Indeed, they fight a hard battle that we often know nothing about.

Depression takes many forms – sometimes contradicting forms – in different people. For me, it slowed my thinking and physical actions, making the most basic chores, like going to the grocery, clearing the dishes, or making a to-do list, overwhelming, frustrating, and exhausting. I lost a lot of weight. Sometimes people – who didn’t know about the battle I was fighting – would comment on my weight loss, making me angry and more frustrated. Although I didn’t really sleep for almost two months, it took everything I had just to get out of bed in the morning. And oftentimes when I did, I would shower and be so overwhelmed that I would just get right back in bed. I would wake up in the middle of the night with this feeling of dread that something horrible was going to happen and be unable to recover from it enough to fall back asleep. The smallest thing during my daily life might trigger a paralyzing flashback.

I found it difficult to be around people who didn’t know what had happened. I think this was because I was worried about seeming distant or quiet around them without them knowing why I was that way. I missed my college roommate’s son’s first birthday party. I didn’t feel up to attending my cousin’s wedding shower. Many times, I had to cancel plans with friends at the last minute because I was having a bad day and couldn’t get off the couch. On my birthday weekend my parents came in town to visit me, but I couldn’t even go to visit with them because I literally couldn’t pull myself off the floor.

I described my depression as feeling like I was in a black hole. It was pitch black, scary, and full of despair. I could see a light far in the distance, but it felt like that light was too far away for me to ever reach. At my absolute lowest, which thankfully only lasted a few days, I felt like I didn’t want to exist anymore. The pain was too great. I went to bed hoping that I wouldn’t wake up. I would never do anything that would put myself in harm’s way, but a part of me hoped that something happened to me that was beyond my control. I had all these people around me to lift me up and support me, but I felt completely alone.

For a long time, I thought that I must have done something to deserve what happened to me. It isn’t that I thought that I was immune to experiencing pain in my life. I volunteer with refugees, and I am reminded often that bad things happen to good people. I spend time with a family from the Congo who spent 20 years in a refugee camp in Tanzania and a Syrian family whose patriarch was blinded in an explosion in Aleppo. I look to these families as inspiration of the resilience of which the human spirit is capable.

I was lucky. I work in healthcare, so I have an above-average understanding of mental health issues. I was able to quickly connect to the resources that I needed to ensure my most speedy recovery. I have an amazing therapist who I see from time to time when I need help effectively dealing with stress in my personal and professional life, and I worked with her and my primary care physician to start an antidepressant that has helped boost my recovery and speed up the process. Weekly, I attend talk therapy sessions, and I always leave them feeling better and more empowered than when I walk in.

I also made sure that the people closest to me knew what I was going through so that they could help me in the ways that I needed, as stubborn and fiercely independent as I am. Relying on others in a time of need is a sign of strength, not weakness. It is easier to withdraw, shut people out, and hide behind depression. It’s easier to try to get better on your own and not be vulnerable. It takes you out of your comfort zone to let people in, to ask for help where you need some. But it speeds up the process tremendously and makes you stronger. I don’t remember a lot from the first month or so. Friends and family would show up with food, giving me one less thing to stress about. Friends were OK with me showing up randomly at their doorsteps crying. They would take me in, give me my favorite snacks, and hold me as I sobbed so hard that I couldn’t speak. My work family helped me lead my meetings and encouraged me to take time off as needed. I owe all of them more than I could ever repay. These few sentences don’t begin to comprehensively list the ways that my loved ones were there for me.

Again, I’m lucky. I knew exactly what I needed to do – and who I needed to turn to – when I needed help. Most people with depression don’t seek help for years, either because of the stigma attached to mental health issues or because of a lack of knowledge about how to get started. That’s why I am sharing my story, to hopefully create purpose for my pain. If someone is struggling with depression, anxiety, or stress, there is no reason to treat it any differently than if it was kidney infection, a broken arm, or diabetes. Mental health is physical health, and it is time we start treating it as such. By not sharing some of my health issues, I only contribute to that stigma.

I wish I could write this solely in the past tense. I wish that I could say that I am past the depression and everything is perfect now. I’m past the worst of it, and things continue to get better. But it’s not a linear process. Which is particularly frustrating to someone as goal-oriented as I am. It’s frustrating to feel like I’ve reached a milestone, only to slip backwards a moment later. Some days I take a step forward. Some days I take two steps back. Still others I leap 10 steps forward. Ultimately, it takes time, diligence, and trust in the process.

I still struggle to trust happiness. I now realize how quickly it can be taken away, without warning. There are moments when I’m unguardedly happy, and then I realize that I’m happy and instinctively pull back, so that I’m never again blindsided when it is taken away. And then I have to force myself to let myself experience the happiness. But I will get there. I am resilient. This battle will be won.

Wherein I was an angry elf for a lil bit

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There are a LOT of fun side effects to having anxiety and depression simultaneously.
1. That thing where your legs almost never stop moving when you’re sitting still – If this helped my running at all, I’d be at a marathon level right now instead of 5K.
2. All of the thoughts all of the time. They really ramp up right about midnight.
3. Feeling like you just want to sleep, but also feeling guilty about doing that because you could/should be doing something productive. And then worrying that you would be judged for just wanting to sleep and not get anything done.
4. Random, unexplainable agitation and ANGER.

The anger, man. My God. That came out of fucking nowhere. It’s a recent development, by the way, so that’s fun.

I guess it was about a month ago that it started? Literally no idea what set me off. But all of the sudden, I was mad. I was grumpy. All. The. Time.

And, let’s be honest, my face can’t really hide any emotion. So here I was, annoyed at just about everything everyone was saying or doing and completely unable to hide it. Also, completely unable to explain why I was getting so annoyed. So that’s fun.

Aside: Despite the fact that I have a serious life-long case of Resting Bitch Face, I am really not mad that often. Especially now that I don’t work in the newspaper business/for the devil incarnate anymore.

Thank God for regularly scheduled maintenance with the therapist that came up at just the right time. Sometimes I really understand Bill Murray in “What About Bob?” because I feel like if she was just on call constantly for me to run things by, I’d be so much better off.

And that, my friends, is why I am in therapy. Ha.

But for real – my appointment couldn’t have been timed better. I was damn near breaking point (though what that would have looked like, I honestly don’t know) when I went to see her.

Luckily, she understood what I was talking about (because duh, she always does) and assured me that I wasn’t going crazy(er). She said that sometimes this happens with this illness, because it’s fun and unpredictable like that. And also, since I’ve been on the medicine at the same dosage for about 6 or 7 years now, I’ve probably built up a tolerance, and it’s no longer working the way it should.

FUN!

She also asked some questions about if some certain things bothered me she knew were going on in my life and wouldn’t ya know it, they were! I hadn’t told anyone I was feeling that way about those situations (purposefully keeping it vague here to not hurt feelings) yet she read my damn mind and figured me out. That’s why I pay her the big bucks.

Anyway. The end result of that therapy session was the (probably due to placebo effect) feeling that I was already doing better. I wasn’t getting more crazy, I just needed the chemicals adjusted again. She made me promise to talk to my doctor about upping my dosage and we’d see where we were when I saw her next.

Not long after the appointment with her, I made one with my GP, who, as it turns out, is on double the amount of Prozac I am, so she totally got it. And she was worried about me.

When you go to your physician’s office requesting anti-depressant related things, they give you a mental health checklist of sorts.

It says things like:
“I have no interest in things that used to interest me.”
“I am tired a lot of the time.”
“I have trouble sleeping.”
“I can’t concentrate.”
“I feel angry/agitated/overwhelmed a lot of the time.”
And so on and so on.

You rank it 0 to 3 with 0 being “Not a problem” and 3 being “LITERALLY ALWAYS.” They aren’t really concerned if you stay at 9 or below. I got a 16.

So. Here’s where we are. I’ve been bumped up to a higher dosage of Prozac for a couple months. I’ve got labs scheduled to look at my blood and my chemicals and make sure depression is the only thing effing me up. I have a sleep study coming at some point in the near future and a plan to check back in with all my doctors after a little bit.

I do feel better having a plan, and I’ll let you know how it all works out.

And I already feel a lot less angry. I guess I just had to tell someone I was pissed. Who knew.

If only depression was that easy.

One Month Checkup

Today marks a few important things. First of all, it’s March now. WOOT.

Second of all, today is the day I would be jumping in cold water for Special Olympics but I did that last year and it was terrifying. I’ll stick to dry land from now on, but I still want to be a part of the event every year, so today I’ll be there helping some braver souls out of the water.

Thirdly, it’s the start of Blog Birthday Month – but more on that later.

And last, but certainly not least, today marks one month since I’ve cut down my dosage on antidepressants. I am now on half the dosage of a medicine I’ve been kinda sorta depending on for the past few years.

How’s it going, you ask? Well, I mean, it’s going.

The main thing I’ve really noticed is my sleep. I’m waking up in the night more now than I was – and not because of the Ghost Lizard (more about him soon…). It’s not back to the significantly disruptive insomnia it was before, but it’s kind of annoying.

But honestly, it’s better than I expected. I was apprehensive as hell about cutting back because I forgot life before that dosage. Not in a bad way, but I guess it was more of a security blanket. Like I knew I’d never get really bad because I had that medicine – Prozac, if you’re feelin’ extra nosy.

So when I made the decision to cut back, I was afraid I’d lose that little cushion. I was afraid that cutting the dosage in half would do the opposite to my emotions, that things would come back doubly strong. I say afraid but I mean anxious, and that, my friends, is why I’m on something in the first place.

Seriously, though, I was unsure what to expect and as a true anxious person, I expected the worst. But it’s not been bad. I think I’ve learned enough from therapy -and life in general – that I can handle what comes at me in a way that doesn’t involve crawling into bed and not wanting to get out for three days. I am learning, without as much medical assistance, what to get bent out of shape about and what to not give a shit about.

I still have bad days, but who doesn’t? I’m human. But my bad days aren’t as bad as I thought they’d be, or as bad as they once were. And silly me thought that wasn’t going to be possible – or was going to take a long, long time – without the help of those extra chemicals to even me out.

We’re (the doctor, the shrink and I) looking at this summer as the time I’ll likely go all the way off. And I’ll probably get scared and anxious and stuff again before that happens because it’s been four years since I’ve been medication-free. But I was different then, I was in a different place in life, in all senses of the word.

But now, I’m older and wiser (ha) and learning to cope on my own. And I think I’ll be OK.

A little less medicated

Once upon a time I thought I was crazy. Then (like 5 years ago) I saw a therapist and realized that my boss at the time was the crazy one and if I WASN’T letting that little devil (seriously, she is really short and is the devil incarnate) bother me then yes, I had some problems. Oh, and I’d had an underlying chemical imbalance for pretty much my entire life that made things that much harder.

Good news: I was still crazy, but not because of what I thought or as bad as I thought.

Let me say here that everyone is a little crazy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Because there are people that love you for and in spite of it and if you haven’t found them you’re doing it wrong.

Anyways, so I found out my chemicals were off. And after a few months of excessive amounts of talking to a professional in these sorts of things, we came up with a plan. I’d continue to see her to talk about how to cope with the feelings I’d get about how everything sucked and I wasn’t good enough and other peoples’ bad moods were because of me, but also we’d try a little bit of medication, just to see.

And it worked alright at first, and then it didn’t. There were still days I didn’t want to get out of bed (too many of them, in fact) and though I had every reason in the world to be happy, I was nowhere close.

What they sometimes don’t mention – at least I didn’t know about it – about depression is that it can get worse before it gets better. And it did. Both. It got worse, and we upped the meds and then it got better.

Part of that I credit to the medication. It balanced me out, knocked me upright again, pretty much got rid of any and all depression I was having (even though it still lurks there from time to time, its much quieter and doesn’t visit nearly as often anymore) and moved me right on into anxiety.

Ohhhhh, anxiety. That nasty bitch. It’s been harder to shake than the depression was, but we’re working on it. And by we, I don’t mean me and the other personalities or voices in my head (I said crazy, but not like, real crazy, y’all). I mean me and my therapist, a new one I’ve had for a couple years now. She’s amazing and wonderful and done so much for me and I found her through the Internet and I highly recommend she be everyone’s therapist. That’s how much I love her. And with her help and all I’ve learned from my time with her, I felt good enough to make a decision about the future of my mental health.

I’m working my way off the meds.

I saw my physician last month, and decided to cut the dosage of the antidepressant I take in half, slowly, hopefully, weaning myself off of it completely before the end of this year.

It wasn’t a quick decision, or one I came to lightly. In fact, I was anxious. Anxious about giving up the medicine that helps you deal with anxiety. There’s a joke in there somewhere.

But I’m in an entirely different place than I was back then – when I started to get help for these feelings I’d had forever. Then I didn’t know that it was OK to be sad and anxious and it may not be my fault at all. I might just be wired that way.

I don’t credit medication for getting me here – it just made the trip a little easier.

But these days I am happier, more relaxed, less worrisome about trivial things that would have knocked me on my ass five years ago. And I’m more confident in myself and my ability to handle things that I thought this plan – this slowly working my way off of chemical help – was worth a shot.

Funny enough, the last day of my former dosage? Was the day I made an offer on a condo, that I then didn’t end up getting. Yeah it sucked, but I’m surprisingly fine. And I’ll be fine. And soon, hopefully, medication free.

B.A. (Before Adele)

Long before I discovered counseling, I had my own version of therapy. It was called “listen to this song because it’s about exactly what you’re going through so someone GETS you right now, it’s like they KNOW.”

And then I turned 16 and wised up.

Just kidding.

Throughout my teenage years, then college to now, I’ve always been one to find that song or that playlist that just fits. It fits my mood, it fits my life, it fits my situation, its like someone looked inside my head then wrote it.

I have like, 4 CDs from college I made when I was on the low side of the depression spectrum and I listen to them now and know exactly what was going on then. And, strangely, a lot of them were full of country music. (The Roommate will be so proud.)

Nowadays, most of the songs I listen to or have on my selected playlist are for their quality. Or their cool lyrics. Or the fact that they are rap songs from back in the day and I still know all the words and want to sing them loud in my car.

Every once in a while one will come along that I really grab on to. It seems to read my mind.

And sometimes, my mind, like almost anyone else in the world unless they are a robot, is angsty. Not about any one thing in particular really, but when it’s love-related, it’s Adele. Except, B.A. (Before Adele) nobody did angsty like Maroon Five. And they’re apparently still at it.

Because I am hooked on “Payphone.” Not because I’m hung up on a boy or because it brings back memories of having to use an actual pay phone once upon a time, like when I needed my parents to come pick me up from the movie theater.

Nah. It’s just a catchy, angsty song. And it has my two favorite curse words in it. And Adam Levine’s sweet, sweet voice. So that can’t hurt.

Untitled

You see, I would have given this post a clever title if I could have thought of one. But I’m too mentally spent to worry about it right now. Besides, “Untitled” is all mysterious and whatnot so it should drive some hits from the curious/nosy. And you know I’m all about the blog hits.

But that’s not what this is about. This is about me. As usual. And before you say anything, here’s something to think about while you read – this is how I feel better..writing it out. Some people put it in a journal/diary no one can see. Some people bottle it up. Some people tell a friend or a family member or a therapist – which reminds me, I need to get on finding a new one of those because I haven’t seen mine in a year.

That said, continue on at your own risk. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’m in one of those weird moods I can’t explain. It’s not sad, it’s not mad, it’s….I don’t know. It’s anxiety at its finest and most annoying. Because it ain’t depression, no way.

For those of you perhaps confused at the moment, know that right now, I am just about the happiest I’ve ever been. There are a lot of good things going on. There are a lot of good things to look forward to in the coming days, weeks, months, year. I have family, friends, a job, my health (knock on wood) and relatively nothing to complain about.

But you know I’m going to complain a little bit.

90 percent of my anxiety/depression comes from a place where I never feel like I’m good enough. At anything. Even though I know it’s not true. I know I’m good at stuff. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t.

And I’ll be good. For a while. A long while. But then one little thing happens. Trivial, usually, and it makes me question myself and my talents and automatically assume the worst will happen.

I’m keeping it vague because I have a personal rule about this blog. If you want to know it, I’ll tell you, outside of the Internet. But suffice it to say that for as much as I put out there for you all to read, there’s specifics I keep to myself.

In re-reading what I’ve wrote so far, it seems confusing. So sorry if I’m making it hard to follow.

The Reader’s Digest Version isn’t much shorter, but here goes.

In three months my prescription is up for the medicine I take to keep me firing on all cylinders. In three months I have to either have found a new therapist who will keep prescribing it to me or talk to my doctor about slowly weaning myself off of it. And thinking about that makes me anxious. Which to me clearly means “stay on the meds a little longer” and “get a therapist that returns phone calls.”

When I started seeing a counselor almost 2 years ago, it was largely situational. I knew exactly what to blame it on (my job at the time) and what to do about it. But then we found out about the underlying stuff that I have no idea where it comes from because I didn’t have anything out of the ordinary ever happen to me to make me feel like that.

But sometimes – and those times are getting fewer and farther between – I feel not good enough. And please don’t tell me not to feel that way. Because I’ve said the same thing to myself. And I’m trying. God, am I trying.

And it’s funny, because recently I’ve been told by several people that I’m confident. So, there’s that. At least I can feel better knowing that for all the self-doubt I’ve got, I’m really good at not projecting it to others. At least not all the time.

Because I don’t feel like that all the time. Most of the time I feel fine. But every so often, it hits me. Every so often, because I’m stressed at work, usually, or because I’ve forgotten to just stop and BREATHE, out pops the anxiety cloud. And it’s suffocating.

I wish it was as easy as quitting that way of thinking. I wish I could do what my dad suggested tonight and take it “one day at a time” instead of looking big picture and thinking “this is what I have to do tomorrow and next week and in two weeks” and so on. I’m working on it, I swear, and I’m much better than I used to be, believe it or not.

In fact, I feel like in a lot of ways, in the past couple of years, I’ve become less stressed overall. I have adopted a Hakuna Matata way of thinking on a lot of fronts, and that’s served me well. I’ve been happier. But that doesn’t mean the anxiety stops completely. I think if it did that would make me a robot. Or a cheerleader. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

All of this is to say I’ve had a couple stressful weeks. Two, really. I’ve been home long enough to sleep and do little else and even the sleep is getting interrupted by the thoughts of all I have to do the next day. And the next.

I’m on my way out of the craziness, thank God, but then I go thinking of the future again, namely, have I learned enough about myself and how I can cope to begin the process of not being dependent on medication to be evened out? And if I’m not ready to let go of that chemical assistance, is that a bad thing?

In no way do I think it was a bad idea to ever go to a counselor, to ever start taking an anti-depressant. It is, without a doubt, the best decision I have ever made in my life. I guess it’s just now that I’m having to revisit it, to re-address it, I’m wondering – am I doing better than I was two years ago? Yes.

Am I in a better place? I think so.

Am I ever going to stop doubting myself, medicine or no medicine? Probably not.

Am I strong enough to do this on my own? I don’t know.

Note: I just re-read through all of this and it sounds like a rambling mess. So really, it’s a peek inside my mind during the past couple weeks. You’re welcome.

But getting it out feels better. I’m not gritting my teeth like I was when I started writing. I’m not thinking about anything I need to do past tomorrow.

Don’t think that I forgot that I had that public (at least on the Internet) New Year’s resolution to give myself a break this year – take it easier on myself.

I am not perfect. No one is. And no one expects me to be. So I should stop expecting it of myself. I do the best i can and everyone seems to be OK with that. Except me. But please know that I am working on it. I swear.

So please be patient with me. I’m a work in progress.

Bar-Bathroom Therapist

Apparently I have that face or an aura about me that makes random people think “I should talk to this girl about my problems, my day or ask her to watch my mom for a minute while I go check on a price in this aisle over here.”

The one time I ventured out on Black Friday with my sisters and Chuckie, we were waiting in line at Wal-mart for a Nintendo DS for my mom. It was packed and no one could really move – one of many reasons I will not be participating in day-after-Thanksgiving shopping ever again – and this Chinese lady and her elderly mother were right next to us. The younger of the ladies was looking around at some things while her mom held her place in line (right in front of us). From what I got from their conversations, the elderly woman didn’t speak English, or at least didn’t prefer to.

After a few minutes, the younger lady looked at me and said, “Can you watch my mom for a minute? I’m just going to check on something.” To which I said “Yeah, sure,” but was thinking “WHAT?”

First of all, I don’t speak Chinese. If she wanders off, what do I do? Chase after her? Are you coming back or did I just unknowingly agree to adopt her? Does she know you asked me to watch her? Does she wander off a lot? If so, why didn’t you bring a babysitter for her? Or a leash? Or a tracking device?

Stuff like that always happens to me. I am a friendly person for the most part – even though some of you may disagree or laugh at that statement – and people are always asking me to help them out or to watch something for them or striking up a conversation in line with me. It happens to my mom a lot, too.

Last night, I went to a bar to see a couple friends before they leave town tomorrow. After being there a little while, I went to the bathroom. When I got in there, a girl was standing by the sink letting the water run and kind of shivering. I don’t know if she’d just gotten there or what, but she was dressed appropriately for the weather – sweater, jeans and knee-high leather boots. When I walked in, she told me she wasn’t in line so I could go in one of the stalls – but they were both occupied, so I waited.

She asked her friend – in the stall – if she should turn off the faucet, and after she did she looked at me, turned it off and goes, “We’re wasting water.” OK… Then, I don’t know how we got on the topic, maybe I said it was cold, or something about her boots being cute? And she proceeded to tell me how she has horrible circulation and her toes are never warm. “Like, when I go outside in this weather and I wear two layers of socks and these boots, my toes are always frozen! What should I do?”

Oh, of course! I’ll know what to do! I always give advice in bar bathrooms. And since I am the foremost authority on socks and boots and feet, why not? I told her to pad the part of her shoes where her toes were. I told her to figure out a way to cover the toes more than the rest of the foot. Perhaps a washcloth wrapped around her toes might work, I said.

Keep in mind, I am stone-cold sober during this exchange. As for her? No idea. But probably not as un-inebriated. And, I kid you not, when I told her to stuff a washcloth in the end of her boots to cover her toes, she looked at me and nodded. Like I had just said the smartest thing in the world. And she goes, “That’s a good idea. I’ll have to try it! Thank you!”

Just set me up with a chair in a bathroom somewhere. I could probably start charging for this stuff.

Laura Hagan, BBT – Will answer questions about life, love, frostbite and offer you drink suggestions. But she will not babysit your mom.