Pardon me. I seem to have gotten a bit off topic.
It’s a Choice
My journey out of postpartum depression was two-fold: medication and therapy.
Truthfully, I’m still in therapy. I think once you've reached the end of your rope at some point in your past, and postpartum depression taught me every frayed detail of what that looks like for me, you're also blessed with the knowledge that you have to take care of yourself. You shouldn't wait until the train runs you over to get help. It's best to start running when you hear the whistle.
The funniest aspect about therapy (besides the fact that where I go has parking that faces a graveyard) is that the things I learn aren't rocket science. Most of the time I come home, look in the mirror, slap myself in the forehead and say, "Well duh!"
These are three things I've learned that have made the biggest impact in my life.
1. You cannot control other people or the things that happen to you.
2. You can only control yourself, your behavior, and you and you alone are responsible for your behavior.
3. You don't have to attend every argument you're invited to.
The bottom line is, if you're going to be happy, you have to fight for it.
Sometimes Christians frown on therapy and medication. To some it means you don't have enough faith. To others it means you don't read your Bible enough. There are people who will actually say those things to your face.
And now I'll go way out on a limb that may whip in the breeze of disapproval when I say... those are lies from the devil himself. Plug your ears. Turn your back.
Do. Not. Listen. To. Them.
My good friend Josh (whom I've known since the 6th grade), once told me something that made a very important clock gear in my brain shifted.
"God can fix your lunch, but he won't eat it for you."
If you battle depression (postpartum or clinical), or anxiety, or even normal everyday overwhelming problems, you have to fight. You cannot retreat to your bed and wait for a magical heavenly dust to settle over your life and suddenly make everything OK.
You have to fight for yourself. Your family has to fight for you.
You have to put on your army gear and do whatever is necessary, because happiness is worth fighting for.
It's certainly worth going to therapy, or taking a pill, or learning how to be kind to yourself.
Therapy won't fix your life. Medication won't fix your life. They won't make you happy. But God can. And here's a news flash: sometimes God uses both those things. He's readied the lunch, but I have to pull up a chair, sit down at the table, and take a bite.
I get a lot of questions about antidepressants on my blog. I think admitting that you’ve taken them, and that taking them was a success, suddenly makes the rest of the world think you’re an expert. Since I don’t have an M.D. behind my name, I’m not at all an expert, but I still get asked a lot of questions.
How did you know which one to take? How long did you take it? Was it hard to taper off? Is it addictive? Did you have bad side effects? Those are questions I’m happy to answer through email. But I will say that the good benefits far outweighed the side effects.
When my doctor first suggested an antidepressant, and I agreed to take it, she said, "One side effect you might need to be prepared for is, well, you won't care about things like your appointments, your bills, your weight. You'll need to be vigilant that you don't forget to pay your bills, and keep up a workout plan."
I eyeballed her skeptically for a moment, through tears of course (because in those days all I could do was cry), and said something along the lines of, "You're daft. I have never, in my entire life, not cared. I care about everything! I care about which direction the toilet paper gets put on the roll! I care about how the mail gets clipped onto the mailbox! I care about how the pantry is arranged! I care about the dust bunnies behind the sofa! Every night I sweep the oak pods off the patio because I CARE THAT MUCH!"
In case you're wondering, that's what it looks like when my crazy starts
She observed me calmly over the glasses on the end of her nose and said, "Ummhmm. I think you have some anxiety issues too. You'll really like taking this medication."
By the grace of God, my doctor was right.
My antidepressant experience is best summed up by one word.
True, it was a side effect.
It was also heaven.
A few cases in point.
“Liz, do you smell smoke? I think something is on fire.”
“Meh, I don’t smell anything.”
“Liz, did you see this cut-off notice from the gas company?”
“Meh, it’ll be fine.”
“Liz, how long has it been since we brushed Jane’s teeth?”
“Meh, last Monday?”
“Liz, if you eat that entire strawberry pie you’ll gain five pounds.”
“Meh, get me that fork.”
I truly believe this medication returned me to the state God intended.
Rested. Unconcerned. Peaceful.
My mother-in-law told me that antidepressants helped her have a tremendous sense of well-being.
I think that’s what “Meh” means to me.
The backyard catches on fire?
Your neighbor yells at you for leaving your garbage can in the middle of the road?
Haven’t cleaned your bathtub in two months and pink slime starts to grow on the grout line?
I’d like to think this experience helped reroute my brain chemistry.
Brains are no different than any other part of our bodies. Train your body long enough and *insert enraging picture of blond supermodel here* you too can have strong muscles and buns of steel. Sure, you might not be in the best mood, you might murder someone just so you can steal the cheeseburger from their hands … but theoretically you can train your body to be in the most pristine condition it can be in.
I think somehow that’s what antidepressants did to my brain. My poor, fried, overworked brain that for years had trained itself to be uptight, freaked out, worried, and just generally overwrought finally got some training.
Albeit, that training didn’t come from an annoying body beautiful trainer, it came from the seasoned skill and easy peace of serotonin receptors.
Gotta love that serotonin.
There’s often a backlash from those closest to you. They’re not sure how to handle you, or how to react to you when you say, “Meh.” And you mean it. And you return to reading your book or playing your crossword puzzle and they know in the depths of your calm little medicated soul, you truly don’t care that the backyard is on fire.
Those closest to us get used to the status quo where we buzzed round like hyper little bees, gathering the pollen, building the hive, trying to impress, or agree, or console, or remember. We were the ones stressing about the gas bills, and the smoky smell in the yard, and running out of toilet paper, and family disagreements.
And when we stop doing that, when we change the status quo, loved ones have to get used to the new order of things.
In the beginning, Matt was befuddled at the new change in guard. But after a while he started picking up some of the slack I’d willingly let flop in the breeze. Not to say he picked up all the slack. He’s a free spirited “forgetter” by nature, so over the course of my two years on antidepressants there were several cut –off notices from the gas company. We ran out of toilet paper lots of times. It wasn’t smooth and seamless. But he learned that sometimes he has to remember things. I learned that sometimes it’s ok to forget.
There are a lot of arguments against antidepressants (don’t even get me started, Mr. Tom Cruise). But for me, they were a lifesaver. They brought me back to life. They gave me a new state of mind. They changed the way I view the world. They gave me the ability to know I can bake a cake, pull it out of the oven, watch it fall flat as a pancake, shrug my shoulders and say, “Meh.”
It’s a beautiful thing.
After a year and a half on medication, I weaned off per my doctor’s instructions. This is common for postpartum depression. But, in my case, the anxiety came back. I didn’t realize (before medication), how much of my time I spent in a “white knuckled” state. And so, when the panic attacks returned, I did something hard. I faced the truth. I embraced my paradigm shift.
I have generalized anxiety disorder with OCD tendencies. Like a diabetic requires insulin, my brain requires medication to regulate itself. I will probably always need medicine. This is who I am. This is what it takes for me to live fully, to be a good mother, and to be a good wife. I am thankful for the postpartum depression, in that it brought my issues into the light. It gave me the opportunity to face them.
I’m fully convinced that if you don’t deal with your own mental health, those around you will have to deal with it for you. I never want to cause that strain and stress for Matt and Jane. So I take an antidepressant that doubles as anxiety medication.
I don’t take medication because I’m broken. I'm not in therapy because I'm broken. Or downtrodden. I do these things because I am filled with hope.
I'm willing to fight for happiness. I believe God has a plan for me that doesn't include confusion or strife or anxiety or depression.
God puts these tools at our disposal. He’s prepared the meal. We just have to pull up a chair, sit down, and enjoy the food.