So now that the daily vlogs are through, I know a lot of you guys have been curious as to some of the stuff that’s been going on behind the scenes. Our goal was to be able to use this blog as a chance to check in with you guys periodically, and be one of the ways we continued sharing our lives and our experiences with you guys. And it’s in that spirit that I wanted to talk a little bit about how my mental health journey has been going, now that the dust is finally settling after our amazing wedding bash.
Shortly before the wedding, I told you guys that my therapist was referring me to a psychiatrist, since he was pretty certain that I was grappling with some clinical depression and PTSD, and would likely benefit from starting on medication. At the time, I was shocked and a little freaked out. For some reason, going from a therapist to a psychiatrist somehow felt like my issues were suddenly way more severe than I thought, or that my mental illnesses were some how “leveling up” like two Pokémon from hell. I had unfortunately fallen prey to some stigma as well. There was just something about the idea of medication that suddenly made the whole thing seem way more severe. Growing up, I was surrounded by those suburban adults who either “didn’t believe in feeding their kids medication to fix behavior problems”, or only saw meds as an absolute last resort, when all other options had been exhausted. Plus I had also heard horror stories about side effects and stuff of that nature. I knew people who had started taking psych meds, and suddenly they had started gaining weight or started having sexual dysfunction or started getting worse. Long story short: I was freaking out for quite a bit. I knew from a logical standpoint that I probably had nothing to worry about. But I couldn’t help but let my fear of the unknown get the better of me, despite the fact that so many of you guys were so supportive and reassuring.
Well, I had my first appointment with my psychiatrist not long after we got home from the wedding. After the first appointment, he thought it would be a good idea to start me on sertraline (better known as Zoloft) to help treat both my PTSD and my depression.
I must admit that I was a little surprised by how clinical the first appointment was. Mind you, my entire experience with mental health professionals thus far had been primarily through cognitive based therapy (“CBT” for short). CBT is more of what you’d expect from your stereotypical “shrink” where you sit in a chair and try to talk through your issues while getting asked questions like “and how does that make you feel?” As silly as it might sound to some, realize that this approach can be surprisingly effective. I used this kind of therapy to work through a whole host of issues and gain a greater awareness of myself and my thought process. I guess I was expecting my psychiatrist appointment to have a similar structure, where we might talk through some of my feelings for a while before talking about possible solutions. Instead, it felt more like I was going to a doctor’s office. He asked me about my “symptoms”: which ones I was experiencing, how often, and how severely. We also talked about my possible family history of mental illness before he jumped right into discussing my different medication options with me. I should note, though, that I’m seeing this psychiatrist through the same center where I saw all of my therapists before him. So he already had lots of notes from all of my previous sessions to refer to before we even met face-to-face. I’m assuming that’s why he felt it was already a good decision to start me on medication right away. But still, I couldn’t help but be surprised.
I started on sertraline the very next day. I was told that it would take several weeks for the medication to actually start working, especially since he put me on a very small dose to start out. That didn’t stop me, of course, from being a tad paranoid over the next several days. Every other thought in my head was: “Why did I just think that?” “Was that the medication or was that me?” “No stop, don’t be silly RJ, it’s too early for the meds to be doing anything.” “So wait, how am I supposed to know if it’s working or not?” “What if they’re working already and I just don’t realize it yet?” “What if they just tell you that it takes a long time so that they can make sure it’s not a placebo effect?” “Don’t be silly, RJ, it would be against the law for them to lie to you.” It sounds silly typing it out, but it didn’t sound so silly when it was going on in my head. Nevertheless, I had Will on high alert to keep an eye out for any changes in my usual behavior. If there’s anyone who can notice the slightest change in anything, it’s my husband.
I should also note that this change was accompanied by a bunch of other massive changes in our lives: marriage, the end of the daily vlogs…it was like our lives hit a giant reset button. So for the first week or so that I was on sertraline, I wasn’t sure if my improved mental state was due to my post-wedding high, the relief of not daily vlogging, or the meds. Maybe it was all of them at once. I spent the next few weeks telling that same joke. Everyone would ask me “how do you feel”? I’d reply with, “I dunno if it’s being married, being done with daily vlogs, or being on Zoloft, but I feel great!” It wasn’t until I started settling back into my usual jam-packed routine that I really noticed the difference that the sertraline was making. Whenever I found myself with a lot to do, it wasn’t hard for me to start feeling overwhelmed and buried. On busy days, all I’d be able to think about was how much I still had to do. And on not busy days, I often felt so exhausted that it was hard to make myself do anything. That was my baseline: either stress and anxiety or exhaustion. A week or two ago, however, that started to shift slightly. I would have busy days that were every bit as jam-packed as the ones that came before, sometimes even more so. I remember a couple of days when I would literally be doing work related stuff from the second I got up to after I laid down in bed again. I was as busy as ever, and yet, every time I could feel myself getting stressed about it, I’d be able to tell myself “there’s no point in feeling stressed, everything is going to get done as long as you stay focused.” And I did. And it did. Better yet, if I did have a lot to do, I’d still be able to let myself take a breather and relax without being haunted by all the work that was still waiting for me. It didn’t take long for Will to notice a change, too. My overall mood was better. I was less preoccupied. More present. More lighthearted and playful. I talked less about the stuff that was stressing me out. Life had resumed to it’s normal, frantic pace, but I was better able to handle it.
I should add that, prior to this entire ordeal, I wasn’t even 100% that I was actually depressed in the first place. Depression was supposed to be the illness that kept you in bed or on the couch all day. Meanwhile, I was perpetually doing three things at once. Sure I felt tired and drained a lot, but that was just because I was working hard. Sure I was pessimistic and irritable at times, but that was only because I was always stressing out at all the stuff I had to do. I felt like I was spending most of my time in a fog, and it wasn’t until that fog started to dissipate that I realized what it was. I felt less weighed down by all of my responsibilities. I felt less like a hamster on a wheel and more like a person who was actually going places. Better yet, I finally felt like I had some control over my own thoughts. The minute something bothered me, I was able to let it roll off of me rather than continue to let it follow me. I was able to have busy days without feeling overwhelmed by them. And after those busy days were done, my thoughts were less about stress and exhaustion and more about relief and accomplishment.
I realized then that I had been dealing with depression for years, and exactly how much it had been affecting me all this time. Sure I had still been able to have fun and have good days and be optimistic. But it always felt like the negative thoughts in my head always carried more weight than the positive ones. And if I ever reached a point when those negative thoughts started to really weigh me down, I often found myself getting stuck and consumed by them, sometimes for days or even weeks at a time. When these moods took hold, they seemed impossible to escape. “What’s the point,” I’d always ask myself, “you’re just going to end up back here again.”
I discovered my depression much in the same way I had discovered my asthma. Way back in the Tallahassee days, I was having huge trouble with what I thought was allergies. Turns out that they weren’t allergies, and that I had been asthmatic the entire time. And the specialist proved that to me by having me take a breathing test. When I did, it was revealed that I had the lungs of someone over twice my age. Then they had me take two puffs of an inhaler. I took that same test again, and my lung function improved 30% off the bat. And as I continued taking my breathing meds, I realized just how much my asthma had been affecting me the entire time. I had just taught myself to try and cope with it. But when I finally took my medicine and saw what I was truly capable of, I was suddenly able to run that much faster and push that much harder. In a way, taking sertraline helped provide the same kind of revelation. Turns out I had been coping with this problem for my entire life. But now that I was treating it, suddenly I was able to feel what life was like without it. I could start to see what I was like without the depression, and I really liked how that felt. Those of you out there with glasses or contacts know what it was like the first time you got to see the world with your glasses on, and that little rush you felt when you noticed that you could see individual leaves on a tree from far away. Now picture that, but with your emotions. That’s really the best way I can describe it.
I still have my moments when my depression comes back. As a matter of fact, these last couple of days have been challenging as far as my energy and motivation are concerned. I’m still on my introductory dose of the meds, which is half of what people normally take. But the good news is that, any time my depression does start to flare up, I know that it’s my depression flaring up. Before I started down this path, I couldn’t really tell where my issues ended and where I began. Now, I at least have an idea of where I can draw that separation and so does Will. More importantly, any time my depression tries to make it seem like “I’ll be trapped down here forever,” I know that that’s not true.
So yeah, despite all of my initial apprehension and hesitations, I’m absolutely thrilled that I finally took this step and started on my psych meds. I have my next psychiatry appointment next week, and I’m also going to start seeing a new therapist in tandem with him. And I’m happy to say that, for the first time, I’m kind of excited about continuing on this mental health journey. If I was able to make this much progress in a month, I’m excited so see what other progress is possible.