My doctor recently raised the dosage of my Zoloft.
There, I said it.
Hi. I’m an anxious and depressed mom, and I’m on Zoloft.
I’m also a “professional” in the mental health field, charged with counseling others with anxiety and depression. Put that in your pipe, and so forth…
In light of my recent near death experience, I’ve been struggling with more anxiety than usual. My body and mind are having a hard time feeling safe, and being able to distinguish between everyday stress and actual threats to my well being.
As my compassionate doctor couched it, “I think you miiighhht have a teensy bit of PTSD.” Ummm. K. I can’t really disagree. I have confidence I will ramble through it, but in the mean time, the symptoms miiigghhht suck just a teensy bit.
Taking an antidepressant doesn’t make my world perfect. It is not a magic cure-all that takes away every bump in the road. Taking an antidepressant simply puts the color back into things and allows me to go about my business.
Because ever since I can remember, that’s what depression has done to my world– it sucks the color out of things, makes everything bleak, grey, hopeless.
I’m not a newbie to what I like to call “Vitamin Z”.
The first time I took an antidepressant was the summer after my senior year in high school. I was struggling with an eating disorder and a psychiatrist put me on Prozac when I didn’t respond to therapy alone. I didn’t take it consistently, and ended up stopping it before long.
I took Zoloft for much of my college years. It was helpful, and I was consistent with it. The entire time, I participated in counseling to help myself learn coping skills, and to process myself. At some point, I stopped taking it and did okay with life, utilizing natural supports, exercise, and the talking cure. For a brief period of time, after a trauma in my 20s, I used Celexa, but stopped when I got married and wanted to consider pregnancy.
Then I had a baby.
Postpartum depression and anxiety hit me almost instantly upon giving birth to my son. I participated in intensive therapy and was convinced to try Zoloft again, as it was a medication considered compatible with breastfeeding. Again, the clouds lifted. I stayed on a very low dose of Zoloft for a period of two years after having Jack.
When I got pregnant with Emily, I knew enough to request I go back on it within hours of her birth. I am happy to say, after birthing Emily, I had no issues with postpartum mood at all. Part of this was likely due to having more realistic expectations of what parenthood would be, and also to proactively managing things.
I use the terms anxiety and depression almost interchangeably, because in my mind they are two sides of the same coin. They waltz around up there hand-in-hand, making me anxious because I feel depressed, then making me depressed because it feels so crappy to be anxious.
If you’ve never experienced either of these conditions before, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Maybe you think I’m crazy.
I am a great mom. I am a radiant, professional, grounded, and competent human. I have a career, social life, and hobbies.
I also have managed anxiety and depression since I was young.
It makes me feel vulnerable to speak about. I would really rather write a post about how my daughter would like to be a dinosaur when she grows up and call it a day. But I think that sense of vulnerability makes this topic something important to talk about.
Part of this vulnerability comes from the stigma we have around mental illness. I’ve never thought of myself as someone with “mental illness”, but I guess that is how some would classify me, since anxiety and depression fall into the category of mental illness. Whatevs.
I prefer to think of myself as charmingly neurotic, a little obsessive, chronically organized, and highly sensitive. Sensitivity is not necessarily a bad trait, unless we make it one. I believe my sensitivity helps me to be empathetic and relate to people.
I prefer not to think of myself as “mentally ill,” “depressed,” or “anxious,” because those things seem really heavy and hard to bear. I prefer not to have others think of me in these categories, either. I fear being labeled. I fear being doubted or discredited because my neurotransmitters fire a little differently.
I’ve also learned to manage judgement that comes with taking medication to manage anxiety and depression. Close friends and family have actually suggested that taking an SSRI is bad, a sign of weakness, an unnecessary habit. Wouldn’t it just be better to get some more exercise/eat more leafy greens/meditate/look on the bright side/just let it go/yadda, yadda, yadda?
And then there are those who believe it just takes more love. I can say with authority, love does not cure depression.
Such comments used to make me feel insecure, riddled with self doubt and recrimination. I’ve learned to let them pass from one ear to another without causing any cognitive dissonance.
Here’s the equation it boils down to in my brain:
Being able to get up and be a functional human = GOOD
Feeling miserable and negative = BAD
Feeling able to care for myself and my family = GOOD
Carrying a hopeless sense of overwhelmed panic = BAD
When life is more or less balanced, I can juggle my highly sensitive nature with what I need to manage in the way of kids, marriage, home, career, etc. But when something happens to tip the balance, such as a brutal winter, trauma, or situational stressors, it is much harder to keep all things in perspective.
I know my moods are getting the better of me when I am more irritable than usual, when everyday responsibilities fatigue me, and when everything seems like a struggle. These are pretty much typical symptoms of depression.
For me there is also a sense of being trapped and feeling like my situation won’t ever change. And then of course there is the twirling cage of wild, flapping birds that fills my chest and abdomen when I am anxious. I feel too sick to eat. I wake too early in the morning, unable to fall back asleep because I am worrying about my day, the laundry, my kids getting eaten by bears– you name it.
It is at this point when I call in the script for my good old Vitamin Z.
Look, if it were as simple and elegant as just letting it go, or taking a breath, or getting more exercise, then yeah, I wouldn’t need the artificial assistance of medication. If those things work for you, great! You don’t need an SSRI to help balance the delicate flow of serotonin in your noggin. More power to ya’. Medication is not for everyone, and I would never make a blanket statement or recommend that every person who struggles with their mood should be on it.
I don’t relish taking a pill every day. Medication has side effects, such as making it difficult for me to lose weight, or numbing my libido just slightly. And then there are the gastro side effects. I knew someone who called SSRIs the “Cranial/Rectal Shunt,” because they take all the shit out of your head and pump it out the other end. But I’ll take the very manageable side effects over the crappy sense of failure brought on by unbalanced serotonin.
I know when I’ve gotten to the point where I need that little boost so I can go about my life. On a very low dose (which some would even consider sub-therapeutic), things just tighten up in my brain. The dreadful thoughts don’t have free reign to scamper around in my noggin. The moods and worries are not as expansive and there is a tremendous relief in that for me.
Before having a family to care for, a marriage to nurture, or a home to pay for, it was easier to shake off anxiety and depression. Staying in bed all weekend wasn’t an issue, and there was a little more freedom to “work on myself.”
But for many of us, as parents, there are so many pressures coming from so many areas of our lives and it can be hard to bounce back from a dip in our emotional state. Hormones that fluctuate with pregnancy, childbearing, and menopause, and bring sometimes debilitating instability, are topics for a post of its own.
I know there are thousands, maybe even millions of moms in the same predicament as me, given the statistical prevalence of anxiety and depression.
Some of them have found help and support, and others are suffering in silence.
We are beginning to study and know more about how maternal depression affects children, so at the end of the day, this may be the most important reason I have for making sure I am appropriately treating my emotional state.
I’ve been on the higher dose for about three weeks now, and I’m starting to feel the difference. Just in time for the spring thaw, so I can have a little psychic space to enjoy looking at daffodils and playing outside with my kids.