It’s Getting Better All The Time

Trigger warning: This post contains sensitive topics such as mental illness.

The intake counselor at the NYU Department of Counseling recognized the look of sheer terror on my face when she informed me I would not be able to get in to see a psychiatrist for at least three weeks.

“But,” she added, attempting to calm me down, “I want you to come in here tomorrow. They’re going to tell you they don’t usually give meds out during walk-in hours. Tell them everything you told me today, and I am sure they will start you on something ASAP.”

And that’s exactly what happened.

I moved to New York in August of 2012, to pursue my Masters of Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing. Moving from a safe secure government job in public health to pursuing a very expensive degree in a field that is anything but safe and secure was a huge shift for me. Moving to a new city is a big enough stress, but on top of all this, I was training for a marathon.

Now I highly, highly recommend doing all of these things. Grad school is an incredible, challenging experience that will make you a better person. Moving somewhere new is exciting and fun, and gives you a chance to start over. Marathon training is inspiring and makes you appreciate your body and all that it can do. However, from personal experience, I would advise against doing all three of these at once.

Additionally, I would advise against ignoring obvious signs of depression for years. I’d been off meds for almost six years by the time I started taking antidepressants again. For years, I couldn’t figure out why I had breakdowns constantly, why I couldn’t focus on things I used to enjoy, why I would get stuck reading the same sentence over and over when trying to read a book I enjoyed. I felt tired all the time. I felt left out even when hanging with some of my best friends. Situations plagued me as I analyzed every single aspect of every single word of conversations. I started taking Prozac, and seeing a therapist who helped me make sense of all this confusion I’d been experiencing.

I worked with my therapist and continued meds, and I did okay adjusting to life with this new armor as I battled depression, but there were some chinks in the armor in the summer before grad school. The idle time and limited job prospects, along with the tragedy of my uncle’s suicide, pulled me into a whirlpool of depression. So we increased my medicine, thinking if the depression got better once I returned to a schedule then I could go back down to the amount I had been taking.

But I stayed at that dosage for my last year of grad school. With graduation approaching, I knew the process of finding a job and figuring out what was next in life was a good recipe for more depression. My therapist and I talked about a plan — how to keep things in perspective while I figured this all out. But that  turned out to be a defeating one.

I was lost and confused. I was already on antidepressants… what could I do now? My therapist made an appointment with a psychiatrist and we talked about options. I started Wellbutrin in addition to my Prozac. Wellbutrin gave me a burst of energy I hadn’t felt in a while… but it also caused a seizure, which landed me in the hospital for a few days. I was told to go off it because Wellbutrin can lower one’s seizure threshold. I underwent a ton of tests, including eventually three MRIs and a sleep-deprived EEG test. They found nothing.

After the third MRI (which is never something I would think I’d say in my life), the second neurologist I worked with (again, never thought I’d say that) confirmed that I was okay. The type of epilepsy they thought I might have had is closely related to depression and anxiety. I wondered if that was the case, and if we treated that part of my brain if I would magically be cleared of depression. She asked how I was feeling, and for the first time, I answered honestly… to both her and myself. “Really not good,” I told her.

After that horrible summer, I thought my depression would wane once I found a job and developed a routine. So I found a job and developed a routine… and it wasn’t getting better.

Then I thought: It’s just this winter, this polar vortex, I’ll be fine once there’s sunshine and warmth. There was sunshine and warmth (eventually), but I was still not okay. I started to wonder if depression was just my baseline and if “happy” or “content” for me was just “not feeling desolate and suicidal.”

My neurologist recommended I try Lamictal. She said it was her favorite drug, because she had seen it make such a difference in so many people’s lives. I read testimonies on the internet of people saying it was the pill that finally worked for them. I started it, and now feel like an entirely new person.

Did you know it’s not normal to cry every day? Did you know that when someone doesn’t respond to a text, it’s probably because they’re busy and doesn’t mean that they’ll soon tell you that you’re annoying and they regret ever hanging out with you?

I feel so completely different now. There is still such a stigma attached to treating mental health that I think I hesitated to seek out additional treatment for my depression. If I was suffering from physical pain, I wouldn’t think twice (and neither would anyone else) about trying different combinations of medicines until I felt better. I was afraid to be that woman who has to be on two antidepressants. I might have more depression and anxiety issues than Carter has liver pills, but you know what? I am that woman who has to be on two antidepressants, and because of those two antidepressants, I feel I will be able to stick around for a long time.

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