The first few weeks taking anti-depressants I was a mess of emotions; hope that this would be the start of a new season, fear that it wouldn’t work, and anxiety about potential side-effects.
Being physically ill has always been the focus of my anxiety, so taking any kind of chemicals, anything new and unknown into my body, was terrifying. I think this was one of the reasons I had resisted anti-depressants for so long… better the devil you know, and all that.
The jumble of feelings and thoughts, the many potential outcomes, the not-knowing and the imagining were a lot to deal with. My friend Laura suggested I write it all down.
Every night before I went to bed, and sometimes during the day too, I would dump the toxicity, the spiralling thoughts, the negativity and the panic, out of my brain and into my notebook.
What follows is some of those scribblings. It is fairly raw and should probably come with a health warning.
(It is also pretty personal so please be kind, I feel kind of vulnerable with this post).
Day 5. Monday
Brain skitting about all over the place. Anxious stomach. Can’t wait for the drugs to kick in, and terrified that they won’t. Last week was a better week… but yesterday and today the hyper-vigilance is back, or at least encroaching again. The list of things I can’t read or watch is growing:
-anything to do with illness (obviously)
–anything to do with children (because… just in case)
–anything connected to food (including new or unfamiliar cookery books! A new low).
–anything connected to travel (inability to control environment/ fear of the future)
Again I am wary to make plans, trying to keep my week quiet. And Amanda and Laura tell me to be kind to myself but I feel this is always my mantra: ‘…do less, say no, manage your boundaries’.
Most of me is waiting to get well so I can do more, achieve more, see more. But maybe that is all wrong. Maybe I should just accept that I can’t do what I used to do or what I think I should be able to do.
But that feels horribly like settling.
This was a fairly normal day. Like it had been for the best part of a year.
And because I had been here before, I hadn’t really told anyone honestly about it this time around. I just kept thinking it would go away. That it was a blip, and tomorrow or next week I would be fine. I was ashamed.
I want to preface the next extract by saying that these experiences I am describing were not 100% down to the anti-depressants. At the time I thought I was experiencing debilitating side-effects (and this was probably part of it) but it turned out I was also ill with a nasty flu-bug, and this had intensified everything.
Day 6. Tuesday.
Really tough day. Emotional and psychological roller coaster. Finding it very hard not to give feelings of failure room to grow.
Not trusting yourself to make lunch plans, or even coffee plans incase you can’t cope = hard not to feel like a loon. By 7pm I felt sick and shaky. So low.
There is no warning, suddenly my energy is completely depleted, empty, nothing left.
Day 7. Wednesday.
Awful, awful night.
Awake between 2:30-5am panicking, catastrophising and generally despairing. Woke sweaty, anxious, exhausted. Feel like I am losing the plot entirely and more than a little out of control. Totally envious of anyone who wakes up feeling calm. Feel I am letting the kids down. I am a mess. Confused. Feeling sick. Head aching. At the end of my tether. Weak and stupid.
Later: A truly awful morning. In tears, despairing, freaking out. As bad as it has ever been. Head aching, sick feeling. Exhaustion. Barely held it together to pick up kids from school. Wonder if I should be allowed to look after them at all.
(I wrote this message to myself in the kitchen, a visible reminder of what my heart was finding it impossible to remember.)
Day 8. Thursday.
A slightly better day. Am definitely ill with some flu-bug thing. Ed off school today so I had an enforced quiet day of crochet and the radio. Barely moved. I need more days like this.
Great chat on the phone with Sri. Afterwards she text me ‘your war is my war’.
I am impatient. Sri encouraged me to stop before I start, ie. take some time to properly recover. I am hesitant to do this because 1. what if I still don’t get better? and 2. what have the last 6 years been about? I feel as though I am always saying – soon, soon I’ll make that work, I’ll be well enough to do that job… I have these pure creative moments when I can see the work ahead of me – but then I am unable to get on with it – fear/ lack of energy/ life gets in the way and the work is continually delayed, then forgotten about.
Oh to wake tomorrow with a clear mind, no headache, no anxiety! That would be joy on joy!
Day 9. Friday
Better day, although headaches and back/ arm ache and general tiredness. Have needed lots of reassurance I won’t always be like this…
Day 10. Saturday.
Woke anxious but was able to make a decision to sack it off. This took a huge amount of effort and focus, but I was rewarded with a good day. A day where catastrophising thoughts were few, a day where I was flexible and able to go with the flow, a day of disastrously sandy and windy walks abandoned quickly, squealing children, poor nutrition, and a hectic house with monopoly junior, dress ups and cake decorating happening simultaneously.
And. I. Was. Fine.
Those four words look like hope to me.
The first few weeks were rough. There is no denying it.
But although it felt longer, it was only a couple of weeks that were really painful.
My 6 year old crawled into bed with me this morning and asked, “Mum, why do good days go so quick and bad days take ages?” I wish I knew.
Looking back now, I find peppered through my barely legible scrawlings from those days words of hope, of support. Words from people who loved me and were with me through it all. Even though at times I felt I was, I was never alone.
There were also moments of clarity. In amongst the brain fog, extreme tiredness and feeling completely overwhelmed, there were pinpricks of light.
At the point of most despair, of most acute anxiety, I have written in my notebook;
…As I identify another element of my brokenness, I shine like the morning.
When I discovered this phrase amongst the desperation I was surprised. My emotions were screaming a different story, but this is the truth of what was happening, and on some level, even from within the confusion, I knew it.
I understand this a little more every day. Richard Rohr, Franciscan Friar and Catholic Priest, puts it brilliantly;
“The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death and woundedness are our primary teachers rather than ideas or doctrines.”*
Digging in the depths, acknowledging my suffering and being willing to sit with the pain long enough, is the path to healing, acceptance and grace.
In fact, it is the only way.
(Coming up – part 5, the final instalment, feeling fairly confident it will be a bit more up-beat!).