About a year ago I wrote a post on this website about what it was like go off a depression medication. I’d been on a specific medication for over seven years, and it took over three and a half months to go from 100 milligrams/day of the drug to 0 milligrams/per day, a painful, often traumatic trip through nausea, dizziness, numb hands, and temporary blackouts.
I went off the medication specifically because the side-effects of the drug had become more debilitating than the disease of depression itself, and because I knew that my husband and I were going to try to have a baby within the next year. While several clinical studies have shown that most of the popular depression medications don’t have adverse effects on developing babies, it just wasn’t something I wanted to take a chance with. I had a hard enough time coming off the medication as a healthy 27-yr old, and I can’t imagine the terror a drug like that might wreak on the delicate system of an infant. I recently met a woman who is taking the same depression medication I was taking, and she is also breast-feeding her six-month old baby. She said that if she misses one or two days of the drug her baby becomes irritable. The drug may have nothing to do with the child’s change in mood, but I have a hard enough time justifying a Diet Coke these days. There is no way I’m going to risk having my child become chemically or physiologically dependent on a drug she doesn’t need.
Chemical depression runs in my family: six of my mother’s eight brothers and sisters have it, my grandmother had it, my brother suffers from it daily. Everyone I know has an opinion about depression medication, and while I understand that there are alternative methods to treating depression, I can honestly say that drugs worked wonders for my situation. I can’t necessarily recommend drugs to anyone, particularly because of what I went through to get off the drug, but I can testify that drugs gave me a seven year respite from a crippling, soul-eating disease.
After successfully coming off the drug last year (I knew I had finally made it through the nightmare when I could close my eyes without feeling like the room was going to spin out of Earth’s orbit), Jon and I moved to Utah and lived in my mother’s basement until we found work and bought a house. Those five months in suburban Salt Lake City will go down in my personal history as five of the darkest months of my life. It would be hard for anyone to have to live with their parents as an adult, and I was dealing with the loss of identity and freedom and financial stability without the aid of my seven-year SSRI companion. At one point this past February, after contemplating ways in which I could permanently hurt myself, Jon and I decided that I should go back on the medication, if only temporarily. I took the drug for two weeks, to see me over the hump, and then went directly back off because the side-effects came back stronger than ever. Only through the love and unconditional understanding of my husband — someone who had never really known anyone with this disease, let alone had to live and share space with someone so inconsolably upset — did I make it through that darkness. He is the reason I am alive today.
Fortunately, pregnancy has had a stabilizing effect on my emotions. For many women, pregnancy heralds a highly emotional nine months of wild mood swings and irrational behavior. I happen to be one of those women for whom pregnancy has brought a welcome calm and relative peacefulness. I’m still irrational by nature, but the hormones coursing like tidal waves through my body have counteracted my depression in visibly startling ways. During my first trimester I was very frustrated with the nausea and inability to perform normal activities, like brushing my teeth and getting out of bed. But I wanted to brush my teeth and get out of bed, a marked difference from what I feel when I’m depressed.
Two weeks ago we brought home a new dog, and two weeks ago I stepped into what would be the fastest, most gripping spiral of a depression I’ve felt since I was 16 years old. I was completely unprepared for the types of problems affecting Sadie, and was unequipped both physically and emotionally for the demands of an 80lb dog with chronic separation anxiety. I couldn’t go to the bathroom or take a shower without Sadie completely freaking out and crying at the door. I couldn’t get her to sit or stay or to lie down without using the entire weight of my pregnant body, and immediately afterward she would get up and pace and cry uncontrollably. I knew training techniques that worked on smaller, much younger dogs, but I was hopelessly lost when it came to a dog with 3-yr old habits and a will stronger than my 5’11” frame. I read everything I could online about separation anxiety and what it would take for me to be able to leave the room without causing her emotional distress, and I talked to several golden retriever enthusiasts who had plenty advice on what to expect from this breed. Everything I read and heard, however, suggested that it would take several months to break her of the anxiety, if it could be broken at all.
In about three weeks I’m going to have a hard time bending over at the waist, let alone getting an 80lb dog to sit down. For the past two weeks I’ve been a virtual prisoner in my own home, unable to sit down in a chair or walk from room to room without a gigantic dog trying to crawl into my ever-disappearing lap. She demands every second of my attention, and in three and a half months when another member of our family arrives, I’ll be lucky if I can give Sadie even half of the attention she requires. While I understand that any attention is better than the no attention she received in the past, I know that I can’t possibly give this dog the life she deserves, and that is devastating to me.
For the past 14 days I haven’t wanted to get out of bed or lift my my arms to brush my teeth or hair. This is the pathetic reaction my depression-prone body has to getting into something that is way over my head. I don’t know how to deal with the stress in a productive way, and so my body decides not to deal at all. While I know that the best thing for me, for my baby, and for Sadie is to find her a new home, I can’t help but feel like I’m giving up on this dog. The weight of failure is overwhelming, almost suffocating, and my mood has formed a volatile environment for everyone in my home.
Wednesday night I drove Sadie over to a golden retriever rescue in a suburb southwest of Salt Lake City. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, a decision that has choked me every moment for the past five days. I made sure that the rescue was a reputable place, a place where she would be nurtured and loved until she could be adopted by a suitable family. Even though I knew that she would be sleeping in a warm place and fed and showered with love, the look on that dog’s face when I turned to leave will haunt me for years. I’m struggling to forgive myself, for giving up, for thinking that I was strong enough to try this in the first place, for being emotionally inept to handle what normal people should be emotionally capable of handling.
I guess I’m writing this here to help myself heal. I feel better writing about it, despite the risk of having people send me judgmental email telling me what a pathetic and selfish person I am. As needlessly dramatic as it sounds, my husband can only hold my head as I cry for so many hours before I have to get up and force myself to breathe again. I can’t look at the backyard or the place next to the bed where she slept without wanting to crawl into a hole in the ground. Is that dramatic? It probably is, but when you’re depressed, everything is dramatic. Breathing is dramatic. Perhaps I’m writing this to reach out to others who have suffered depression and have overcome it without the aid of medication. How do you get the drama to end?