Heater, Mother of Lance

Because I couldn’t say it on the phone

I was recently at lunch with a few friends, one who had just been diagnosed with OCD that manifests itself in a need to straighten up everything around her, and I was all really? That’s considered OCD? Because I thought that was just considered BEING ALIVE. And because she hasn’t ever read this website she asked if I had ever been treated for a diagnosis abbreviated with capital letters. I looked across the table at my other friend, someone who is very familiar with what I have written here, and she almost gagged on an ice cube. I nodded and then explained that I’m in ongoing therapy for what’s called C-R-A-Z-Y.

I feel like I need to say something today, right now, about my feelings toward therapy and medication, because in the last couple of months I’ve watched several people around me suffer needlessly because they were either too afraid or too arrogant to take care of their mental health. And I guess I’m trying to understand why anyone would resist trying to work through an issue that is making their life miserable, and that maybe if I came out and talked about what I have been through and how I feel about what I’ve been through, that someone may feel a little less embarrassed about getting help.

I suffer from chronic anxiety and depression, and I believe it started manifesting itself when I was in high school, maybe earlier. I didn’t seek treatment, however, until my sophomore year in college when I was on the brink of dropping out, when I finally called my father and exposed a very dark side of me, explained that I did not have the ability to cope no matter how hard I prayed or tried to get over it. My mother had always sensed this about me, had watched bi-polar disorder wreck the lives of several of her brothers and sisters, and she had to convince my father to take this seriously. A week later I saw a therapist who prescribed Zoloft. That medication changed my life, lifted a dark cloud that had been tormenting me for years, and I stayed on that drug, healthy and happy and able to cope, up until Jon and I decided that we should try to get pregnant.

I never should have gone off that drug. I know this now, having suffered terrible postpartum depression that could have been avoided had I seen the red flags in my third trimester, had I taken early steps to deal with the symptoms. But three months after Leta’s birth I was an inconsolable, suicidal mess. I was beyond repair, and all the drugs I tried in the following months would only make things worse: Risperdal, Ativan, Trazadone, Lamictal, Effexor, Abilify, Strattera, Klonopin, Seroquel. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t unclench my jaw or hands, couldn’t imagine how I would get through another ten minutes. After weeks of threatening to leave Jon if he had me committed to a hospital, I finally gave in and committed myself.

Because I was under constant supervision, my doctor in the hospital was able to give me therapeutic quantities of drugs immediately: 40mg of Prozac, 10mg of Valium, 2400mg of Neurontin. It was a combination he had given to countless women who had suffered postpartum depression, one that had worked time and time again. I felt a difference within two hours, and if you ask Jon he will tell you that when he brought Leta up to the hospital that afternoon to have lunch, he saw Heather for the first time in seven months, not that awful woman who liked to throw keys at his head. I truly believe that my doctor in the hospital saved my life. I owe that man my life.

In the years since my hospital stay I have tapered off Valium completely and now only take 300mg Neurontin at night. I still take 40mg Prozac every day, and here’s where I cannot be emphatic enough, I will continue to take it or something like it for the rest of my life. I will not ever be off medication. I continue to see my therapist, not every week or even every month, but whenever I hit a road block and need someone to help me talk my way through it. Sometimes I have bad days, sometimes bad weeks, but the medication enables me to cope, to see a way out and over those times. I am not ashamed of any of this.

I think many people are afraid that if they take medication or even agree to see a therapist that they are in some way admitting failure or defeat. Or they have been told by their boyfriend or their mother or their best friend that they should buck up and get over it, and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Well then, let me be weak. Let me be a failure. Because being over here on this side, where I see and think clearly, where I’m happy to greet my child in the morning, where I can logically maneuver my way over tiny obstacles that would have previously been the end of the world, over here being a failure is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than the constant misery of suffering alone.

Yesterday I wanted to say this to someone but didn’t because I’m afraid she will stop talking to me about certain things because I’m not telling her what she wants to hear. She wants me to tell her that she is right and that if she ignores a certain very large problem it will go away. But I don’t understand why being right is more important that being happy, why someone would go on living with a sick, nauseating swarm of junk in her stomach rather than trying to figure out how to fix it, because the act of even admitting that she feels this way is somehow a character flaw.

All of this is to say that I am a success story. I am a victory for the mental health profession. And if you’re even the tiniest bit on the fence about therapy or medication or herbs or acupuncture or prayer or meditation, whatever it is that you would turn to to try and pull your way out of sadness but are afraid to because of all that it would mean, here is this crazy woman in the Utah desert who admitted and accepted all of those horrible things about herself and in doing so found a better life.

  • hotpants

    2007/12/13 at 1:52 pm

    thank you for sharing.

  • miss sharon t

    2007/12/13 at 1:54 pm

    if i could throw a parade for lexapro and how it saved my life, i totally would.

  • daisy duck

    2007/12/13 at 1:55 pm

    Right on. People need insulin to stay alive and don’t think twice about it; depression should be no different. The only problem with SSRIs and the like are the awful side effects. How do you get past them?

  • Tara

    2007/12/13 at 1:55 pm

    What a moving and important post. Thanks. (Hi JJ!)

  • aubriane

    2007/12/13 at 1:55 pm

    Thank you for this.
    Although I don’t think it’s just admitting failure… in my case, it was wondering if everyone goes through this and I’m just less capable of dealing with it than everyone else.

  • ML

    2007/12/13 at 1:55 pm

    Amen. Ditto. Hear! Hear! And Oh Yes.

    Thank you for saying it over and over. I say would you hesitate to take chemo if it would help you live? Or go on dialysis if you had to? Why would we embrace this help any less?

    Neurontin literally saved my life and my two babies have a mama to show for it.

  • Priscilla

    2007/12/13 at 1:55 pm

    Amen. Very well said, coming from a Lexapro lover.

  • MontanaJen

    2007/12/13 at 1:57 pm

    I was afraid and ashamed and so very…overwhelmed at the prospect of beginning the journey through and over therapy. You articulated that fear exactly, and good for you and your family for taking care of it sooner rather than later. I truly believe that family, for many, is what keeps the real person there.

    You’re right, too – on the side of clarity, things are better – so much better. And good on ya for not forgetting how dark and awful and frightening the other side is, for too many.

  • Lisa

    2007/12/13 at 1:57 pm

    Well said, Heather! I’m in complete and total agreement with you!

  • Stacey

    2007/12/13 at 1:58 pm

    From another very big fan of 40 mg/day Prozac, thank you for saying this so well. No shame, no worries, just a damn fine life now that I have stopped throwing up 5 or 6 times a morning and I’m, you know, showering. 🙂

  • Ali

    2007/12/13 at 1:58 pm

    You just brilliantly summed up what I often try to explain to my friends. I try to explain medicating depression like medicating any other physical disease, because once you get into the realm of mental disease, well, you know *it doesn’t exist*. Right. So if you were diabetic, you would take insulin, right? Because if you didn’t you would get very sick. Or DIE. Same thing with mental illness.

    Just wanted to give you a cyber high-five. We love your blog in NZ. And OCD is totally normal. Everything must be straight or the world will explode.


  • Jess

    2007/12/13 at 1:58 pm

    There is nothing like realizing that someone and someTHING can help you. That you don’t HAVE to be victim to your own brain forever, and that it’s OK to “need”.
    I have spent most of my marriage apologizing for being “crazy”, even though my husband has been nothing but loving, supportive, and helpful. The guilt you feel when your imbalances spill over into what should be a happy relationship…it’s unimaginable.
    I’m on Celexa now and seeing a really good therapist who actually makes me feel like a person. I’m a military wife, and finding the right help for myself or even my soldier husband is always an uphill battle.

    Being part of your life, in at least the way you have made me a part of your life, is so valuable. It’s always comforting to know that real people in real places are dealing with some of the same things, and they still find time to laugh.

    Thanks to you, to Jon, and to Leta.

  • Marie

    2007/12/13 at 1:58 pm


    I’m printing this post as a pdf right now; I know it will come in handy SOME DAY.

    We’re all nut jobs. We all need to find ways to cope with it – and the rest. I’m proud of you for doing what it takes – and happy for you that it worked.

    Many cheers.

  • Kate C.

    2007/12/13 at 1:59 pm

    Being from a family full of panic disorder, I cannot thank you enough for posting this. People need to understand that unexplained anxiety and depression are physical illnesses, not something you get over if you “put your mind to it.”

    My husband is diabetic – I don’t see him thinking, “Hmmm, maybe if I *think* about it hard enough my insulin production will become normal.” That would be ludicrous. People should understand that it’s the same thing with brain chemicals. Diet and exercise help but you *need* medicine to get better.

  • April

    2007/12/13 at 1:59 pm

    I totally agree – my husband is bi-polar and my daughter is ADHD/ODD – so yes – I am on lexapro and boy do I understand so much. A day in my life is so up and down – sometimes I want to leave but thats why I am on medicine. I tried to get off of it but that lasted oh about 2 days. It was so bad.

    Love your blog.


  • Cathy

    2007/12/13 at 1:59 pm

    Thank you Heather. I was recently diagnosed with depression and have decided
    to take medication along with the therapy I am doing. Getting over the stigma is hard, but reading what you have written makes it a little bit easier. I will be re-reading this often.

  • Appreciative Reader

    2007/12/13 at 2:00 pm

    Thank you, thank you. I got hooked on your website because you were so open about your experiences with depression and I have been through some rough patches myself. Even being, as you are, on the “other side” of the dark days it still helps to be reminded that taking those pills (60mg celexa) every day is doing the best for me and not a sign of weakness.

  • ChaEsq

    2007/12/13 at 2:00 pm

    Well said – thank you for sharing.

  • Rachel

    2007/12/13 at 2:00 pm

    Half of me is so glad to hear this (because I’ve been there) and the other half is sad. Sad to know all about it, and sad that so many people need it. I’m more and more convinced that we are over mediated, and yet can totally identify with being sick. It’s confusing.

  • Nita

    2007/12/13 at 2:00 pm

    Amen. Thank you, I hope it helps someone make a decision to move forward.

  • Anonymous

    2007/12/13 at 2:01 pm

    Thank you.

  • scargosuun

    2007/12/13 at 2:01 pm

    Wow. I actually needed to read this today because I went off my meds over the summer and I am now thinking it may have been a bad idea for any number of reasons/incidents in the past couple months. I am glad that you posted this today and it may have done me more good than anything would have today.

  • Emmy

    2007/12/13 at 2:01 pm

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. I am forwarding your blog to a friend in need- Thank you for being so candid with this issue! You have no idea the people you are helping.

  • IO

    2007/12/13 at 2:01 pm

    Wow. Wow. Wow. WOW.

    Thank you x a million. You know, had I read this anywhere else I might not have really taken it in. But I read your blog daily and most days my life is pretty similar to yours. So I’m emailing this to my hubby who is on the fence about taking pills.

  • Becky

    2007/12/13 at 2:02 pm

    Here here! Thank you so much for this post! I just wish it was required reading for all.
    I too was diganosed with depression and anxiety and was on Prozac for many years before I got pregnant. I too, got off the much needed drug and went crazy after my son was born. Getting back on and staying on was the best thing I ever did for myself and my family.

    You are such an inspiration Heather!

    Thanks again.

    20mg of Prozac for The Rest Of My Life

  • Lisa

    2007/12/13 at 2:02 pm

    YES! Good for you! I’m so glad there are people out there that are able to talk about this stuff without feeling like they are freaks. I really appreciate the honesty and support for all of us that feel this way…….Thanks for making my day!

  • Leslie P.

    2007/12/13 at 2:03 pm

    Bravo Heather. Thanks for sharing. I have been dealing with anxiety since I was in high school. I was on Effexor for a while. About a year but while on it I gained a lot of weight. I decided to try going it on my own and through friends, family and allowing myself enough me time I’ve been ok for the past couple years. The first couple years of college were incredibly hard though.

    I graduated from college last weekend. They are coming back. There’s just so much anxiety about leaving and going to a new place and I feel completely overwhelmed by it. Just walking out of my very last class was difficult for me. Seeing my adviser for the last time to thank him was difficult. Handing in my last paper and saying goodbye to my coworkers… it’s been hard. But I’ll make sure that if I feel it is too much again I will get the help I need.

    Thanks for reminding me of that.

  • scoxsmith

    2007/12/13 at 2:03 pm

    How can you not say something to your friend if you have the confidence of your convictions. She will either hear you or she won’t, but you’ll know you’ve done what you can to help.

    This is a refreshingly honest story, if it doesn’t help your friend, it will help someone.

  • Patrick

    2007/12/13 at 2:04 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. Please continue being you!

  • Anonymous

    2007/12/13 at 2:04 pm

    Thank you for writing this – I too have stopped agonising about why things that seem so simple for other people are impossible for me without medication – I just think this is what I have to do to lead a semblance of a normal life. Small price to pay. I wish I could be as honest though…

  • Amanda

    2007/12/13 at 2:04 pm

    You make me want to be your friend. I think my son may have mental health issues. Writing that was hard.

  • Anonymous

    2007/12/13 at 2:05 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. It has taken me about 4 years to realize and admit to myself that my Zoloft is not a temporary fix but something I need to take daily and there is no shame or weakness about it. It’s just the way it is and I never have to bottom out again.

  • Jennifer

    2007/12/13 at 2:05 pm

    I agree completely. I also went off medication during my last pregnancy and it was one of the darkest times of my life. I went back on my meds two weeks after having my baby and it has saved my sanity. Thank you for posting this.

  • mish

    2007/12/13 at 2:05 pm

    thanks. need new/diff meds and therapy but dont want to deal w/ the pain of it. after years of no real life i know its time. thanks 4 the reminder. my new motto – life is great, as long as i never think about it. i just want life to leave me alone, but it persists on bothering me. i feel so sorry for my parents. see now i am thinking about life and is fucking sucks.

  • littlefirecrackr

    2007/12/13 at 2:05 pm

    Heather- I can not express how excited I am for someone to FINALLY speak the truth! You deserve the biggest, warmest, squeezingest hug ever!

  • jdubya

    2007/12/13 at 2:05 pm

    forwarding this to someone who needed to read just this exact message.. thanks, heather.

  • Sarah

    2007/12/13 at 2:05 pm

    I agree with you. My mother is diagnosed with schizophrenia and my dad worries a lot that my sister or I will start to show signs, my sister is now old enough that shes out of the normal age range, but because of some past mental health issues they keep an eye on me. My dad encouraged me to go into therapy several times throughout my life (starting very young, when I was in the 5th grade) to help cope with the feelings I have. He was in therapy as a child too. It’s really nice to have a family that backs you up on these things and I think your feeling on how to remain mentally healthy is something Leta will thank you for some day, even if she never really feels the need to go into therapy. Just knowing you’re there for her if she does is enough.

  • TheSpectrum

    2007/12/13 at 2:06 pm

    Hi Heather–

    Thank you so much for posting this. Many of my relatives have some form of mental illness and many others still think they should “suck it up” and stop “whining about depression”.

    Therapy saved my life. Thanks for sharing.

  • Anonymous

    2007/12/13 at 2:06 pm

    You are awesome. That’s just what I needed to hear.

    I’m really afraid of who I am without this medication, even more afraid of who I might become if I stay on it.

    Heather, you’re amazing.

  • Anonymous

    2007/12/13 at 2:07 pm

    Thank you, Heather, for sharing! It is so nice for people to be able to read about your past, and know that therapy and drugs really can help people, not make them weak. I’m so happy they have helped you to stay and have such a wonderful family, not run away from it all.

  • Kelly B

    2007/12/13 at 2:07 pm

    Hey, I’ve never said thanks to you. I’ve always had problem with anxiety and depression. Well, at least since puberty. I never had the courage to ask for anything for it because when I broached the subject with the doctor the first time he got this moralistic, you probably aren’t weak enough to need drugs, vibe.

    So I never brought it up again until this summer.

    I found your blog (I have a weakness for kid stories) and I was reading about your love of Commander Zoloft and started to think, “Huh, Mom liked Zoloft too and it made her much more pleasant.”

    Then I started to think about the two grad classes I signed up for and how much trouble I have sometimes without the 6 credit hours on top of 40 hr work weeks and I made an appointment to talk to the Nurse practitioner.

    Started out talking about my migraines, and said, “By the way I suffer from Anxiety and depression and need something to take the edge off. What can you give me.”

    She choose Zoloft because it has benefits for Migraine suffers too. It changed my life.

    I still have some depression and anxiety occasionally, but given the fact I went to three funerals, had a bizarre virus and am taking 6 graduate credit hours for which I don’t have enough time I’m doing good.

    I kept up with the reading most of the semester. AND I’m walking the dogs every day in the morning, which would have been impossible before.

  • JS

    2007/12/13 at 2:07 pm

    My late father in law resisted finding help, despite everyone around him pleading for him to do so. For those of us that aren’t battling, it seems so simple and easy to go find someone to talk to, to go speak with a doctor who might be able to prescribe the right path. But it’s incredibly tough for those that are actually in the fight and I know that he would’ve seen it as failure if he had admitted that there was a problem. He took his own life and I know he’s at peace now, but I wish he were at peace here, with us.

  • Megan

    2007/12/13 at 2:08 pm

    Way to say it!!!!

  • Erica

    2007/12/13 at 2:08 pm

    This post just convinced me to see my doctor. I’ve been trying to WILL myself over my depression. Giving excuses and explaining away the issue until I’ve convinced everyone but myself that I’m fine.

    Thank you for the kick, Heather. Thank you a whole lot.

  • Rootietoot

    2007/12/13 at 2:09 pm

    Thanks for this! I’m bipolar, on meds for 14 yrs, did the postpartum from hell 3 times…and you can have my left arm, all my teeth and an eyeball as well, but you can NOT have my lithium. I just don’t get why people are so offended by mental illness.

  • Ursula

    2007/12/13 at 2:09 pm

    Having taken care of my younger sister’s two older children after she gave birth, I know that postpartum depression is no joke. Thus, it’s inspiring to have you share your story so that others can know that there is help out there if they genuinely want it.

  • stella

    2007/12/13 at 2:09 pm

    Congratulations on getting the help you need.

    Do you have a medication plan for your next pregnancy? I ask b/c I took Neurontin for years for chronic pain, and during that time looked up if you could take it while pg. Well, apparently it causes cyclopsia. Yep, one eyed babies.

    Just curious if your dr had a rec for something else while pg. This is one of the many, many reasons I am not trying to get pg right now!

  • Deva

    2007/12/13 at 2:10 pm

    Reading this may be the push I need to talk to someone about my anxiety. When spending 20 dollars at the doctor about my finger that I smashed in the car door (read the blog for the almost play by play) to make sure the gash doesn’t require a tetanus shot, ends in panic and anxiety that almost has me in tears at work, I think I have mroe than a small issue. Especially if this is recurring.

    Thank you for being so honest.

  • kms

    2007/12/13 at 2:11 pm

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    I am an almost 30 year old, mom to a 3 year old, faithful reader who has also struggled with depression and anxiety and medication. I have seen the same therapist (I now call her my ‘life coach’) for 17 years. I have been on several different medications prior to and after my daughter’s birth. That event alone has thrown my emotional state(s) into a tailspin that I still struggle to steady on a daily basis.

    I so relate to you and everything you write about motherhood and self.

    I just want to thank you and I don’t think that any words can describe the effect that you have on so many other women out there. A positive one. One that makes, at least me, not feel as alone and helpless as I have before.

    Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    2007/12/13 at 2:11 pm

    YESSSSSSS. You go, girl. You tell them. Last week I had to listen to someone tell me about her mother being on antidepressants for 20 years and not being able to cry when she felt sad. She didn’t feel it had done her mother any good, and she wished she could just throw out all antidepressants. I looked into her eyes, and just said that I disagreed with her.

    What I should have told her was that I’d been on Zoloft for two years and that it had worked wonders for me, that it had not just patched up the hole in the bottom of my soul, it had filled it in with me, with a calmer, more patient, more capable me. I no longer fall into that hole and live in a deep dark sludge. I no longer find most actions of daily life an incredible effort to accomplish. I am a better mother to my children. I am no longer discussing divorce with my husband.

    I was originally prescribed Zoloft to help me sleep, but when I reported my actions to my sleep doctor he immediately upped the dosage. I talked to a counselor about my depression and she was determined to pin my depression on something, and when she found out that my mother had bipolar disorder she wanted me to blame all my problems on her.
    Well, I don’t have mania. I have depression. I think I’ve had it since grade school. I think it is a chemical problem for me, some inner workings don’t do something right. I can’t pin these feelings to any outer cause. They just are there, or were there, since I am on Zoloft now and it’s helping me immensely.

    I have read through several past years of your blog and I am so glad that someone who has as many readers as you do can stand up and tell us what helped her during her times of trouble. Hopefully it will lead more people to accepting they have a problem and getting themselves some help. Maybe the next time I see that other woman who denied antidepressants worked, I will now have the courage to tell her how I have been helped.

    Sorry this turned out so long, just had to spill my guts, I guess.

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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