the smell of my desperation has become a stench

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.

  • Anonymous

    2007/12/13 at 2:11 pm

    Let’s here it for drugs!! I have been on Lexapro for about 3.5 years and should have been on it a lot sooner. I admit to being nervous and “ashamed” when I first went to my doctor, but after seeing how it has changed my life for the better, I am all for it!

    Thanks for sharing your story with us.

  • Tamara

    2007/12/13 at 2:11 pm

    Wonderful, great post!

    And why the hell did they ever have you on Risperdal, at any point? Even at my novice level at medication knowledge, I know that one didn’t make any sense (for you) from what you’ve written about.

    Again great post, beautiful and succinctly said.

  • itspink4me!

    2007/12/13 at 2:11 pm

    Thank you..I have read your blog for a few years now and this is the first comment I have posted. I am a mom who is “on the fence” about medication for depression and anxiety. You are so right, I just want to be happy to see my child in the morning and be emotionally available to her during the day. No more excuses, time to call the doctor.

  • Sarah

    2007/12/13 at 2:11 pm

    Well said Heather!

    As the saying goes around our house:

    ‘Better living though chemistry!!’


  • Medical student

    2007/12/13 at 2:12 pm

    THANK you for renewing my hope and motivation for trucking through these years of school! Thinking about being able to help someone so effectively makes it all worth it. I hope I can make a difference to someone someday 🙂

  • Kim

    2007/12/13 at 2:12 pm

    My boyfriend has chronic major refractory depression and generalized anxiety disorder, so I’ve come over the last year and a half to understand a little bit more what it must have been like for you. Unfortunately, that little word “refractory” basically makes it so that there’s no one drug that will keep working for him for longer than… oh, I’d venture to say six months at a time. And even then it doesn’t necessarily bring him completely back from the depression state, really.

    He’s thinking seriously on going up to Washington state for some ECT treatment, which I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, it scares the bejeezus out of me. On the other, the only thing I wish for him is just some peace, since it’s not acute depression and will never be “cured”. I want him to be able to function for a long enough period of time to be able to finish a semester of school, then stretch that into a few semesters, to a diploma, to law school as he dreams. So here’s to hoping that his ECT is to him as your 40mg of Prozac is to you — a stable “fix” that will keep him going long enough to be able to enjoy his life.

  • Cecilia

    2007/12/13 at 2:12 pm

    Heather –

    If only people were as open and frank about the need to take care of themselves as you are – there might be less pain in this world.

    You are truly a remarkable woman, and I thank you for helping to shed the stigma of treatment for mental illness.

    Oh, and thank you for your humor – I always look forward to reading your blog!

  • Eve

    2007/12/13 at 2:12 pm

    I am going to try to get pregnant but I am concerned about the possible effects of the antipsychotics/anticonvulsants on my future child. I am scared to go off the meds but scared to stay on. Both sides have their pros and cons, how did you make the decision? Do you know of any resources online?
    Thanks for sharing your life with us, I too became interested in your blog because of your sharing.
    PS Chuck makes me happy. Thanks for his pictures.

  • Am TOO Verified ^o^

    2007/12/13 at 2:13 pm

    I feel you sister. Zoloft and Cymbalta here. I want to know how you functioned on 2400mg of Neurontin? I took only 300mg and fell asleep for 3-4 hours.

  • Nikki

    2007/12/13 at 2:13 pm

    Thank you for being so open about your experiences. I’ve been there, done that and I’ve never understood why anyone would choose to continue going through it! I’ve learned to cope with my issues but that doesn’t make it easier for those around me. It’s not something to be ashamed of and I encourage anyone who feels they need help to do so. I’ve watched my mother fight for the last 10 plus years trying to get herself straightened out with her medications, my grandmother is probably hopeless at this point because she’s 81 and determined to be miserable and while I’ve taken different things only to be let down, I know there’s probably a day that I’ll need to be back on something. I’d rather be happy and functional than laying on the kitchen floor in a heap.

    Good luck to you guys!

  • Sar

    2007/12/13 at 2:13 pm

    Here here. I have been treated for depression while I was in university – Zoloft was the thing for me as well, and I have been seeing a therapist regularly for about four or more years, since my husband left me after a year and a half of marriage and a 10 year relationship. My father was hospitalized when I was a teen for extreme suicidal depression, and made a remarkable recovery. He is a changed man since that dark time. I also have a friend who has been dealing with all manners of anxiety problems, including OCD symptoms, serious social anxiety and more for over two years since the birth of her child. While she has tried all manner of drugs, she continues to have problems, and I’ve really pushed her to try to see a therapist. I encourage everyone to take any measures necessary to maintain one’s mental health. There are so many options and combinations of treatments and there should be no shame in putting your emotional happiness and health first and foremost.

  • Sharon

    2007/12/13 at 2:13 pm

    Thank you for being SO strong and posting this. I started taking Effexor after my husband was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. I didn’t realize how unhappy I had been until I felt happy for the first time in years. (Not that I was happy about the cancer but I wasn’t even happy about the little things before.) My husband didn’t want me to take it but I didn’t care. I needed it.

    You don’t tell someone with asthma to get over it and just breathe or tell someone with a diabetes to just produce insulin. Once people realize that mental illness is a real illness and not just in your head, the world will be better off.

    And sure there are the cases of people taking drugs when they probably don’t need to. But that is what health professionals are for. Hopefully there are enough good ones to help.

  • Medical student

    2007/12/13 at 2:14 pm

    P.S. I’m so hoping people will read your post and realize that psychiatric illness are neuro-biological disorders and NOT moral or ethical battles they need to fight. Medicine has been fighting this stigma for years!!!!!

  • jams

    2007/12/13 at 2:14 pm

    thank you for this post heather.
    some days I wish I could just call you. few people I am close to can really understand this. thank you for providing so many readers with a silent friend that reminds us that we ALL have struggles. I truly appreciate this website more than you know.

  • Kim

    2007/12/13 at 2:15 pm

    Great stuff Heather. Your post will almost certainly change the life of at least one suffering person, if not way more. Good on ya!

  • Anonymous

    2007/12/13 at 2:15 pm

    I, too will be forwarding this to someone I think may really need to read it.

    Very well said Heather!

    Also, what a wonderful marriage to have the strength to get through this. So many men would have just stereotyped your behavior.

  • Erika

    2007/12/13 at 2:15 pm

    Heather, seriously, I have been hooked on your site for years. Your stories touch me beyond words. The pain you let us see brings tears to my eyes. I forwarded this to my friend who is on the fence. I finally after many, many years found a therapist that actually gave a crap and even though it hurts like hell right now I know She will help me get better.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.


  • Anonymous

    2007/12/13 at 2:15 pm

    you have no idea how important it was for me to read this today…things are slowly becoming clear to me. thank you.

  • chris

    2007/12/13 at 2:15 pm

    I live in Alpine, UT and love your site and courage to share all that you do. I JUST spoke with my brother this morning about this very topic. He’s been a vicodin addict for years and has been clean for a few months (I think???). Anyway, I was explaining brain chemistry and how the disease of addiction and depression can be related. He’s in great need of some support in the way of medication or therapy. My heart breaks for him. Reaching out and sharing about these things is so difficult because it leaves a residue – a sticky, grimy one – and you feel so exposed. I suffered from eating disorders so haven’t had the same exact path, but have been in the neighborhood. It’s a shame there’s such a stigma with having a brain chemistry issue. (I happen to have a little boy with Type I diabetes – so I hear the “insulin vs. SII” argument all the time.)

    I’m going to forward my brother (his wife too – ANOTHER story) the link to this post. You really are courageous. I hate to even post a comment – for “all” to see…

    Many thanks.

  • Jeanine

    2007/12/13 at 2:16 pm

    Hi Heather,
    You are brilliant. I love your site and read it every day. I will also be on some kind of medicine for the rest of my life. I liken it to being a diabetic. No one says a thing about a diabetic needing insulin. Our mis-wired brains will need some kind of help for the rest of our lives. I function today because of Lexapro AND Wellbutrin. I believe in better living through chemistry! Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    2007/12/13 at 2:16 pm

    I take Zoloft (for life) and it has saved me. I have 2 beautiful healthy daughters and took my meds throughout my pregnancy. Did your doctor let you know that Zoloft is ok to take during pregnancy? Prozac is also approved.
    Thanks for being so open. I wish more people could talk about it. My father died one year ago because of depression. If he could have been open about his feelings, he may still be here.

  • Amy

    2007/12/13 at 2:16 pm

    What a wonderful post. I know so many who cannot bring themselves to get help. Mental health should be our number 1 health issue, sadly it is not.

    I understand the hesitation in talking to friends. When I first went on medication for chronic depression and anxiety, I was astounded at the change and told everyone I knew. It was a miracle cure for me. It was interesting to see the varying reactions amongst my friends. That was an eye opener.

    I’m still open about taking medication and seeking help when needed and I encourage others to do so. But I am sometimes less ready to blurt it out to just anyone. That’s a shame.

    I too will go back to the therapist at the first sign I need to, and have done so 3 times with great success. I agree, life saving.

    Thank you!

  • Heather's Garden

    2007/12/13 at 2:17 pm

    Heather —

    It is so brave of you to share your personal battle against depression with the thousands of us who read your website. I have someone in my life who is in treatment and on medication, has threatened suicide, and regularly tells me that she has nothing to live for. I can’t share too much here out of respect for her privacy, but I understand how hard it is to see another person going through that kind of pain and not being able to help. I have repeatedly told her to see her doctor more often and adjust her medication, in part because I’ve read how you struggled when you had Leta and went off your meds. Your story really proved to me that medication can work. Thank you again for sharing your story.


  • Rachael

    2007/12/13 at 2:18 pm

    Thank you for this. I have anxiety and depression, and now I realize it started in high school, but I didn’t admit I had a problem till I was in college and slept through my entire fall semester because getting out of bed was too exhausting and scary and stressful. I cried at everything, had several incapacitating anxiety attacks, basically terrified my roommates. I thankfully went to an awesome doctor, who tried Lexapro first, miraculously it worked for me, and it has saved my life. I still have down times, and I’ve even had a few anxiety attacks in the two years I’ve been on it, but I function. Even on my bad days I can function. It’s not always pretty, but it’s life. It’s still hard to admit sometimes, I always want to hide it from my roommates, but I know that I need them to know, just in case.


  • Mary Jo

    2007/12/13 at 2:18 pm

    Thank you, Heather, for being so candid about what you have gone through. Your posts about your depression has helped me more then you could know. Just knowing that there is someone in the world that has felt the same things… Thank you for being so wonderfully open and willing to share your life with the world.

  • Liesl

    2007/12/13 at 2:18 pm

    Congratulations on such a moving and necessary post, but the funniest thing to me was the names of the drugs.

    “Abilify” sounds like something Dubya would say. “We need to abilify our troops to protectorate themselves!”

  • bridget mckee

    2007/12/13 at 2:19 pm

    i will forward this to my sister and hopefully you touch a nreve in her. So sad and so fixable.

  • Holly

    2007/12/13 at 2:19 pm

    I will never, ever, live a life without meds. If I could, I’d have a Wellbutrin shrine in my house. I used to be ashamed of taking it, like I was a failure because I couldn’t be happy on my own. But as you mentioned, I’m the happiest “failure” in the world on meds. Depression is a disease, same as my hypothyroidism.

    I think my grandmother was bi-polar, and my mom probably could have used some medication too, but neither lived long enough to see the 21st century medication we have now. If only…

    By the way, this blog is brilliant. I’d start a blog, but I could never live up to this one, not in a million years.

  • Staci

    2007/12/13 at 2:20 pm

    You Rock Heather!!! The honesty of this post leaves me breathless. There is no shame in any of this and more people need to understand that. I can’t begin to imagine what life must be like for all of you who have to deal with these issues. Congrats to you for your bravery in doing what needs to be done to have the life you deserve.

    Thanks, thanks a lot.

  • Yolanda

    2007/12/13 at 2:21 pm

    This post will be a gift for many. For some it will simply be validating. For others, it represents possibility. Either way, you have done a big thing by writing this today. I thank you.

  • Jill S.

    2007/12/13 at 2:21 pm

    I cannot thank you enough for being the first voice I heard say IT IS OKAY TO NEED HELP. We’ve never met, probably never will, but just as that doctor changed your life, you changed mine.

  • Jen

    2007/12/13 at 2:22 pm

    Thank you for confirming what I already know.

    After several months on leave from my job to work on this relentless depression, I was faced with the unfair decision to continue my ECT treatments and lose my job or go back to work and walk away from the only thing that has helped lighten the effects of this tormenting cloud that hangs over me.

    It’s three months later my depression is back, wicked as ever and I’m again having to face the same decision. This time, I’m choosing treatment because there is no salary that makes this darkness worth it.

    Again, thank you.

  • Amy

    2007/12/13 at 2:22 pm


    I appreciate you sharing your story. I too have told the same story to my friends. Anxiety controlled my life for as long as I could remember. it was dibillitating and just plain horrible. I used to tell people that if they touched me and felt what I felt on a daily basis for just ONE second that they would be like “DAMN”!

    I found Zoloft and it SAVED MY LIFE. I never want to go back. Never ever ever ever!

    Cheers to a happy New Year pumped full of medicine!

  • Sol

    2007/12/13 at 2:22 pm

    I kind of am afraid of reading anyone else’s comments because I’m deathly afraid some bambaklaat might be in there spewing the hate (what I’ve caught scrolling down has been positive, though) because thank you. THANK YOU!

  • schadenfreudette

    2007/12/13 at 2:22 pm

    Thank for saying this publicly. It needs to be said often and loudly and I’m glad that you are using your position to talk about this. Thank you.

    sufferer of chronic major depressive disorder, ADHD, agoraphobia with panic attacks, and generalized anxiety disorder. for yays!

  • Amy

    2007/12/13 at 2:23 pm

    B-R-A-V-E-R-Y. Those are your uppercase letters.

  • J. Bo

    2007/12/13 at 2:25 pm

    Me, too, Heather… on and off since high school. I hated admitting that medication was going to have to be a part of my life FOREVER, but once I let go of that need to be “perfect,” I realized being “imperfect” and able to function was better than being a “perfect” corpse.

    Thank you, once again.

  • Dave Vogt

    2007/12/13 at 2:25 pm

    Thank you for talking about your experience. I wish more people got the help they needed, whether that be counseling, medication, a combination, or just a set of lifestyle changes. My grandmother never believed in depression, and because of her my father never got treatment. I don’t know what my life would be like if he was still around, but my guess is “better than this.”

  • Amelia

    2007/12/13 at 2:25 pm

    It took many years for me to “admit failure” and it was the best thing I ever did. This last year with Celexa has been the brightest of my life. It was a tough step to take, but one I will never regret.

  • wendy

    2007/12/13 at 2:25 pm

    I don’t take meds. But I am in therapy, and have been for two years. I now tell anyone who is interested – I have panic disorder and I am in therapy – I am not ashamed, and am even liberated by celebrating my flaws. And you are the one that helped me to see that I needed to find someone – I didn’t have to suffer by myself anymore. I started reading your blog around the time you were hospitalized – and your openness about your problems helped me to see that it’s okay to need help. I will probably be in therapy for a while (so many issues) – but I am so much better – panic free and dealing with life. Thanks.

  • Katie

    2007/12/13 at 2:26 pm

    I call my infrequent or frequent (depending on what is happening in my life) visits to my counselor my “tune-ups.”

    And I’m forever grateful for a husband who is there for me during the good times and the bad.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Chuckles

    2007/12/13 at 2:27 pm


    Around the age of 40 I got sick of being a raging asshole, and went to the doctor and asked for something to stop it. They said it was depression, ok, fine, whatever, I just have bursts of rage that are totally out of proportion to the cause. I did not attack any loved ones, but I wasn’t pleasant.

    After a year of trying various chemical cocktails I settled on Zoloft, Lithium and Neurontin (for my restless legs more than anything else). I eventually tried getting off the pills due to expense, but it sent me into such a deep dark depression I had to go back on the Zoloft if nothing else.

    They’re not ‘happy’ pills, they simply even you out. I still get angry now and then but not the screaming road-rage-aholic I was.

    The fact is mental health is as important as physical and why not make sure that if you have a problem it gets taken care of? It may only be temporary, but until one gets checked out one never knows.

    Bravo for your continued stand on this common sense approach. You will not be alone standing in the ‘weak’ line, as if that made a difference.

  • Anna W

    2007/12/13 at 2:27 pm


    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I cannot tell you how much I needed this post today, of all days. I have struggled with depression myself for so long, too long. I was on Zoloft for a while, getting better, but decided I knew better than my therapist and took myself off. Big mistake.

    I had the worst day I have had in months today, and almost made a horrible decision.

    I am going to try this getting better thing again, and I thank you for helping me realize why. Someday I hope my husband and daughter can thank you too.

  • Evelyn

    2007/12/13 at 2:27 pm

    Amen, Sister,
    You said it. Zoloft gave me my life back and I thank goddess or whomever every day for it. I feel so lucky to live in this century where (at least in affluent parts of the world) people do not have to suffer despair and anguish because of a chemical imbalance. You’d get your broken arm fixed, wouldn’t you?? Same thing with your psyche.

    Thank you, Heather, for spreading the word and putting your name to it.

  • Philippe-A.

    2007/12/13 at 2:28 pm


  • Sara

    2007/12/13 at 2:28 pm

    There are a lot of words that I could use to say how reading about your struggle and victory with PPD changed the way I thought about myself. I had depression during pregnancy, and depression after, and simply being able to say to my husband, “Honey, I’m depressed, I need your help.” did wonders in those months. Reading about how candid you are about your depression did a lot for me, especially reading how Jon supports you and loves you in spite of and because of the C-R-A-Z-Y 🙂 But none of those words could ever say as much as a simple “THANK YOU” for this post and for sharing your life with the rest of us.

  • witchypoo

    2007/12/13 at 2:28 pm

    Can you hear an A-MEN?

  • Sadie

    2007/12/13 at 2:28 pm

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing, Heather.

  • Brandy S.

    2007/12/13 at 2:29 pm

    Hmmm, From the start, I thought my Daughter was very high needs baby. As she got older I thought she had autism. Just before her 3rd birthday she was diagnosed with having OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and ODD Oppositional Defiance Disorder. When she was diagnosed I said I would NEVER put my child on medication. To me that is just unacceptable. I should be able to help my child I’m her mother. What had I done wrong. I followed all the advice from my doctor when pregnant etc… Still she had a problem I couldn’t Control. After praying and thinking alot about what we as parents should do we ended up putting our 3 year old on Prozac. Hardest thing ever to do. Being the granola type mother that I am. Before she turned 3 I had left my husband 3 times. Moved out of state. and left my child behind. I couldn’t handle life anymore. I came back and seek out medical attention. I was Severely Depressed, I suffer from OCD and have major anxiety issues. I never knew this before. I thought the right thing to do when problems would arise was to run RUN away and fast. I now take 80mg Prozac daily. If I miss my meds EVERYONE can notice. People in my family say that I am not OCD that I’m not Depressed and everything is fine. I just wished they lived in my shoes when I was dealing with all this stuff. They would know how it felt and now how I feel. I’m happy. My daughter is happy. And our Family is doing Great.

    Thank you for writing this out. I need some affirmation today. Today is my daughters 5th birthday. We both have been on Prozac for over 2 years. We are finally acting like a mother and daughter should.

  • ben

    2007/12/13 at 2:29 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. Being treated for what ails you should not ever be stigmatized, be it mental or otherwise.

    Personally, I get by with the help of my friends Zoloft, Lamictal and Adderall.

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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