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.

  • Jen

    2007/12/16 at 6:41 pm

    Thanks for being so forward with this topic. I’ve studied a little bit of neuroscience and it still is hard for me to talk about chemical imbalances in the brain. Neuroscience is still a young field and it will take a while for people to become comfortable with such a formidable topic.

    I was on Prozac for four years, but I weaned myself off it slowly. I haven’t needed it since age 25, so I consider myself very lucky that I am stable. I know there are people who need to have medicine for the rest of their lives (I do too, but for asthma and probably ADD).

    Given struggling in misery with depression or being on treatment despite stigma, I would do the same all over again, so kudos to you for knowing what is best for you and your family.

  • Andi

    2007/12/16 at 7:19 pm

    Lexapro saved my marriage, my life. As a mom I struggle everyday, but getting help (in many forms – thank you,God) made it easier.
    And congratulations to all of those who left comments. I know MANY people, normal, everyday people who are taking or have taken medication for a mental illness. We are not alone.
    I will send up a prayer for all!

  • Jess

    2007/12/16 at 7:32 pm

    I agree very wholeheartedly that meds are sometimes THE only thing that can work. I’ve had two very bad seasons of anxiety/insomnia – one in junior high and one in college. Looking back I can see that for me, the combination of external stress and hormonal imbalances were the culprits. In junior high I was entering puberty and living with an alcoholic father. (I would wonder around my dark house at night crying because I was the only one awake. I felt so crazy and lonely. It was terrible.) In college I was getting ready to graduate and had gained just enough weight to really throw my body off kilter hormonally. Looking back I think these seasons would have been a whole lot easier (and shorter) with the help of a good doctor and medication. But, I did learn a lot about my body and it’s response to stress, weight gain, hormonal stuff, etc. Now when I experience a few sleepless nights, I know my body is trying to tell me something and I listen.

  • Christine

    2007/12/16 at 8:15 pm

    Heather, you are amazing. I am nine months pregnant and made the difficult decision to stay on 40 mg of Celexa through my pregnancy. I’m hoping my baby suffers no ill effects, but I’ve gone off my meds twice and it hasn’t been pretty. You need to take care of yourself. I too suffer from chronic anxiety, which leads to depression; I too will never be without the pill bottle, and I have made my peace with it. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being so honest and dignified about such a difficult — and such a common — problem.

  • Susan

    2007/12/16 at 8:25 pm

    Yowee. What a great post. I couldn’t get through all the comments, so I’m sure you (Heather) don’t either, but in any case, I wanted to say thanks. I’ve been an advocate for mental health drugs for a long time. Seriously, why would you not want to feel like a normal person? However, I’ve been struggling this weekend to acknowledge that I have another issue. A drinking problem. I’ve been thinking all weekend that I can handle it myself. I appreciate your post because all though I wouldn’t hesitate to get help for my depression and anxiety, I couldn’t imagine telling someone I had a drinking problem. I have a therapist. I need to go admit it, and get help. Thanks!

  • Emily

    2007/12/16 at 8:41 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve only been reading your blog for about a year now, but you seem like such a remarkable person. This reaffirms my belief.

    I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety since I was ten, PTSD at least since I was eighteen. I’ve been on antidepressants since I was eleven. I will never stop taking them because I know that I am not myself when I do. I’m not perfectly happy when I’m medicated, but I can get out of bed and I don’t feel like dying, and the happiness I make on my own.

    I have a chemical imbalance, and I’m not ashamed of it. No one should be.

  • Chrissy

    2007/12/16 at 9:29 pm

    Are you even looking at these comments anymore? Thank you for sharing your experiences. I suffered through an adolescent depression without any treatment and endured post-partum depression with my first child. With my second child my PPD was so bad that I literally couldn’t eat for weeks & lost 45 pounds in 5 weeks (I only gained 20 pounds during my pregnancy). I was incapable of taking care of my children & was withering away and contemplating suicide when my husband finally convinced me to seek treatment. I must say therapy did zilch for me, but Zoloft literally saved my life. Thank you for making me feel not so alone.

  • Anniemcq

    2007/12/16 at 10:36 pm

    Thank you. Depression is a f@cker. Your candor might just be the light that someone needs to get them to that next step. Hugs to you.

  • Anonymous

    2007/12/17 at 12:02 am

    1088 aspadenigaros–Go see a family member so that he/she can give you your meds quickly, please.

    Thanks, Heather, for a post that will no doubt save lives.

  • miki

    2007/12/17 at 3:06 am

    how live this people ??? life could be simple and money have priority funny funny,click here!

  • Jill

    2007/12/17 at 3:23 am

    I suffered horribly from pre and post natal depression. I was lucky that it appeared hormonally-linked and temporary.

    I did think of you and your honesty regarding depression and went very close to seeking help. If only I had. I spent about 10 months in hell and I needn’t have.

    The only reason I didn’t? I didn’t want it on my record that I had a mental illness. The stigma attached to it is horrid and horribly wrong. If I suffer during a subsequent pregnancy, I know what I must do.

    Thank you. You’ve helped a lot of people with this.

  • Tracey

    2007/12/17 at 4:19 am

    absolutely, exactly, a-freaking-men

    i feel lucky that my anxiety issues are food allergy related (yes, it happens and people still ask me to ‘get over it’, that it can’t possibly be!).

    you’re an amazing human, heather b. armstrong!

  • Carmen

    2007/12/17 at 6:31 am

    Thank you for writing. You have said what I have wanted to say for years. Bless you and hurray for Prozac. = ) I know I am alive because of it. Depression and anxiety is a form of mental cancer. It can kill you. Thanks for writing!!

  • Rev.Z

    2007/12/17 at 6:56 am

    This is the exact reason I continue to read your blog (apart from the witty sarcasm and general good sense of dark humor). Your honesty and courage to face something that seemed shameful at one point and is simply a matter of fixing a part encourages us all. And yes, you have helped others. I hear it often.

  • Sarah

    2007/12/17 at 7:25 am

    I want to cry .. because you just may have saved many lives this Christmas Heather. Seriously, people look up to you and enjoy your posting already and to now read this it is such a big part of your world, brutally honest, and if I could think any more highly of you .. I guess I do!

    You are one in a million!

    and you have a super-duper hubby too 🙂

  • Someone Who Admires You Very Much

    2007/12/17 at 7:39 am

    Having gone through one of the hardest and most confusing years of my life in 2007, I am now in therapy and last week the doctor told me I had PTSD and that I should consider Lithium as a mood stabilizer as I work through this mess with her.

    I told her I’d think about it and when I left there, I was completely against it. I’m so afraid that I will have to rely on drugs to run my brain for the rest of life. I know nobody can possibly help me make that decision based on these few sentences.

    It’s not the stigma, it’s the fear that I will mess up my brain even more by relying on a foreign substance. I’m terrified. I plan on telling her my fears when I see her again next month.

  • Raven

    2007/12/17 at 7:46 am

    Thank You So Much!!!!!!!!! I am taking medication for depression. Effoxor 150mg and Paxil 60 MG also I think pamalor is for depression. I can honestly say I am still depressed but I do not know why. I have health issues that are not under control but I am working on it. Then the normal everyday issues.
    This past Friday I completly lost it. I had this feeling of IMPENDING DOOM ….My stomach hurt my head hurt I felt sick to my stomach and I was crying uncontrolably until hubby who can’t stand to see me cry started to yell ( thats how he deals when I cry or he cracks jokes) and that made me stop crying. I don’t think I cried enough, does that make sense? I just grabbed a handful of my meds and sleeping pills ( not an overdose but more than I should take and waited until I was tired enough and then passed out. Hubby being concerned that I had not eaten. Woke me after he made dinner so I could get something to eat. I was sooooooooo angry that he woke me. There is something wrong with that. I got up and said nothing ate 4 bites said thanks took more meds and went back to bed. Sat AM woke up and still felt the same way. My nerves were RAW. I could not stand the sound of hubbys voice the tv even my neighbor who is a Dear sweet person who understands depression got on my nerves. I could not wait to go back to bed, but I could not sleep.
    Took meds early. Woke in the middle of the night with this IMPENDING DOOM feeling again grabbed more sleeping meds prayed prayed and prayed and went back to bed. Sunday afternoon 3pm dragged myself out of bed and I was feeling a bit better but not myself. Sunday night took reg meds. Still not feeling myself but I guess a bit better. Woke up early at 6am not feeling as bad but thinking OH NO a whole day ahead of me. This has never happened to me or if it did it never lasted this long. Can anyone tell me what the heck happened to me or is happening to me???? Not sure if I was suppose to post this here and sorry if I was in the wrong but I really was not sure what else to do. Thank You
    Love Hugs Prayers and Butterfly Angel Kisses Connie

  • Katrisha

    2007/12/17 at 7:48 am

    Thank you for putting this so plainly and with such passion.

    After my first child, very closely followed by a miscarriage, I had extreme postpartum depression. I rarely left the house, and if I did I wore my p.j.s. I “got over it,” about a year later, but never really fully recovered. Fast forward 2 more years, and I found out I was pregnant again. From the first moment of that test being positive I was basically suicidal. I talked to my doctor about it and she gave me Zoloft. It was a bit controversial to take it while I was pregnant, but I took it religiously and made it through a very happy and healthy pregnancy alive. My husband and older child made it to. Zoloft was my miracle pill, and I’ll sing it from the mountain tops. No one should have to suffer through what I went through.

  • Ms. Pants

    2007/12/17 at 8:48 am

    It’s been said time and time again, but thank you.

  • lightbulb moment

    2007/12/17 at 9:00 am

    Why didn’t I read something like this a few months ago and gotten myself on the meds I so clearly need?
    I tried prozac a number of years back but it gave me palpitations and to be honest, I wasn’t accepting that I needed help. It was a matter of course I went to the doctors to heed the advice of my better half. I thought the doctor would just give me some mild relaxants let alone prozac – oh, the shame!
    I think half the battle of dealing with depression is accepting you have depression and today I have accepted it. God, how depressing! Its taken me 7 years to realize that!
    Anyhoo Heather, thanks for such an inspiring piece of your heart. You made me see clearly today and probably for the rest of this very dark time in my life.

  • Jessica

    2007/12/17 at 9:13 am

    You gave me the courage to finally call and make that appointment to get back on something. I keep trying to fight the anxiety and depression on my own, but I can’t. I don’t understand why it is so hard to admit I have a problem and fix it. Instead I want to ruin my life by taking everything out on my significant other. I like to blame things on my job or him or my friends. Really all along I knew it was that depression and anxiety creeping back in. And why don’t I get help? It might be the $25 co-pay or maybe the possible weight gain as a side effect of the meds. Regardless, I’m putting my foot down and doing something about this. I miss being happy. I know it’s an obtainable thing, if I just admit to myself that I need that medicine to fix the imbalances. I too was on Zoloft years ago. I don’t know why I ever quit taking it. I guess because I “felt better.” I did then, but the old habits always find their way back in. Thanks Heather.

  • lindsaywillman

    2007/12/17 at 9:29 am

    flattery in the best form:

  • Valarie

    2007/12/17 at 9:31 am

    Thank you Heather. This was an incredible post. Your honesty, humor and intelligence are truly inspiring. Thank you for sharing with us.

  • Karry

    2007/12/17 at 9:41 am

    Been reading your site for … oh… 6 years or so now.

    I recently went back on my drugs because I was afraid I would lose my kids. (It was that bad)

    I didnt want to go back on em because the last drug I took (Celexa) didnt help much. I figured I’d just work through it. (Going through a divorce here) But a year later and I’m still stuggling much as ever with sleeping too much, then sleeping not enough, and forgettign to eat (I lost 30 lbs in 2 weeks because I forgot I was hungry)…. finally the implied threat from the school social worker about my kids being removed from my care and I went back to my doctor. I WILL NEVER GIVE MY KIDS UP.

    Now, I’m happy and on Effexor. Depression took my marriage, it took my car, it stole whole months of my life (I cant’ remember what happened between thanksgiving 2006 and July 2007 – it’s just not there) and it very nearly took my life. Now, I’m still losing my marriage, and I might still lose my house, (Not only did I forget to eat, but I forgot to pay bills) but I am ALIVE, I still have my children, and I can LAUGH again.

    I can’t say enough about the benefits of “happy pills”. I’ve bounced on/off em for years because I knew I needed em but didn’t want the stigma.

    After this last round – I decided who the hell cares about stigma. I want my life back and if the pills help me keep it, so be it.

  • A loyal reader for 2+ years

    2007/12/17 at 9:44 am

    I am the poster child for Wellbutrin. And I believe whole-heartedly in therapy.

    Love your blog, Heather.

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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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