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.

  • Michelle D

    2007/12/13 at 2:29 pm

    Amen. There is no shame in mental health, no matter how you achieve it.

  • Nikki

    2007/12/13 at 2:30 pm

    After three years of doing nothing, and four years of trying to find what would work, I’ve been stable for a year on Celexa. It’s so wonderful to feel like myself again, for the first time since before I got pregnant. I am all about telling people what to look for, because the first time I really felt like myself, really calm, I knew it was going to be all right.

  • Jen

    2007/12/13 at 2:31 pm

    you haven’t gone into detail about your mental health story in a while, but I’ve been reading for long enough that I think of you as a great example of being open, and what it does to encourage other and destigmatize mental illness and all that jazz. thanks for bringing it up again for newer readers.

    Dr. O and escitolopram saved my life.

  • Jo Ann

    2007/12/13 at 2:32 pm

    I started having problems when I was a child.

    The medication doesn’t change WHO I am, it just helps me be the WHO that I want to be. And I won’t stop taking it again just because other people don’t understand.

    I tried three other medications before I found the one (and the dose) that worked best, with the least side effects.

    Sometimes it takes a few tries.

    Jo Ann
    Cymbalta 40mg in am, 20mg in pm

  • Kristine

    2007/12/13 at 2:32 pm

    I love myself more now that I can handle my life due to SSRI’s – Lexapro right now. That is also not including how much my family appreciates the fact that I have helped myself. In getting help, I inspired my mother (her words) to get help for her depression and codependent relationship with my alcoholic father, which in turn, helped my dad get sober (and find out he is bipolar). Wellbutrin helps him every day. Meds and meditation helped my brother deal with his anxiety/depression and therapy helps my sister deal with her own issues with codependence.

    Noone should have to live with unhappiness just to appease other people’s expectations. You have to accept you aren’t in control, then take control. It is very empowering.

    Thank you H for your inspiring post.

  • Rachel E.

    2007/12/13 at 2:33 pm

    AMAZING post today Heather. Kudos to you for continuing to speak out. It’s brave. My bonkers medicine (as my friend, Drew, calls it) saved my life.

  • Anonymous

    2007/12/13 at 2:33 pm

    Thank you Heather. I’m forwarding this to a friend who needs to hear this. Maybe it will give her the courage to get the help she needs.

  • Anonymous

    2007/12/13 at 2:33 pm

    You are THE best! Thank you very much.

  • Anonymous

    2007/12/13 at 2:34 pm

    Gosh, I hope your attitude is contagious. Mental health is just as important as physical health, if not more so. Often if a person is suffering a mental health problem it is only a matter of time before it can become disastrous to their physical being. I had a good friend who died a few years ago because of this. She was depressed after her divorce and back living with her parents. She stopped properly treating her very serious asthma and went into a terrible asthma attack as a result. By the time her father found her, she was unconscious and hadn’t been breathing for an unknown period. She languished in a coma for a few days before dying.

    Insurers in particular would do good to realize that mental health needs to be treated seriously. Then maybe others would be less frightened of seeking the help they need.

  • lawrie taylor

    2007/12/13 at 2:34 pm

    Thank you so much for not only presenting your problem, but also for presenting it in such a forthright way.

    Heather, I am a generation older than you and I grew up with a mother who kept secrets. Seems that my aunt, my mother’s sister, who I loved very much, suffered from physiological depression and after the birth of my two cousins she was diagnosed with post-partum depression which, supposedly, lasted until she died, more than five decades later. At the time she was treated with painful electric shock and spent time in a hospital. I never knew about this condition until I was grown and far from my family, where I have remained.

    My late aunt’s oldest daughter, the cousin I was closest to growing up, now suffers from OCD and is completely dominated by her husband, who, according to my other cousin, is worse than my uncle (my aunt’s husband) and also by her children. My cousin will probably never be able to take charge of her life and make the decision to seek help.

    One of my mother’s two brothers also suffered from depression and committed suicide. This was years ago.

    You are fortunate to have a husband and helpmate like Jon at your side, but ultimately it was your decision to seek help that turned the tide. I am sure your post will help many others.

  • Lauren

    2007/12/13 at 2:35 pm

    This bolstered me. I have finally accepted that I too will be on medication for the rest of my life. The hardest part about this illness is explaining it to the people you love who haven’t experienced it themselves. And it’s especially hard to answer the question, “so when are you going to stop taking meds?” Well uh, never, as a matter of fact. Because I just don’t function otherwise. In many ways I don’t try very hard to justify my existence as a bipolar person anymore. I just live with it, and if people are in disbelief that a relatively stable, personable and high functioning woman is bipolar, well then let them be. Because C-R-A-Z-Y looks different on everybody. Hearing other people’s experiences helps extinguish those remaining fires of doubt which prompt me to question my validity as a person. No, I didn’t just make this all up in my head and there are other people like me- living their lives and overall doing a pretty good job of it. Thank you Heather for putting this all out there for people to read.

  • shel

    2007/12/13 at 2:35 pm

    I suffer from type 2 bipolar disorder.

    I take Cipralex, which causes sleepiness, dizzy spells, and joy of joys, sometimes I get the shits from it.

    I also take Epival, a very strong anti-epileptic that is used to also treat bipolar patients. It’s hard on my liver, and it runs a slight chance of killing me.

    And yes, I put myself through this, because the two years I have been taking drugs to treat the bipolar disorder, my life stopped being a dead end. I’m just like you – I’m going to be on medication for the rest of my life. And I’m just fine with that.

    Thank you for posting this.

  • Anonymous

    2007/12/13 at 2:37 pm

    Heather, it’s possible that you just changed my life. Thanks for caring enough to share. Thanks for trying to the friend that is willing to tell the story.

  • Christine

    2007/12/13 at 2:37 pm

    Bless you, Heather. Hopefully your post will have an impact on your friend or whoever it is, and they will get the help they need.

    I’m happy you got the help YOU needed. I’m so happy you’re here.

    From yet another Lexapro-saved soul.

  • Cara

    2007/12/13 at 2:37 pm

    Thank you for posting this and doing your part to erase the social stigma associated with these medications. You have touched so many people with this post and I’m sure it will turn someone’s life around.

    Anti-depressants saved my sister’s life and helped my husband regain control of his life before it ruined our marriage. They will probably both be on medications for life, but it’s a small price to pay.

    I hope your friend reads this post and heeds the advice.

  • Alison

    2007/12/13 at 2:37 pm

    Thank you, Dooce. A year and a half ago at a very difficult time you are the reason I finally felt ok to seek help. And it has changed my life. I only wish I’d been less stubborn and not waited as long as I did. I wish I could sing your praises from every mountain top and so does everyone that knows me as we are all SO DAMN HAPPY now that I’m back 🙂

  • AmyM

    2007/12/13 at 2:38 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    I go back and forth about the state of my mental health. There are days when I think I’m OK, days when I am a raging lunatic, days when I don’t think I can deal with my life, and days when I’m hyper with happiness. I sometimes wonder if I should go on medication. I don’t live in my Crazy Days for very long, and if I was like that all the time, then I would definitely try to get medication. The fact that I have ‘good days’ throws me off. Because “oh, everyone has off days”.

    I saw a therapist for about a year and she never suggested I go on meds, but I never asked for them, either. It’s all so confusing, just because I don’t know what normal looks or feels like.

  • i i eee

    2007/12/13 at 2:39 pm

    Thank you.

    I too, will always be on something. And that’s okay.

  • sethonious

    2007/12/13 at 2:39 pm

    Thank you for sharing. I am not on meds, but sometimes I need to talk through (with a pro) a road block when I start getting sucked down the drain, otherwise the depression takes hold and I start to think that throwing myself in front of a MUNI is a good idea.

    I also have a mild OCD that forces me to work in prime numbers only, also I have a thing with silver ware and a few other things that most people think of as quirks. They are totally manageable as long as I can do things the right way.

    I hope that anyone who needs a pro or a pill would get it and we would have a lot more happy people around

  • Laura

    2007/12/13 at 2:39 pm

    My story is very similar to yours – I suffer from severe anxiety disorder that probably started earlier than high school. I finally gave in and started medication in college and it made a whole world of difference. I foolishly went off of it for a few months after I started feeling better and went through a very dark period. Luckily I have had a supportive family, fiance, and medical staff (a therapist who has saved my life many times). I agree with you – I will never be off the medication, and it’s a fact I accept and choose wholeheartedly. I wish you and your friend much luck!

  • kforkeely

    2007/12/13 at 2:40 pm

    I’m one of those lurkers that reads your blog and doesn’t comment, but I wanted to say that this post has really struck a chord with me. Thanks for putting it out there.

  • Kara

    2007/12/13 at 2:40 pm

    As someone who has suffered with depression and anxiety for years and years and can’t quite grasp why the stigma against getting help still exists…thank you.

  • Sheri

    2007/12/13 at 2:40 pm

    Very well written. I’ve watched a loved one suffer. Suffer needlessly while being told, “Oh, you’ll get over it.” She is 44 now and for the first time EVER, she said the words “I am happy”.

  • Josh

    2007/12/13 at 2:40 pm

    Amen. 10mg/day Lexapro after the longest 2 months of my life and I’m a whole new person. I can wake up and face the day. I still have low points but what a difference.

  • Lo

    2007/12/13 at 2:41 pm

    Here I’ve been sitting at my desk for the past 8 hours trying to get up the nerve to call my “crazy doctor” to put me back on Zoloft for the third time (the first time being for ppd and anxiety, the second time because I shouldn’t have gone off it the first time) afraid that to do so would be to admit that I’m broken forever, and I read this post. What timing you have. This isn’t the first time you’ve inspired me. Thank you!

  • Lizzi

    2007/12/13 at 2:42 pm

    Thanks so very much for taking the time to write this, Heather. Having the courage to do what works for you and be proud of it isn’t Crazy … it’s ‘nads baby!

  • Brandy

    2007/12/13 at 2:42 pm

    Thank you for writing this. My bestfriend recently started talking to me after giving me the silent treatment for 5 months because I suggested she seek help because maybe she was depressed. I spent months listening to her talk about being sad and negative so when she asked what I would do I could only honestly tell her to get help, which was not what she wanted to hear at all. I have suffered with depression for more than half my life now and for most of that I suffered silently. Even after 2 suicide attempts at the age of 15 I didn’t get help, no one offered help because it was “just a phase” and I should “stop being so miserable.”

    Once I got help it was like putting on glasses for the first time and realising that I wasn’t seeing anything the right way.

    I think it’s really important for people to be more open and honest about mental health because everyone is somehow affected by it.

    Thanks again.

  • Melissa

    2007/12/13 at 2:43 pm


    Why does it take women so long to admit they need help. What you described in your blog today sounds exactly like what I have been dealing with for the past few years. I am now on several medications to help with depression and mood stabilizers and am so much happier with life. I am a non functioning bitch when I am unmedicated yet for years I felt I was OK and could handle things. I have been on the medications I take now for just over a year and am so much more peace with my life than I think I have ever been. Thank you for sharing it is nice to know others have dealt with the same struggles.


  • Friendly

    2007/12/13 at 2:43 pm

    You are awesome. I’m so glad your blog exists.

  • Jenny

    2007/12/13 at 2:43 pm

    Amen. Wellbutrin is the reason I am here today. I waited until I was 25 because my parents were so adamant that whatever problems I had were just my fault for not being able to “pull it together” and that a Rx would just make me sick. It still makes me sad to think of my younger self, who suffered for nine years needlessly because I didn’t take the antidepressants the first time they were prescribed for me.

    For me, as well, the change was almost instantaneous. I had been in bed for seven weeks and suddenly (the very next day, actually) I was able to go grocery shopping. It was absolutely a miracle. (I know I was really lucky and that it takes longer for some people, but this was my experience.) No one who has ever experienced this could have any doubt about the chemical nature of depression. There was no possible way I could have just “pulled myself” out of this. Because taking that first pill was like flipping on a light switch that I couldn’t reach on my own.

    I tell this to everyone I know in the hopes that one person won’t go a day longer without at least trying another option for help. It cannot be said enough how worth it it is just to try.

  • HollyWill

    2007/12/13 at 2:43 pm


    Thank you for being so open about your experience. I too will be on Zoloft or something like for the rest of my life. (And twice a month therapy until my therapist dies.) I try to be open about my depression because I think it helps reduce the stigma associated with mental health disorders. Luckily, I was able to get my post-partum depression treated immediately with the help of my psychiatrist/therapist. I hate to think how much pain I would have caused myself and my family if I hadn’t.

    Thank you, Thank you for your openness about this issue and miscarriage.

  • Christina

    2007/12/13 at 2:44 pm

    Fantastic. I’ve been reading your blog for awhile, but have never posted a response even though so much of what you write resonates with me. But this time I have to say thank you.

    My 82 year old mother was diagnosed with late-life bi-polar disorder a couple of years ago. A diagnosis that came after a 3-week hospitalization in a psych ward, after which she was put on medication. I can’t tell you the mix of joy and sadness that my sisters and I felt about this. Joy because we finally saw our mother responding to crisis with reason and not hysteria. But sadness because of how long she waited to get herself treated. Years of depression and mania that took its toll on her and us, all because she worried about being called crazy.

    I am so happy to know my crazy mom. And crazy now is only used in our conversation when we’re talking about the time when we *didn’t* do something.

  • Julie

    2007/12/13 at 2:45 pm

    Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve been on meds for severe depression on and off since my freshman year of college, and have always felt that if that was what I needed to do to be sane and happy again, that was what I would do. My boyfriend, on the other hand, views anti-depressants as something no one needs in their body, despite being as severely depressed as I’ve ever been. I’m printing this post out for him. Maybe another voice beside mine telling him it’s okay will make the difference.

  • Peter

    2007/12/13 at 2:45 pm

    What happened to the Zoloft?

    I understand going off of it while pregnant, and perhaps not while breastfeeding.. But with the prior success, why wasn’t that your first try once you went to the hospital?

  • Debi

    2007/12/13 at 2:45 pm

    WORD Infinity, girl! 🙂

    Keep up the good work. Love to you and yours.

  • Pamela

    2007/12/13 at 2:47 pm


  • lucky13

    2007/12/13 at 2:48 pm

    thank you for sharing this with all of us.

  • Kriss

    2007/12/13 at 2:48 pm

    About 6 months ago, I asked my doctor for help. Told her I was having dark days, lost my energy, was avoiding social situations, lost my focus, was angry all the time, etc.

    She told me to find a way to work through it. On my own.

    Flash forward to today, and I’m still angry. And crying a lot. And yelling too much.

    So THANK YOU for putting this out there today. I think it’s time to find a different doctor. One who might actually, you know, help.

  • Angelique

    2007/12/13 at 2:49 pm

    Bless you. Bless you Heather.
    I have made the mistake of thinking that just because I have a handle on things that I can go off my meds. I can’t. I give in, the meds win, and in realizing that – I can enjoy life’s little hiccups.
    … like when my little girl gives me a big hug in the morning before we load up to go to daycare – with her hands covered in banana – and I don’t realize until I am greeting my first client of the day.
    That used to bring me down so far that I would resent her. My little ones – my kids. I lost sight of perspective. That’s what anxiety and depression are – losing sight of perspective.

  • Katie

    2007/12/13 at 2:49 pm

    Thank you. Maybe my boyfriend will be able to hear this from you better than he hears it from me. I’m coming from the outside, never having spent a second of my life feeling the crippling anxiety and depression that he’s had every day for over ten years now. Watching the biggest ‘tough guy’ I know break down on a regular basis and then refuse to get help come morning is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Just an idea…is there any way that Jon could write something like this from his side? I can’t be the only partner out there who’s overwhelmed by trying to help someone with something I can’t begin to understand.

  • Anonymous

    2007/12/13 at 2:49 pm

    I almost stood up in my office and gave you a standing ovation after reading the last sentence of this entry. You truly are amazing! I pray that your friend sets whatever it is standing in her way, and gets help.

    You are an inspiration. Not only to those who deal with depression, anxiety, and the like. But to people as a whole. Thank you Heather for sharing your story.

  • Kristy

    2007/12/13 at 2:49 pm

    Thank you. What I just read has given me that final little nudge I needed to gain control of my life again.

  • LCA

    2007/12/13 at 2:49 pm

    Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I read about your struggles with depression (I started reading in early ’05) before I realized I had my own, and you are the sole influence that let me know that there really was something wrong IN me, but not WITH me. You took away the stigma and gave me hope. I still struggle with the point of view that says my Zoloft isn’t a real cure, and if I knew what was good for me, I would be in therapy. But once again, you validate me, and I know that I need it and that’s OK.

  • Brandy

    2007/12/13 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks Heather. That whole ordeal that you went through is one of the things that has kept me coming back to your blog, because I relate so much. And Effexor is one of the best things to ever happen to me. I still have ups and downs, but they are normal, healthy ups and downs.

  • Anonymous

    2007/12/13 at 2:50 pm

    I nominate Heather for sainthood!

    Who’s with me?

  • Jen

    2007/12/13 at 2:51 pm

    Heather, you are awesome as always! Thank you!

  • tara

    2007/12/13 at 2:51 pm

    really needed to hear this today heather. how did you know?

  • Anne Lindenfeld

    2007/12/13 at 2:51 pm

    THANK YOU! After years of therapy and Wellbutrin, massive quantities of fish oil, vitamin D3, bioidentical hormones, and thyroid medication, I can say that I am at peace with myself and (dare I tempt fate?) happy. This therapeutic-meds-hormone- etc. cocktail is the stuff that gets me through my day, keeps me married, helps me be the parent I want to be, and generally makes me different from the chronically depressed, bipolar, etc. genetic pool that I came from (aka my family members who refuse treatment for mental illness.) I muddled along with my depression for years until menopause arrived to kick my butt — and make my depression grow to monstrous proportions. Thank god I had the good sense to get myself some very good help.

    I just don’t get it when people say to me, “Well, I’m on this anti-depression medication, but I’m going to wean myself off of it as soon as I can.” That’s like a diabetic saying they’d like to cut back on the insulin.

    Better living through chemicals.

  • Manda

    2007/12/13 at 2:52 pm

    thank you dooce. you’ve given me the courage to let the shame go and open my life to what has been graciously given to back to me — my life. After 10 years in therapy and countless medications I have finally been properly diagnosed with BPD. Not one of the several therapists and psychiatrists in those ten years ever ever mentioned BPD. It was only until I put myself in a partial hospitalization program they said, “Manda, you have BPD.”

    Sometimes it takes a crisis for people to realize they need treatment. And sometimes — most of the time — it takes friends and family to intervene. “You need to put yourself into a hospital.” I didn’t want to admit it but I was literally going to die if I didn’t get serious help. It took a friend to say that to me and help me swallow my pride. I was so scared but the pain was so great. I wonder how many countless others go along with their lives suffering when there is actual treatment that work. I never thought i’d get my life back, no matter how hard I prayed. But it’s not even been a year and I can actually say that I am living.

    So much so, that I’ve realized I want to help others not only get treatment but find the RIGHT treatment. I hope to contribute to this new way of thinking about mental health, especially for those who have BPD. If only I can find the courage to do it. With your post, you’ve helped me a further along. Thank you, dooce!!!

  • carolion

    2007/12/13 at 2:52 pm

    This week I’m celebrating my fourth year on SSRIs, and next spring I’ll be celebrating my college graduation. The latter would have been impossible without the former. I am so, so proud of myself.

    (now, back to studying for finals!)

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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