This here bringer of the pooper to the fun party

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.

  • jess

    Ditto everyone else. Thank you so much. You probably will never know how many people your words have comforted today!

    It’s so hard to talk about this stuff. I thought meds were bad, even though I needed them. I constantly told myself I would someday wean myself off. But after going through several brands that didn’t work, and finally finding one that [mostly] does…I don’t know.

    The shame and the stigma is what gets me. But deep down inside, I know it’s working, so why mess with that? Why should people feel the need to break themselves when things are working?

    In other words, you are bad-ass.

  • Melissa

    I was overwhelmed when I was filing for divorce and my boss suggested that I go to therapy. I cannot thank her enough for not judging me and showing me that I could get through the humiliation of the divorce with the pride in knowing that I was doing the right thing for myself and my son. Even my friends commented on how “put together” I was during that time and I attribute that directly to the therapy I received.

    Thanks for a great post!

  • megan

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    I think more people (especially women with children) suffer from mental health issues and don’t even realize it. I also think it’s very prevalent in Utah culture (i.e. Mormon) because we are taught from a young age that prayer and blessings can cure anything you’re dealing with and that you must be absolutely perfect in everything you do in life. So many women needlessly struggle with mental illness because they believe if they admit they are “sick” they will be chastised, talked about, and seen as a poor mother and wife. Also, they are scared not to take any kind of drugs (except diet coke) because of the awfulness of addiction that is spewed forth.

    It’s sad, really.

  • La

    I can’t tell you how closely this hit home for me. I dealt with crippling anxiety for YEARS before I did anything about it. I was afraid to take medication because of the side effects. I was afraid it was going to change my personality. But most of all? I was just afraid. Of everything. And I finally made the decision to start meds this past summer, and I have to tell you? Zoloft absolutely changed my life. I’m me again. And I can breathe again. And I can live my life without fear again. Thank you for your honesty in this post, and all of your others, as I’ve been a fan of yours for years, but not sure I ever commented. Thank you, Heather. And I’m so glad you are ok.

    🙂

  • Amen, I was so worried when my doctor first put me on medication for my on-off depression and anxiety. I’ve had mixed results but for the most part the medication helped when it should have. I have to go off the medication because my depression goes away and then the medication has strange side-effects. But I’m no longer worried about going to see my doctor when the crying starts ever few years. I’m happy to say that thereapy helped; real therapy not the crack counseling that sometimes masks itself as therapy until someone comes along who actually can make a medical diagnosis.

    Your post will help so many.

  • So brave! Bravo – I don’t know what I’d do without medication and therapy – it saved my marriage years ago and keeps me going today!

  • Anonymous

    Thought process: “Chronic Anxiety? I should look that up…. Hmmm, maybe that is that why I keep having those panic attacks or go home from work crying and not knowing what is wrong? Or having ‘day-mares’ about my dog running in front of traffic or my house being too messy and ending up having to deep breathe into a paper bag.”

    Thank you for being so open. It was great to read the comments and feel so much less alone.

  • kjc

    It certainly is a hard bump in the road to realize that you will need to be on medication for the rest of your life. But, I wish I had found medication and therapy 30 years ago. My life would have been a lot easier. Thank you Heather. Your honesty is what keeps me coming back… just sign me Lexapro 20mg… for life and happiness.

  • “…being a failure is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than the constant misery of suffering alone.”

    That right there is the most articulate and spot-on advocacy for treatment I’ve ever read. No picture of an egg under a raincloud ever hit me as hard as these words.

    You have a serious gift, Heather.

  • Thank you so much for writing that. I’ve just come back from…well, let’s just say the most hellish part of my day, week, month, and possibly year and I think I really needed to that.

    I come from a family whose members have been diagnosed, and gone undiagnosed with various disorders (I like to say “painted crazy up one side and down the other), and that stigma still exists within my family. it’s horrible to be ill, but it’s even more awful to deny yourself treatment.

  • Thank you.

  • This is a really honest, genuine post and I hope that it does help people as you intend. Perhaps this is an overly personal question, but I am genuinely curious to know how you plan to balance medication and pregnancy this time around. I know nothing about this type of medication, but I’m assuming that you went off Prozac the first time because it isn’t supposed to be taken during pregnancy? Or is it actually okay to take it? If not, what will you do to avoid having similar problems again?

  • I think one of the greatest things about you and your website is that you share your struggle with depression and your recovery so openly, honestly and unapologetically. Over the years, I imagine you’ve helped countless people simply by telling your story. I know it’s helped me. Thank you.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this, Heather. I suffered for years with atypical depression because I was a minor and my parents didn’t “believe” in medicating any sort of mental problem. Three years and a ton of Wellbutrin later, I know they still don’t approve, but I cannot believe I lived the way I did for so long.

    I am so happy to be a “failure.” I hope there are others out there – people who are toughing it out – and after reading your blog, they decide to take a chance on therapy or medication.

    He probably still won’t understand, but I’m going to mail a link to my father right now.

  • andi

    my husband says that if i am depressed it is because i am not praying enough. i sneak zoloft at work…if i didn’t, i would have left by now.

    there are some things that prayer just cannot fix…even for those of us who do it often.

  • kit

    It’s taken me a while to admit that I will probably be on medication for depression for forever. It took me a long time to get over being mad. I’m having a hard time because I think the current med I am on just stopped working. :/ It’s like I got pushed back on that roller coaster which makes me so sad.

  • AMEN!

  • Anonymous

    I needed this and because I have officially given up trying to have a baby, I will go see a doctor after the new year to be put on something. I need something to help me. My anger is out of control and it’s no way to live.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you. This brightened my day and saddened it at the same time. I happen to be married to someone who is “too afraid or too arrogant to take care of [his] mental health” — and much of it comes from the total denial that his entire side of the family is in when it comes to mental illness. He has come up with a dozen different excuses for who he is. I love him and I’ll stand by him, but I’m determined to make him see that it’s ok to admit it and ok to ask for help. I did when I realized that I suffered from anxiety and depression, and I’ve never looked back. Thanks for sharing this — maybe it will help me help him to look forward.

  • Jennifer

    You are an inspiration to so many. I love reading your blog and especially about Leta who is the same age as my daughter. Thank you for being so open about what so many of the rest of us are afraid to talk about.

  • Dooce,

    As someone who has been in and out of therapy for years and taken drugs until I drool…your honesty is a reminder to people like me who feel alone that we’re not the only ones…thanks. 🙂

  • Lisa

    Oh dooce, thank you thank you thank you.

  • This hit close to home for me, too. Admitting that I couldn’t pull myself out of the deep, dark well of depression and anxiety was the hardest thing, but best thing, I’ve ever done. I avoided doing it for a long time because of ignorance and shame, but looking back, I honestly don’t know how I survived so long feeling the way I did. The nearly instant change I felt when I was put on Zoloft was thrilling and miraculous. God Bless antidepressants.

  • AN

    I’d say, from experience, it’s harder to decide to stop being miserable than it is to decide nothing at all.

    Kudos on being candid, Dooce.

  • Anonymous

    your honesty about depression and anxiety is one of the main reasons i started reading your blog. anxiety and depression suck and there is DEFINITELY no need to suffer.

    needless to say, going off meds when pregnant didn’t work for me either. zoloft and lamictal are my best friends.

  • As I tell anyone who will listen, I’m all about better living through chemistry. I have to say Zoloft saved my life and sanity, too!!

  • Anonymous

    This entry was awesome.

    I have a very close friend who’s been on antidepressants twice. Both times he felt better, declared his problems beaten, and got off the drugs. Its horrible, because the misery just creeps back into him. He’s always blaming it on external things.

    It seems clear to me that depression is what makes him so vulnerable to external negatives and so impervious to external positives. It can be fixed, and it wouldn’t make him “weak” or a “failure” to fix it. My mom is on antidepressants and will be forever and it makes her such a better mom. I can’t make my friend do the same and take the drugs, but I sure wish he would. I may send him a link to this post, for whatever it’s worth. It certainly made an impression on me.

    Thank you.

  • Lisa

    as a recovering everything….I too have taken some medication, but therapy and reading “Conscious Living” by Hendricks saved my life and the life of my children. Getting to know your parents and their dysfunctions will shine a huge light on why you are the way you are and opens the door to greater understanding of yourself and a sense of peace with who you are. Our bodies and minds have the ability to heal themselves…..

  • Katie

    Thank you for this post…I’ve been on the fence about getting help with my “issues’ i.e. depression this has convinced me. I’m calling my insurance company now.

  • Anonymous

    I really needed to read this today. I’m going to finally call my doctor.

  • NC

    Wow. Heather, I am not only touched by your post but by all the comments people have written. Between my friends, my family and myself I have seen a lot of mental illness in my life. Thank you for sharing–you are such an inspiration.

  • Notablonde

    Thank you for this post. My mother “went away” at least 3 times that I’m aware of during my childhood. To this day, I still don’t know her “official” diagnosis. A few years back I stumbled across a prescription bottle for Prozac in her house and tried to talk to her about it later (I’d had trouble on Prozac and wanted to know what her experience was) but she denied it’s existance. Luckily, her shame never infected me. If anything, suffering at the hands of her illness made me that much more motivated to control mine. After years of therapy and various medications I was diagnosed with BPD and put on the proper drugs. Words cannot express how drastically my life changed. For the better.

    While I understand my mother’s shame, I can’t help but resent the years of pain and torment that could have been avoided or at least lessened. Who might I have been, what might I have accomplished if I hadn’t been raised to believe her “moods” were my fault?

  • Thank you, Heather. Thank you a thousand times. I’ve been struggling recently and teetering back and forth about doing something about it. Some days I feel like I’m just this far from being in such a great place, you know? Maybe going back on Zoloft would help. Maybe a therapist. Maybe kicking myself in the ass. But for sure, reading about you and your ability to be so open about it surely helps. Thank you so much.

  • Oh, Dooce. You are so awesome in so, so many ways. And I imagine you will not have the time nor will to read through the bajillion comments that people have left here, but THANK YOU. I suffer from major depression and borderline personality disorder and it took me ten years of living hell to admit that (a) I suffered from a lifelong medical condition and (b) I would need to get help to feel okay again. Medication hasn’t been my path, but I do attend weekly group therapy (DBT, I love thee) and bi-monthly individual therapy to sort through my life. And my god, I may be poor, but I am happy. You rock! Thank you for being so brave and an admirable success story. Leta is so lucky to have you as a mom.

  • Jennitals

    Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you.

    I will be on Zoloft for the rest of my life. That is fine with me. I have been on it since college, probably should have had something in high school.

    Until recently, I had tied myself up in knots thinking that I could never have children, because the thought of going off meds for pregnancy was too terrifying. I thought that staying on would be “selfish”, and exposing my baby to risks. I asked my therapist about this recently, and she directed me to http://www.womensmentalhealth.org/, one of Mass General Hospital’s websites.

    After reading the studies, I almost cried with joy: for someone with chronic depression, not only do they reccomend that you stay on meds, but it COULD BE HARMFUL TO YOUR BABY NOT TO!!!!! Thank goodness that I don’t have to feel like a bad person and an unnatural mother for NEEDING the drugs.

  • This came at just the right time. Seems I’m reading lots of blogs and the writers are having issues. Thanks for posting.

    Question: Do you read blogs?

  • Amen. You said it so well Heather. I stopped fighting taking the meds a while ago, and I will never be off them again. While I am sitting here thinking I really might should have my dosage adjusted, I know how bad it all gets when I don’t take it at all. For me, it’s like putting on my glasses or contacts. Without them, I can’t see my hand in front of my face. Without my Prozac, I don’t care to see anything in front of my face.

    Hopefully many will understand more after reading this post. As always, thank you for writing about your struggles with depression so honestly.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you. You are so brave for sharing your life with others.

  • Anne

    I feel the same way about my 9 years with the most kick-ass therapist in the world and a year-long course of Paxil.

    When I got into therapy, I was a mess of a person with a broken spirit, wearing a stained hoodie, hunched over in the waiting room, scared to talk too loud. When I walked out of my therapist’s office for the last time, 9 years later, I was standing straight, proud, a healed adult who could express myself all along the continuum, from childlike playfulness to stable, dedicated and hopeful girlfriend, cat mom, daughter, coworker.

    I did experience resistance from family and friends all along the way, though, and that can be really difficult to combat. When you’re in a weakened mental health state, it can be hard to stand your ground and own what you need to do for yourself.

  • Franca Bollo

    Yes.

  • Yah for you!

  • shellybean

    Yes. Exactly. What a great post!! Thank you.

  • I’ve always felt that my blue moods (I can’t even bring myself to call it depression) are a fixed part of who I am. I know it doesn’t seem logical, but taking steps to change them (even for the better) would change me, and I didn’t want that.

    And then last year my brother killed himself.

    One of my first thoughts was “Damn, I guess that’s no longer an option for me, now”.

    I’m coming around to the idea that making changes isn’t such a bad idea, after all.

    Thank you.

  • This is an absolutely beautiful post. This is true giving and I am sure a lot of people needed your gift.

  • sara in boston

    How therapeutic was it to write that?!?

    Thanks!

  • One of my friends has been in a dark depression for as long as I have known her. For some reason she thinks it makes her “weak” for having to take medication. I think this post might be the thing that helps. Thank you for being so vulnerable.

  • Anonymous

    This will, absolutely, be your most important post.

  • justme

    thank you. thank you. thank you.

  • Heather…What you said is dead on correct. It’s exactly the way I feel. People don’t get it when I say I will NEVER go off meds. I did it once, and why the hell would I ever do it again? I’m not human when I’m not medicated. (well, I’m not human anyway, but that is besides the point). Thank you for putting it into words so perfectly.

    Erinn

  • Anonymous

    This kind of hit home for me. I most definitely am obsessive compulsive. I have been for most of my life, but since college it has only gotten worse, and instead of just a constant need to clean everything, my anxiety has increased to many other aspects of my life (fitting in socially, being safe in my own home, etc.). I did see a therapist for a few months a couple of years ago, but I stopped going. I find it very difficult to even begin to address this problem and to actually talk to someone about it. I’m also terrified of taking medication for it, whether I’m being irrational about it or not.

    I think there is some kind of comfort in being surrounded in anxiety that is at least familiar. As miserable I get sometimes, the world of drugs is unknown and scary. I could go on and on with excuses, and I do realize they are just excuses after all.

    Anyway, I’m sure this is all very familiar to what you went through, so I won’t go any further. I do appreciate how candid you are about this, and maybe I’ll actually e-mail back the woman at student health I talked to months ago and follow up with her.