Mind under matter

Dearest tells me that my difficulty breathing is all in my head. He doesn’t say it to be dismissive (although it is), but rather to argue that my recent bout with an upper respiratory virus is made worse by my anxiety. And, because my anxiety has manifested itself in disturbing physical symptoms, like chest pains and sleeplessness and difficulty breathing, quite noticeably for a year now, he wants me to explore the possibility of taking anti-anxiety medication before we have another child.
All three concepts terrify me.
That my anxiety’s that bad.
That my fifteen years of holding depression more-and-less at bay medication-free may not only be over, may not only have failed, but may have made things worse than they had to have been.
That pregnancy could be imminent.
We’ve done all the tests to make sure that I don’t in fact have any lung or heart problems, which was scary enough. But no, Dearest is right, it’s all in my head. Or rather, what’s in my head is screwing up more than just my head – I’m a perfectly physically healthy 33-year-old woman who happens to be extremely sensitive to pain, hormonal changes, and stress. The chemical soup that is my brain is flavouring my body.
My anxiety’s that bad.
I thought that when school was over, things would get better. When Dearest’s leg healed, things would be easier. When Bonhomme grew a bit older and stopped emotionally exploding all over me every fifteen minutes, and slept through the night, I’d lighten up. A new job, of course, would be an enormous breakthrough. But I graduated a year ago, Dearest is no longer limping, Bonhomme’s four now, I changed departments this spring.
In many ways, I think school filled up a helpful amount of space. When I was studying like a maniac, trying to do a master’s part-time while raising a child and working full-time and upgrading our house and, you know, trying to stay married, I had no time or space to think. And when I felt like I was going nuts, I had plenty of good reasons to feel that way.
But I’ve now built a number of important structural changes into my life. Dearest and I had agreed to intensify my studies so that I could finish my degree more quickly, because we both recognized how hard it had become (and then he went and broke his leg, the chump). Dearest, and two doctors, and my mother, finally convinced me that my job was making me way too crazy, and I spent over a year finding a new one. We worked REALLY hard at getting Bonhomme to sleep through the night.
And now, I have a little bit of time and space back. Emptiness to fill. Overdrive to downshift.
Anxiety to feel.
I went on anti-depressants once, for a few years when I was a teenager and my parents were divorcing and I didn’t know who I was and I was trying to make my way in the world. I remember what they were like. Everything was muted. I remember seeing gray. I lost my motivation – not a lot, but a little. I felt chipped away, edges rounded. Nothing got better, or easier – just grayer. I cared less.
Now, with jagged-edge focus, sharp colours, razor-cutting caring, I can understand the potential helpfulness of gray.
I can understand why Dearest thinks it could be worth considering. I might sleep better. And sleeping better, rebuild my immune system. I might maintain a more even emotional keel. And with less highs and lows, tap into my natural perspective more easily, more often. So I wouldn’t get so anxious about the little things, I wouldn’t read everything into everything. My naturally emotionally volatile four-year-old might not get under my skin so much, and I might be able to handle him with a bit more humour, a bit more patience. And when we are ready for another pregnancy, timing-wise, I might be ready, resiliency-wise.
But I don’t know if I can pay the price of gray. It’s not just what the concept of medicating my anxiety is telling me – “don’t trust your body”, “these feelings aren’t useful” – it’s the fear of what else gets packed away along with the anxiety. Does my art-self get suppressed too? My desire to paint, to write, to question? Do they get put on hold, or harder to access? Are my anxiety, my empathy and my creativity interdependent?
And so, it’s come to a head. Five years of wondering whether my mental health will cost me the chance to have another child. Fifteen years of trying to maintain that mental health intervention-free. I’m meeting with Doc in a few weeks to discuss my options, medication-wise. Regardless of whether he agrees whether or not I need them, pregnancy may preclude them – but we’re going to talk about it.
And I feel nothing but fear either way.


6 comments so far

  1. IntrinsicEcho on

    I’ve thought about this post a lot this weekend and the only thing I can share is my story. My first experience with anti-depressants was terrible. I’ve posted that disastrous experience on my blog if you are so inclined. It’s the number 1 reason I will never ever trust a doctor to tell me what is good or not good for me. My second experience is still my current one and it took me a long long time to finally accept that medication for depression for me will be a forever thing. The doctor I actually do listen to explained it to me this way “Consider the role of insulin in diabetes.You wouldn’t consider telling a diabetic to quit their insulin would you? Think of depression as similar to diabetes only it’s not insulin it’s serotonin and instead of your pancreas it’s your brain.” I still try and quit every few years and the results are catastrophic the last time nearly cost me my marriage and my kids.

    I also learned that I am ver sensitive to brain chemistry altering drugs… I was on a sub-therapeutic dose for years and it was 3 years ago that I had to adjust to the starting therapeutic dose. Don’t be afraid to start slow.

    I understand your fear over your artistry. I used to write to escape. I used to write incredible volumes of stuff just to get out of my head. I haven’t written with the same zeal in years. If I was really inclined to and had uniterrupted hours to spend… I probably could start again. What has for the most part disappeared is the need to escape. What hasn’t disappeared is my creative drive. It’s still there… it’s just differently focused now. I thought I lost my way with words… but I haven’t – it’s just not written as often. It has over time come back in quite the unexpected way of being able to on one hand explain the complex processes of my job for which I still hold great passion for, but that was only part of it. I find that I am often drawn into other people’s crisises – I don’t know how it happens or why, but it happens apparently people like me to be around when their worlds are crashing because I either know exactly what to say or don’t judge them when they say really hard truths. I’ve thought about it. I think I will take the loss of my need to write for the ability to just be the me I am now. It’s taken almost 11 years to get here.

    • mindofgrace on

      IntrinsicEcho, thank you. I know very much that you speak with authority, and really value your insight on this. Hearing that you haven’t lost your words throughout it all is a very big comfort.

      I totally get the analogies with other diseases and disabilities – and I agree with them. With that rational part of my brain, that is, the one that’s not yelling “but it’s your MIND you’re screwing with!” at me.

      The good news is that Doc’s stuck with me for years now, completely supportive of my desire not to medicate. He even convinced me, and Dearest, not to when we thought for sure we had to in that immediate post-birth period after Bonhomme was born. So this is one doctor I trust to help me navigate this decision now.

      Doesn’t make it suck any less. But knowing t hat you’re there, and have been there? That’s huge.

      • IntrinsicEcho on

        I still hate taking them, but I don’t like who I become without them. I play with the idea of quitting. What stops me is that my children don’t know me without the medication. One imagining of the fear in Little-man C’s eyes is all that it takes to keep me on them. Having the Princess feel responsible (I know she will it’s just who she is) for not only protecting her brother but taking care of me. Ugh it’s a horifying thought. I know how dark I can go. Othen than myself my husband is the only one who really knows how bad I can get. I don’t know that it’s something I will ever like doing. I am guessing if this winter gets as ugly as it did last winter I will eventually have to say something to my family doctor. It’s a tough decision. What gives me peace is knowing that my children are happy & thriving. They don’t face quite the same demons that my husband has faced with me. I don’t really take them because I want to – I take them because of the person I don’t want my children to meet.

        • mindofgrace on

          Wow, that’s a powerful statement. And I totally get it.
          We are who we are, angels and demons alike. As you say – you’ve managed to create and raise two astounding little people, who hopefully will have a slightly easier time of it than you did, and who have already changed the world for the better just by being in it.
          As long as you keep looking for peace, you will find it.

  2. allison on

    Oh Grace. I feel so bad for you right now. I hope you have a good doctor. I spent years trying to manage depression and anxiety drug free, and when I went on drugs and they helped, well then I felt better, so clearly I didn’t need the drugs any more, right? My friend Zarah made a pretty helpful analogy, which was “if I had a friend with asthma, I wouldn’t congratulate them for leaving the house without their inhaler and then dare them to go run up a hill”. Also, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs have come a long way – I don’t find my drama-queen tendencies much muted at all. I just tend less to assume the plane is going to crash every time my husband goes on a business trip or that everyone who offers to babysit my kids is planning to kidnap them (I’m not exaggerating – I watched CNN all night for plane crash news. I copied down license plates. When I say I can empathize, I really can empathize). I’m not perfect, but I’m better, and I write more than I did when I was unmedicated and in a really deep hole, and I’ve accepted that the medication helps me stay here (most of the way out of the hole, most of the time). It may mean a rocky couple of weeks building up a dosage and getting over side effects, but if it works it will be so worth it.

    Sorry for long-winded comment. Best, best of luck with this.

    • mindofgrace on

      Thanks, Allison. I never take empathy for granted – it helps to know that other people have been there, have found their way out, and are still talking about it. I think really my fear is not the drugs, but who I will be on them. Given that I’ve been worse on than off them, it’s hard to admit that I’ve now surpassed that low point and the scales have tipped back in favour of the drugs. But, point taken, that was then and this is now and who knows how much healthier I could be with the right amount and kind of medical support?
      Thanks again. More to come on progress (I hope) on this front.

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