“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly…” Who knew the title of a Clint Eastwood movie could so accurately describe my life with anxiety and depression. The good days can be hard to come by and sometimes I take them for granted. I know in my conscious mind when I’m feeling good, however, it’s the depressive part of my brain that continues to nag at me and say to me: enjoy it while it lasts, I’m going to come back and make your life miserable again. Relapse is an inevitable part of the battle. It is bound to happen eventually. Suddenly the “good” days start to become “bad” days, and it’s only a matter of time before the “ugly” takes over and I am thrown back into the darkness that is my depression.
The early months of 2015 were difficult to say the least. I was working part time and continued to take medication and see my psychiatrist. My husband and I were still living with my dad and my brother’s family. The only word I could use to describe life at my dad’s house was tense. Although I deeply believe that the truth should always be told, I will not be going into detail about the events that occurred during this time. I wish to preserve the privacy of my family. What I can say is that there was constant fighting and unrest in the house as my brother’s addiction remained all-consuming. In early May a traumatic event occurred and my husband and I were forced to find our own place to live. Although the timing could have been better, we managed to get enough money together for a down payment on a new house. Even though we were putting ourselves back into debt, we did what we had to do to protect ourselves. Staying in that house was terrible for my mental health and had begun to take it’s toll on my marriage. It was like living in a pressure cooker about to explode. I had to get out.
By mid-June we moved into our new house. The feeling of being on our own again was incredible. It was as if a mountain had been lifted off our shoulders. It was quiet, it was peaceful, and it was ours. I didn’t care that we had little furniture, that it was a horrible mess and was painted all the wrong color. I was just grateful to be freed from the chaos and dysfunction that had been my dad’s house. It was nice to sit back, relax and just breathe again.
The summer of 2015 was great. I was happy. We purchased season tickets to watch our local football team, went to concerts and welcomed another beautiful baby nephew. We slowly turned our house into a home and I was fully settled at work and thriving. I learned how to run hemodialysis and discovered that I was good at it. I considered this to be quite an achievement. The previous summer, I had myself convinced that I would never be able to learn anything new. My brain was overflowing with negative and self-defeating thoughts. There was no room for anything else and I had lost my ability to concentrate. Needless to say I was quite proud of myself for busting through the brain fog and learning a new skill.
As many of you who have suffered with depression and anxiety know, the good only lasts so long before the dreaded and inevitable relapse begins to show it’s ugly face. After the high of my football team’s championship win and as winter began to settle in, my mood started to change. I was tired. It was about a month before Christmas and I wasn’t having any of it. No matter how much I slept I continued to feel exhausted. I was lethargic and “not all there.” Nothing brought me joy and I woke up every day thinking I can’t do this. It was becoming increasingly difficult to get up in the morning and go to work and when I was there I wasn’t really there. I became lazy, disinterested and grouchy. Simple tasks like making coffee, taking a shower or putting on my makeup were too big, never-mind getting the housework done. My marriage began to break down again. I was emotionally unavailable and started to reject my husband. Christmas was approaching but I had no energy to bake, shop or decorate – activities that I once enjoyed tremendously. I asked myself: could it be the medication that is making me so drowsy and lethargic? Or am I slipping into depression again? I had been taking Cipralex for just over a year and always felt tired, but this was different. I decided to bring it up at my next appointment with my psychiatrist.
“So what’s on your mind?” The conversation always started the same. I sat down in my usual spot in the armchair beside the window and spilled the beans. I described in detail what I had been going through. I told him I didn’t want to feel exhausted and sick anymore. Something had to change. My psychiatrist scratched his head and decided that maybe I needed to try a different medication. He wrote me a prescription for Prozac and told me to simply switch medications because they were very similar.
The first week or so went okay. I experienced the usual nausea that comes with any medication change. I started to feel a bit more anxious but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. As time passed my mood began to change. I had gone from a spaced out, disinterested zombie to an emotional nightmare. It felt like all of the emotions the Cipralex had been suppressing suddenly bubbled up to the surface and I couldn’t control them. Everything either made me cry or made me angry. It was like PMS on steroids. My poor husband didn’t know from one day to the next if he was going to wake up to his sweet, soft spoken wife or She-Hulk. There were even times when I felt hyperactive and giddy. One minute I’d be laughing, the next I’d be crying and before I knew it I was angry at the world for no good reason. I kept trying to convince myself that it would pass.
One day, in early December, I decided to decorate the Christmas tree. I felt excited, almost too excited. I poured myself a glass of wine and got to work wrapping the tree in twinkly lights. I took a piece of garland and wrapped it around my dog’s neck like a boa. Apparently this was the funniest thing I had ever seen because I was laughing hysterically, tears streaming down my face and everything. My husband asked me jokingly if I smoked some crack in the bathroom while he was outside. This behavior wasn’t like me. I quickly brushed it off and told myself it must be the Prozac. Even if it was, at least I was enjoying myself.
Once I finished decorating the tree, I walked into the kitchen to tidy up. Suddenly it hit me… I started to panic. My heart was racing, I became nauseated and my body felt like it was made of Jello. It felt like my arms and legs weren’t working and I could feel the blood draining from my face and ears. I was cold, lightheaded and felt detached, as if the world around me wasn’t real. I was terrified. Although I had been through this multiple times, the only thought going through my mind was I am going to die if I don’t do something. I hobbled my way up the stairs and took a hot shower in a desperate attempt to bring myself back to reality. It didn’t work. With tears in my eyes I went down into the basement to find my husband. He could tell by the look on my face that something was wrong. I told him I didn’t feel good and that I was panicking. He took me in his arms and I started to sob. I begged him to squeeze me as hard as he could. I needed to feel something. I needed to be brought back to reality. It felt as if his embrace was the only thing keeping me alive.
A few days later I went back to see my psychiatrist. I sat in the waiting room feeling panicked. I looked disheveled wearing dirty clothes, no makeup and sporting a wonderful morning hair-do. I was pale, shaky and nauseated. I was convinced that I was going to pass out or throw up. I looked around me and located a garbage can. If it was going to happen at least I had a plan. I knew where the door was and where the bathroom was. It took everything in me not to run out of there and never look back. The doctor came out of his office, took one look at me and said “young lady, you look terrible. Please come in.”
“How are you feeling?” he asked. I just shook my head and started to cry. “That good huh?” It took me quite some time to find my words. When I was able, I told him what I had been going through and that I didn’t believe the Prozac was helping. In fact, I thought it was making me feel worse. He asked me what my thoughts were and what I wanted to do. I told him that the Cipralex had always worked well for me, that it was the drug that got me back to work. At that point I didn’t care that it made me feel depressed, at least I didn’t have this horrible, debilitating anxiety. “Fair enough” he said “we will put you back on Cipralex.”
Over the next two weeks I fell back into depression. Christmas was fast approaching and I couldn’t bring myself to get anything done. When I wasn’t struggling through shifts at work I was at home either lying in bed or on the couch, unable to find the energy or the will-power to do anything. Life seemed too difficult and the feeling of hopelessness started to settle in. Each time I walked into the garage to go out I thought to myself: I could just start the car and end it all right here. I wouldn’t have to suffer like this anymore. What’s the point of living anyway? It took everything in me not to give up. I started to research death by carbon monoxide poisoning and how to do it properly. I also pulled out my life insurance policy to see if there was a suicide clause. I didn’t want to leave my husband with nothing. One day I even found myself sitting on the floor of the garage, crying, with my keys in my hand, wanting so badly to die. I stared at the car for a good 15 minutes before I made the decision to get up and walk away. I thought: how could I be so stupid? How could I kill myself right before Christmas? What would that do to my husband? To my family? I decided to keep pushing on, to keep fighting.
Despite how awful the month of December had been, I still managed to have a decent Christmas. I saw my psychiatrist one more time before the holidays and kept him up to date about how I was feeling. At the end of each session he would say to me: “you’re going to be okay. I believe in you.” As the Cipralex began to take effect once more, my mood started to improve. I was still tired and lethargic but I was free from the horrible anxiety I had been experiencing and the suicidal thoughts disappeared. I managed to get my shopping done and host a Christmas party. The dark clouds of anxiety and depression were beginning to clear and I could see a hint of sunlight shining through.
In January of 2016 I started writing this blog. I decided that I didn’t want to suffer in silence anymore. I wanted the world to know what I was going through. I wanted to help others see that they were not alone and that someone just like them had been through similar experiences. I exposed my heart and soul and became an advocate for those suffering with mental illness, myself included. It has become the best thing I have ever done. I discovered that by simply sharing my story with others, I could touch their lives in a way nobody else had before. I received an overwhelming amount of support, encouragement and gratitude from family, friends and even complete strangers.
In February we welcomed another beautiful baby nephew (yes that makes 4 little boys in my family!). He was another shining star in my world that was sometimes filled with darkness. In late March I had a growing number of people following my blog and I joined Twitter in an effort to expand. It was here that I discovered a mental health community called Sick Not Weak, founded by TSN sports personality Michael Landsberg. Their message was simple yet profound: we are here for that lonely person. It was quickly growing into a tight-knit community of people who had suffered with mental illness and who’s mission was to let others know that they were not alone. It didn’t take long before I joined their anonymous chat room as “cupcakegirl” and began to make friends.
In early April the anxiety began to creep back into my life. My sister was visiting and I met my newest little nephew. He was a beautiful and perfect baby but he suffered with colic and lactose intolerance. The poor little thing would cry for hours on end. There were moments when I would feel overwhelmed by the noise and felt the need to get out of my own house. I was still struggling with infertility and the thought of having my own child one day filled me with doubt and anxiety. How was I going to handle being a mother? I would tell myself: you’re not good enough. You have anxiety and depression. You can barely take care of yourself half the time, how are you going to survive pregnancy let alone care for a baby? The one thing I wanted more than anything in life had become the thing I feared the most. I quickly turned to my Sick Not Weak family for support. They told me I would make an incredible mother but I failed to see any truth to their words.
Throughout the months of April and May I began to slowly fall back into the dark hole of depression. For many people, depression can be at it’s worst during the winter months, but for some reason mine was worse in the spring. I was tired, emotional and scared. I started to believe that this was going to be my life forever, that I was doomed to suffer until the day I died. I started to lose interest in all the activities I once loved. Baking cupcakes felt like a chore. I barely spent time with my nephews (or any family for that matter) because I didn’t have the energy to interact with them. I tried desperately to keep the “mask” on so others would believe that I was fine. I kept telling myself to “fake it until I made it.” In reality, I was screaming on the inside. My husband and I started to fight again. He was worried and frustrated which sometimes translated to anger. He would ask me “why can’t you just be happy?” and when I couldn’t find the words to explain how I was feeling, he would get even more frustrated. I felt guilty and useless as a wife, as a daughter, sister, aunty and friend. I didn’t want to be sad anymore, I didn’t want to hurt anymore, and I certainly didn’t want to hurt the people around me. I continued to see my psychiatrist once a week and he tried decreasing the dose of Cipralex I was on thinking maybe it was causing my depression to get worse. The only silver lining was the fact that I had an incredible community of people behind me who were always there for support. I developed several close friendships. It was refreshing to talk to someone who understood exactly how I was feeling and who had struggled through similar experiences. I further exposed myself on social media, posting what I now call mood selfies. If I was crying and couldn’t get out of bed I posted a photo. If I hadn’t slept and didn’t think I could make it at work, I posted a photo. When I felt reasonably okay, I still snapped a photo and posted it to my Twitter page. I was determined to expose the real thoughts and emotions of a person suffering with a mental illness. I didn’t want to feel alone.
At the end of May I reached a breaking point. I told my psychiatrist I didn’t know what to do with myself anymore. He said “tell me exactly how you have been feeling, what are your symptoms?” I told him I stopped sleeping, that I was exhausted, sluggish and disinterested. I told him I was also having mood swings and emotional meltdowns at work. I was losing my ability to cope, having more bad days than good. He asked me if I had ever considered taking Wellbutrin. I was very hesitant about trying a new medication given the effect it had on me the last time, but in the end I agreed. I had to make a change, I had to do something.
That afternoon I went to the pharmacy to fill my prescription. I was to start taking Wellbutrin right away and take the Cipralex every second day for a week and then stop. The pharmacist nonchalantly told me I may experience mild headaches and nausea for the first week or so. She gave me a fact sheet, as they always did with any new medication, and off I went. I asked myself: how bad could this be? I’ve experienced migraines so a mild headache will be no problem. I got this! I did not expect that the next few weeks would be by far some of the worst weeks of my life.
The next day I took the first dose of Wellbutrin in the morning. By the evening, I started to feel anxious. I was vibrating. I remember sitting at the dinner table at my in-laws feeling like I could crawl out of my own skin. It took every ounce of my will-power to keep me from reaching up and ripping my hair out. I gripped my husband’s hand tight in an effort to keep myself grounded. He was kind and understanding, telling me everything was going to be okay, that it was just the medication. I went to bed that night hoping the next day would be better.
The following morning I woke up feeling reasonably okay. I took the second dose of Wellbutrin and went to work. About an hour into my shift I started to develop a headache. At first it felt like my head was heavy, like I had a bad sinus infection. Then I started to feel dizzy and I could see light trails every time I turned my head. An hour later it progressed to a full blown migraine and I was forced to go home. I spent the afternoon in bed or on the couch clutching my head in agony. I took several anti-inflammatories but was only able to dull the pain a little bit. By the end of the day I was ready to put my head through the wall. I felt defeated. I barely had any sick hours left and the thought of having to go back on disability terrified me. The headaches lasted for six days. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t go out, I couldn’t do anything. I wanted so badly to take those damn pills, flush them down the toilet and never look back. I was angry at my psychiatrist and the pharmacist for not properly warning me about the side effects.
Most antidepressants come with a warning: the symptoms of depression may worsen before they improve and it may take six to eight weeks to feel the full effect of the medication. In my case, these statements could not have been more true. After the headaches subsided, my mood began to plummet and my depression reached a new low. The mood swings and anxiety were almost unbearable, but I still attempted to go back to work. I had to. I could only afford a few more sick days before I either took leave without pay or applied for short term disability. Disability was not an option as my husband and I would not have been able to pay our bills. I knew I couldn’t handle losing another home. I didn’t want to go through that again, so I pushed on. Several times throughout the day I found myself sitting alone in the locker room trying to hide my tears. All I could feel was profound sadness without any identifiable cause. I wanted nothing more than to go home and hide from the world. I wasn’t able to control my emotions and I desperately hoped that my co-workers couldn’t tell how much I was suffering. The “mask” I was trying to wear was hanging on by a thread.
One day, in early June, I became consumed by the darkness. It took every ounce of energy I had just to get out of bed. The only thought going through my mind was I can’t. I put some eye makeup on, attempted to make my hair look presentable, grabbed a coffee and went to work. I tried to put the mask on one more time, for one more day. I had to keep fighting. I spent the entire twelve hour shift trying to fight back tears, escaping whenever I could to silently let them out. I was without my usual energy, enthusiasm and sense of humor; depression had stolen everything from me. At that point it was almost impossible for me to put on a smile and I didn’t even have the energy to carry on a simple conversation. Luckily I was orientating a new staff member who was incredibly helpful throughout the day in keeping our patient safe and well cared for. At the end of the day, while giving shift report to a coworker, I made a comment about how terrible I was feeling. She tried to explain to me that my life wasn’t that bad and that so many other people had it worse. I told her that I suffered from depression but it didn’t seem to matter. Although she may have meant well, I felt like I was standing at the edge of a cliff and she had just walked up behind me and pushed me over the edge. I got out of there as quickly as I could, without saying a word to anybody. I couldn’t hold on much longer. I attempted to reach out to a couple of friends who understood how I was feeling, but even their words of encouragement couldn’t reach me. I cried the entire drive home. I felt lost.
I pulled into the garage and thought: this is it. It’s happening again. I can’t cope at work or with life. I am going to lose everything. I started to panic. I saw my entire life crashing down around me and I was powerless to stop it. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, only darkness. The future I had once hoped for myself had suddenly disappeared. I’d never live a happy, comfortable life or have a child; all I could see was suffering. As the catastrophic thinking continued, I started to hyperventilate and cry harder. The car was still running and I rolled down the windows. I grabbed the garage door opener and held it in my hand. I wanted so badly to push that button, get out, sit on the floor by the tailpipe and take deep breaths until I passed out. I didn’t want to feel anymore.
I don’t know why, or how, but suddenly I decided I needed help. I was so close to the edge that I didn’t think I would be able to stop myself this time. I picked up my phone with shaky hands and stared at it wondering who I should call. I didn’t want to call a friend or family member because I knew they would just call the police. I scrolled through my contacts and came across the distress line. That was it, I needed a professional, someone who wouldn’t judge me or make me feel ashamed. The person on the other end was kind. I told her I was panicking and thinking about suicide. She guided me through a deep breathing exercise until I stopped crying and step by step I turned off the car, rolled up the windows and closed the garage door. She told me to call back or go to the nearest emergency room if I found myself in crisis again.
When I walked into the house and saw my husband, I started to cry again. He asked me what was wrong and I told him I had a bad day. I couldn’t bring myself to admit to him that I wanted to die, that I was in one of the darkest places I had ever been. He had just gone back to work and I didn’t want to be a burden or a reason for him to stay home. I don’t know exactly what was going through his mind, whether it was helplessness, frustration or fear, but he started to get angry. He told me he couldn’t take it anymore, that he didn’t want to live like this anymore. I became overwhelmed with guilt and anger. I had to walk away before I said something I would regret. A few minutes later he came upstairs to apologize. I told him I was sorry, and that this was just as hard for me as it was for him. He took me in his arms and I started to cry. This time there was no stopping it, I sobbed for what felt like hours, until I was sick. When it finally subsided I took a long hot shower then passed out for the night. There were no words to describe how beat down and exhausted I felt. I was numb.
The next morning I woke up and went to work. I lasted half the day before I became so emotional I wasn’t able to do my job. I barely had enough energy to get up out of my chair let alone care for somebody who was critically ill. I desperately wanted to reach out and talk to somebody. I told a few people close to me what had happened but nobody really understood just how terrifying and real it was. I couldn’t help feeling that I was just making everybody around me uncomfortable. I didn’t want their pity. I took the charge nurse aside and with tears in my eyes, told her I needed to go home. I decided to take a few days off to sort myself out.
Early the next week I went to see my psychiatrist. Reluctantly, I told him everything. In the back of my mind I was afraid that he would take action and try to have me admitted. We sat in silence for what felt like forever. I could tell that he had no idea what to do with me. “What do you think we should do?” was all he said. I was angry. I thought to myself: why is this up to me? You’re supposed to be the doctor! I remembered something that someone in the mental health community had suggested to me: that I try a combination of antidepressants. I told him that I wanted to start taking Cipralex again on top of the Wellbutrin in the hopes that my anxiety and depression could be balanced out. He agreed and wrote me yet another prescription. He also suggested that I be open and honest with my husband and the rest of my family. They deserved to know how sick I was. I left his office with a small glimmer of hope. Maybe, just maybe, this would work.
Over the next few weeks, I began to heal. I started to experience the full effect of the Wellbutrin and the Cipralex had reduced my anxiety to a slow-burning flame. The dark clouds of depression began to clear and I continued to become involved with and meet new people through Sick Not Weak. We continued to support each other through good times and bad. I opened up to my husband and my family. I told them everything. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. How do you tell the people you love that you wanted to die, that you were almost lost to them forever? My husband felt very guilty and apologized for his behavior that night. Had he known how serious things were he would not have reacted as he did. I promised him that from then on I would be 100% honest with him about how I was feeling, whether he liked it or not. In early July I turned 30 years old. For the first time in my life I realized just how grateful I was to be alive. I chose to believe that life would keep getting better, that there was always hope.
I’ve had to come to the realization that my depression and anxiety will never completely go away. I go to sleep every night wondering how I am going to feel when I wake up in the morning. There are still days, even weeks, where I feel exhausted, sad or anxious. I still suffer from low self-esteem and doubt my ability to one day become a mother. I’ve learned that even though I may feel awful, there have been times where I have felt worse and managed to get through it. I’ve learned to embrace the small victories. Sometimes taking a shower and getting dressed is all I can manage in a day, and there is nothing wrong with that. Anxiety and depression have made me a kinder, more compassionate person. I have been able to take one of the worst things that has ever happened to me and turn it into something positive. I will continue to shout as loud as I can about my illness until the entire world hears me. I want every person who suffers with a mental illness, no matter who they are or where they are from, to know that they are not alone, that there is always hope. Never be afraid to speak up and ask for help. I’ve been through the good, I’ve been through the bad and I’ve been through the sometimes very ugly and I haven’t given up. As Landsberg would say, “you gotta fight for your happiness.” Do whatever it takes to feel better and never be ashamed.
I may be a little burnt with a few sprinkles out of place, but I am still a beautiful cupcake and I still have a lot more to say. Thanks for reading and stay tuned….