As a kid, I was a perfectionist and had a temper. Baaaaaad combination. Mostly my anger was directed inwards — though people around me definitely suffered from my moods. My mother swears that when I was younger, I threatened to throw myself in front of a train because I couldn’t draw a perfectly straight line without a ruler.
As an adult, I had no compunction about seeking help when necessary. I saw a therapist for a while in an attempt to deal. It was helpful, but I wasn’t seeing the results for which I’d hoped. I wanted to NOT flip the hell out when my hair didn’t dry the way I wanted it to. Or, let’s say, to NOT take it personally when my baseball team lost.
My focus for improvement became my attitude, not that I was any kinder to myself about it. In other words, I began to realize my expectations and reactions were ridiculous, so I switched from berating myself for not achieving, to berating myself for flipping out for not achieving.
“What is my problem? Why can’t I react to things like a normal human does?” This is what sent me to the shrink, wherein we did some deep analysis, but still, I struggled.
Then a doctor I went to (a GP) suggested I try anti-depressants. I was there for some other physical ailment, but she and I got to talking about other things, and she mentioned it as a possibility.
My reaction was negative. Expecting the world of myself, I felt strongly that relying on drugs to improve my mood and outlook was a sign of weakness. I could do it myself, damn it — I mean, isn’t that what the therapist was for? If therapy wasn’t helping, I just wasn’t working hard enough, right? Taking anti-depressants was an admission I couldn’t fix my flaws by myself.
Sigh. See the vicious cycle, here?
Unfortunately, this carried over into my life as a mother with young kids. I loved mothering, and was great at it most of the time. When frazzled, I even sometimes kept my cool. Too often, though, I took it out on the kids. I’d blow up and lose it. Then I’d berate myself for not having better control — over myself and over them — and the cycle continued.
Not surprisingly, I suffered from headaches and migraines in my twenties and thirties. Having had no luck treating them, I finally gave in to one neurologists’s suggestion that I take a small dose of an anti-depressant, as they’ve been shown to work well for preventing pain. I didn’t like it, but in my (warped) view, if I was taking an anti-depressant for a medical reason, that was “legitimate.”
Headaches continued, sometimes lasting for days, and I became so aggravated with my other doctors’ complicated regimen of many different medications (one for every possible headache scenario,) I sought out the director of a nearby hospital’s headache clinic for treatment. He said, “I’m taking you off everything you’re on. Take Zoloft daily, and naproxen when you have a headache. That’s it.” Simplify. I didn’t have much hope he would succeed where others had failed, but I agreed.
I know this is not normally how quickly it works, but I swear to God ... within two days I noticed a difference. The kids were doing something annoying and inconvenient, and I stayed calm. I thought, “Holy shit. I would have completely lost my mind with that two days ago.” It was bizarre. I wasn’t artificially happy — I simply had higher tolerance for annoyances. I still minded things, but I didn’t lose my mind over them. I dealt with them.
I reported this change to my doctor, and he said, “That’s because Zoloft is an SSRI. The other anti-depressants you were on weren’t.” SSRI stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. The body releases serotonin into the bloodstream naturally, then is re-absorbed (“reuptake”), but while in the bloodstream it acts as a mood regulator. In some people, including me, apparently, the reuptake happened too rapidly. The SSRI slowed that process down so the serotonin remained in my bloodstream longer — the reuptake was slowed, so my moods were more even. I had more patience. Many fewer and less intense blow-ups, not to mention many fewer headaches.
When I think back to my initial reaction to — and rejection of — the suggestion I might benefit from anti-depressants, I’m annoyed and sad.
Annoyed, because I knew better than that. Depression is not weakness. It shouldn’t be stigmatized. Problems with moods can be chemical. I overestimated how much control I had, and put off availing myself of medication that would have helped me sooner.
Sad, because if I’d taken that advice without being concerned about my image and self-image — what it would “imply” about me and my mental state — my two oldest kids would have had a much happier and calmer mommy from the very beginning of their lives.
However, my more-even moods have allowed me to be more forgiving of not only those around me, but myself. I don’t stay annoyed at myself or sad for very long, and I’m grateful I finally allowed myself the help I needed.