Hey, everyone! I took the month of April off for “mental health” reasons- you know, like when you take off of work or school for a “mental health day”- and now I’m back!
Interestingly enough, I’m back for May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month- so I’ve decided to share my personal journey through anxiety and depression. As we know, there is still shame attached to being diagnosed with a mental health disorder or being on medication, etc.- and that’s just bullshit! So, I’m going to share my journey, so maybe some of you will get your own conversations going, and we can end the stigma attached to mental illness.
Picture it- Harrison, NY, 1999 (a little Sophia from The Golden Girls for ya!): It was late Fall, and I was feeling “off”, not like my regular self. Since I worked for a doctor, she suggested that I make an appointment with the therapist who happened to be down the hall from our office. So, I called the therapist and went for an appointment…which turned into weekly appointments for a while! The therapist’s name was Denise, and she was an older German woman-and one hell of a therapist!
Through my visits with Denise, I learned SO MUCH about myself. You know, when we’re living day to day, we don’t really take time to stop and think, “WHY am I feeling down?” or “Do I feel THIS way because of something I did, or something that someone did TO me?”, etc.- we just feel the feelings and react accordingly. I really give credit to Denise for helping me become the best version of myself that I can be- which, of course, is an ongoing process- but she was the catalyst of the process.
It was during a visit with Denise that a suggestion was made by her to have an appointment with her friend, who is a psychiatrist. She sensed that I was having some depression, and suggested that discussing medication may be in order. My first reaction to that suggestion was NO WAY! I am NOT crazy, and I don’t need medication! (It was 20 years ago, and I didn’t know better-cut me some slack.)
Fast forward to December of that year. I made an appointment with Denise’s friend, Dr. Berman- Who I still saw once/year until now! BUT- at that first appointment, he flat-out said at the end, “I am confident that you are suffering from depression and I’d like to start you on some medication.” Of course, I was all- fuck this- I’m NOT taking medication- But I said I’d think about it.
Fast forward AGAIN, to New Year’s Eve, 1999. After a night of hanging out with my family, singing drunk karaoke, you know, all the stuff you do on NYE, lol- I found myself in a dark place- and not just my bedroom with the light off!
If you remember from the beginning of this story, I mentioned that I worked at a doctor’s office. Well, we get LOTS of drug samples at a doctor’s office, and each time one of us would get sick, etc.- the doctor would give us samples, so we wouldn’t have to pay for a prescription. I just always stuck the samples in a kitchen cabinet, and kept them all there so I wouldn’t misplace them. I had amassed quite a large collection of samples- say- enough to overdose on…
There I was, at like 1:00am on New Year’s Day thinking- I could go downstairs right now and take every pill in the cabinet, then just come back up here and go to sleep forever…
Something held me back from going downstairs, maybe my grandmother’s spirit, maybe God, maybe the fear of actually doing it- but when I woke up hours later- you better believe that I called Dr. Berman and told him I’d start on medication!
So began the journey of seeing which medication would work the best for me. Zoloft? Made me too dizzy. Prozac? Made me gain weight. Wellbutrin? Ding! Ding! Ding! We had our FIRST winner! That medication made me lose weight, because it acted sort of like a stimulant, so, I was feeling better, AND looking better- a definite win-win for a 27-year-old single woman! I actually met my husband while I was taking Wellbutrin, and continued on it until I got pregnant with our daughter. I went off medication while I was pregnant, because I didn’t want anything to interfere with the baby’s development.
I was actually doing well OFF medication until our daughter was around 2-years-old. Then, it was time for Anxiety to make its entrance into my life.
Here we go again: Picture it- Harrison, NY, 2003- a warm Summer night, while my husband is away on business. BANG! I sat straight up out of a dead sleep with a gasp, like I had been deprived of air for hours! My heart was beating, I was sweating, and I thought right there, that I was going to die. I had to call the hotel where my husband was staying in TX at 2:30am, call his room and have him talk to me and tell me I was okay, until I came out of the panic attack. What the hell was happening to me? Where did this panic come from?! Who knows- but it came, and it sucked! Panic attacks are NO JOKE.
I tried to deny that I might need to be on medication again for a few months, but then I just knew that this shit wasn’t going away on its own…
Back to Dr. Berman it was- and I’m glad that I went back. He explained that anxiety can happen on its own, or with depression- and since I already had the depression, it looked like I got the package deal. Yay me. At that time, there was a new medication out called Cymbalta, which can be used to treat both issues- so I tried it out. It was perfect. Until I started getting high blood pressure from taking it. A lot of taking medication for any mental illness is a game of trial and error, until you find what works best for your body. SO- off the Cymbalta, and on to its older sister medication- Effexor. Ahhh…Effexor…
I stayed on a maintenance dose of Effexor until I got pregnant in late 2006, then I went off again. If you’ve read my past blogs, we all know that the pregnancy ended with the death of our son, after being born at 29 weeks’ gestation. WELL…This time I knew what I was in for. As they wheeled me into the recovery room from the C-section, I immediately asked them to call the psychiatrist, because I needed to go back on Effexor right away. And Thank Goodness that I had the strength to do that, because those were some of the darkest days of my life.
My journey doesn’t end there, of course- We’ve gone through the cancer story, and depression and anxiety never ends- but what I want you all to know, is that because I gathered the strength to ask for help- that help has taken me through everything I’ve gone through up to this day.
Talking to a therapist is a wonderful thing. I learned about myself, and about strengths that I never knew I had inside of me. Taking medication when it’s needed is a wonderful thing. It is a tool that helps you along the way to learn the skills of coping with life’s ups and downs, and how to work through them in healthy ways. I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a very strong woman, because I was strong enough to seek out help in times when I needed it- and that helped me to become even stronger. There is NO shame in needing help. There is NO shame in asking for help. There is NO SHAME. Period.
That’s where the love story comes in…
In the years that I’ve been on my journey of depression, anxiety and medication, I’ve learned to love and respect myself enough to know when to step back and allow myself to feel down- but then to get myself back up, or ask for help. To know when to walk away when something is not life-giving. To push myself in the direction of things that help me to grow, and that give me joy. Without the therapy, the visits, the medications to help- I’m not sure that I would be the person that I am today- and I really love that person.
Jennifer Angarano Ricci is a wife, mother & creative soul-searcher. She is a musician, artist, and baker, and runs her home business Baked By Jen, in addition to running her local community theater group. She loves to sing, create and help others and tries to connect all three passions whenever possible.