Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Mother's Little Helper

Yesterday I alluded to a darker period of my life, as I have done before. I've been sitting on a post about this for a while now, and I can't really say why. Maybe a part of me is scared. Maybe even a little ashamed. There are people I know in real life who only know the grown up me who has her shit together, and they might be surprised when reading this.

During the second half of my college career, I became engulfed in anxiety. SOB and I were engaged, but the wedding plans were not going so well. Our families were very unhappy that we wanted to get married in Philadelphia, as opposed to Pittsburgh where they all lived. I had applied for early admission to vet school and not been accepted. SOB was in his third year of med school, which is when the students actually start working in the hospitals, and was spending more time out of the house. On top of all that, I was holding myself to some pretty atmospheric academic standards. I knew I couldn't handle everything, so I started seeing a therapist at the student mental health center.

After a few weeks of talk therapy, he suggested that I schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist that worked with the school system to evaluate if medication would benefit me. I agreed, and within two weeks had a prescription for Zoloft. I know for many people medications can be lifesaving, but for me they were the beginning of my undoing. I really want to impress that I am, in no way, anti-medication of any kind. Honestly. I know that they can do worlds of good for people when administered correctly.

Mainly, the problem was the psychiatrist. She would see me once a month for twenty minutes. She was only concerned about how I was tolerating the meds and not at all worried about the rest of my life. If I had so much as a whisper of a complaint about side effects, she would just write me a prescription for something different.

By the time graduation rolled around, I had been on more than ten different meds and spent several long weekends in a psychiatric facility. I was under the assumption, based on my psychiatrist's assertion, that there was a magical 'right' combination of drugs that would make me happy. The near constant changing line-up of pills in my medicine chest made me very unstable. And very depressed that I still hadn't found the 'right' pharmaceutical cocktail. This was a dangerous combination that usually ended in desperation.

Because I was working with a therapist, a psychiatrist and had very supportive friends and family around me, I had difficulty asking for more help. So instead I would swallow a handful of pills and get myself committed for a few days. Luckily, being a biology major and having a fiancee in medicine, I always knew which pills wouldn't kill me. I stuck to benzos, because not only would they not kill me, but I never really had enough on hand to do any major system damage. It was like getting really really drunk, but without the hangover. Eventually, my psychiatrist got wise and stopped proscribing me those types of pills.

By this time, I had graduated, started a new job and was working with a new therapist. The wedding was around the corner and there were a lot of hard transitions going on in my life, and still I was afraid to ask for the help I needed. Instead, I began cutting myself.

At first, I would use a regular razor like you would use to shave your legs. This resulted in lots of shallow cuts that would bleed a lot but never left any real scars. Then at work one day I discovered a whole box of razor blades that was kept on hand for utility knives and I stashed one in my pocket. Later in the ladies room, I flicked off the brown wrapper and started to make an incision on the underside of my left forearm. It was winter, so as long as I kept the bleeding under control, no one at work was any the wiser. After a few days, SOB discovered what I was doing because my left arm was covered in wounds. A few more days in the hospital and a new round of drugs for me!

But I kept cutting. I would cut my legs and stomach, so that I was less likely to get caught. Once I cut my leg so deeply I had to get stitches. Finally, SOB gave me something of an ultimatum. If I couldn't get myself under control some how, he wasn't going to marry me. He would do everything he could to help, but he couldn't stand to see me hurt myself repeatedly. He started coming to therapy with me when I needed him to. I started to let myself talk to him about my feelings before they got out of control.

One day, my therapist asked me what I was going to say when my children asked me about my scars. It was like a light went off somewhere in my chest. Until that point, I never thought about any future implications my self-destructive actions might have. I always knew I wanted children, and here I was jeopardizing the relationship I was hoping would lead to those babies. Also, now I had to think about what my inability to cope with my own unhappy situations would impress upon my future babies. I still lay awake thinking about this. But at that point, I knew I was done. Done with cutting, done with meds, just done.

I stayed on my meds until after our wedding, which in retrospect I regret. I understood then, as I do now, why it was a good idea, but take a look at most of my wedding photos and you will see a zombie instead of a blushing bride. We got married on June first, and by the middle of July I was fully weaned from all anti-anxiety, anti-psychotic, sedating medication.

So I guess this is another type of anniversary for me. Man alive, this place has been full of them lately! I still have several visible scars. If people notice and ask about them, I usually say that I used to work in a vet clinic that administered care to feral animals (which is true) and that the scars are from bites and scratches I received there. Sometimes I tell the truth. Not often, though. But I feel like I need to start being more honest with myself.

That and I need to start practicing so I know what to say when Sam and company start asking questions.

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super des said...

Oh Amy, you are so strong. I know that was a hard thing to go through (and to tell us about) but the fact that you kicked it shows how awesome you are. Your children will see how strong you are now and will understand that they can always come to you whether they think they can or not.

my word verification is dahsles.

susan said...

Hugs from me, too. Thank you for sharing your story and your strength. You are an amazing woman. Your children are blessed to have your wealth of strength and experience to pull from!

Mrs. Chicken said...

Amy, this is so brave and honest. Putting this out there may help someone who is going through a hard time like this.

I, too, have struggled with mental illness. Sharing our stories is the best therapy there is - so is blogging.

Thank you for this post.

Arizaphale said...

Ditto the brave and honest comment.Stories like this make me so mad with psychiatrists. For most of us, it is a lot more helpful to unpack and examine the things which drive us to despair than to mask them with drugs. I spent three years in counselling after the breakdown of my marriage and basically wiped my hard drive and loaded a new program, to use cyber speak. It was the most important experience of my life. On the other hand, my sister has been on meds for over 20 years now and finds without them she spins out of control. She found CBT useful but still needs drugs to control her chemical balance. I just needed to change the things I believed (particularly about myself) and the way I interacted as a result of that. So it depends on your situation but it sounds like your psychiatrist wasn't even looking for other alternatives. How wonderful that the thought of children 'flicked the switch' for you. The birth of my daughter was also instrumental in convincing me to address things. Just think of the wisdom you have to offer your children in the future as they deal with their own metaphorical demons. Congratulations and deepest admiration for your courage and integrity.

Amy Jo said...

Sorry for the silence here. I've been trying to think of an adequate way to say thank you, but I can't come up with one.

Thank you.