December 30, 2020

Putting Boundaries on My Depression

Putting Boundaries on My Depression

I recently passed the 3 months mark of taking Zoloft for depression. 

Depression showed up for the first time in my life 6.5 years ago, during my first postpartum season (I wrote about that here). Pregnancy, postpartum, and motherhood shifted my emotional landscape. 

It completely blindsided and bewildered me. 

Up until that time, I had dealt with anxiety extensively. Anxiety felt like a slightly bothersome old friend–I knew how to identify it, look for the source, and employ strategies to mitigate it (I shared strategies I learned here). 

But depression? Depression was unfamiliar, scary, out of my control … and I also didn’t fully understand or recognize it. 

A dark side of the wellness world

Two years postpartum, I realized that I had been stuck in a cycle of depression since my son’s birth. Because of my exposure to the wellness community, I dove into trying to figure out what was in my control to “fix” it. The dark side of the wellness world for me (and many women I’ve worked with over the years) is I tend to feel an extreme sense of personal responsibility for my health. When I take in new information, I immediately weaponize it against myself, based on how well I am hitting that mark. I essentially believe that my health (and the health of my kids, at times) is within my control. Therefore, any issue happening in my body is my fault. 

I walked a tightrope of trying to eat/avoid the right foods, get enough sleep, practice enough yoga and meditation, take the correct combination of supplements at the right time of the month … just to keep my depression at a manageable level. All along, this nagging question–should I just try antidepressants? What if I didn’t have to spend so much effort just to maintain my tenuous mental health?

Resistance to pharmaceuticals

In the wellness world (and in my religious background), there’s a huge resistance to pharmaceuticals. I remember trying to decide if I should start antidepressants shortly after my first son was born. My fear of the unknown coupled with the mindset that depression would eventually pass kept me from taking them. When you break your arm, you wear a cast. When your brain doesn’t produce enough serotonin, you take an SSRI.

I understand the resistance to pharmaceuticals. Brain chemistry is not as cut and dry as an x-ray of a broken bone. I kept wishing that I could get my serotonin measured. Then I would know definitively that I needed an SSRI, and that it wasn’t just unresolved trauma or a blocked chakra or any other variety of ideas I got from the wellness world. We know that pregnancy changes a person’s brain, but we don’t understand what it does or why. The mindset of not knowing if I truly needed antidepressants on a physiological level kept me stuck in the cycle of depression and blaming myself for years as I “just tried one more thing” to solve it. 

What my depression looks like

Fall 2019 was one of the worst seasons of depression for me. My depression hasn’t left me debilitated in the sense that I can’t get out of bed. But internally, I had no peace. It manifested in my marriage, in my parenting, in my spiritual life and relationship with God, in my motivation for personal endeavors, in my friendships. I heard how self absorbed and negative I sounded when I talked with my friends, but I couldn’t stop.

My depression overwhelmed me and made the smallest tasks feel like an insurmountable burden. Waking up and making breakfast for my kids, I would muse to myself, Every day is the same. Life is just this endless string of meaningless tasks. I was so short fused and then would beat myself up internally for getting mad at small offenses. I see now that I drank alcohol as an escape, which ultimately led me to my dry 2020 (I’ll be writing more about this soon, too!). Like so many people, I downplayed the symptoms because I didn’t fit the stereotype in my head of a depressed person.

Putting boundaries on my pain

A pastor I deeply respect, Mike Erre, shared his journey with taking meds for depression on his podcast years ago. He said, “Taking medication was exactly the thing that allowed me to engage with my emotional issues. Otherwise they felt too big and scary and I’d never go near them. Medication provided a cap, a bottom and a top, and put boundaries around what felt like endless depression and anxiety…I felt I could engage those parts of me that I’d been putting off.” 

Three months into taking medication for depression, this image feels accurate for me too. As an enneagram 1, I have a propensity toward blaming myself, examining where I might have gone wrong, and what I could do better. It’s mentally exhausting. My exposure to the wellness world further reinforces this line of thinking.

Breaking through the fog

Taking meds has firmly made me believe that, oh! This was literally a chemical imbalance. My brain is so happy, and I’m relieved to be providing it with the serotonin it needs. I have a greater capacity to engage mindfulness, whereas previously I wondered why I was failing at staying present as my mind ruminated on negative thoughts. I now have emotional energy to expend on supporting my friends or being patient with my kids or lending a hand to my husband, whereas before I was aware of my self absorption, but it felt inescapable.

Trying meds was a 6.5 year debate in my head. On a lot of days, I wish I would have tried them earlier. I see the struggle, the toll it took, and how much much of my mental space I devoted to trying to avoid medication.

I started seeing a new therapist a few months ago, too. If possible, I think it’s important to pair meds with therapy. I don’t have a long term plan for how long I’ll be on mine. But honestly? I am just so damn relieved to be out of my misery. I see now how I was living under a cloud. On foggy days here in San Diego, I know that the sun is behind that fog. And I know that there are things I can do to help the sun break through (yoga, journaling, rest, therapy, meditation/mindfulness, gratitude practice).

Reach out for help

In the past 3 months I’ve come to see that at least in this season, in this year, I was never going to be able to fully break through the fog without the help of meds. And that’s okay. I’m thankful for the option of meds and so proud of myself for giving it a try.

Friendly reminder that I am not looking for advice here. My goal is to share my experience in hopes that it  encourages someone with a similar journey. I’m also happy to share more details on my experience adjusting to meds and dealing with side effects. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, or feel free to reach out privately.