When I moved to Atlanta in April I decided to go back to regular therapy. Therapy and I go way back, like the epic battle between Backstreet Boys and N’Sync, we’ve had our beef. The first time I remember going to a therapist I was sixteen. I had been pretty sad and started to skip school in lieu of sleeping all day. My mom was nervous so she took me to a therapist. As I was waiting in the reception area I was reading over a pamphlet that asked: Do You Suffer from Depression? It was a quick little quiz that promised to diagnose a mental health problem if you answered five questions: Are you tired a lot? Do you feel hopeless? Do you have trouble concentrating? Are you irritable or annoyed? Do you suffer from low self-esteem? Looking back now I would say this was just a list of normal teenager behavior, but when I looked at that list I was like, Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! And for the first time ever I had a name to go with how I felt. And it made me feel worse.
The therapist ended up being a real whack-job, and she kept trying to get me to admit to being sexually assaulted or beaten as a child. so I went a couple more times and then quit. Then in my early twenties I went again to a therapist a couple of times, then quit. Then at 27 I had my first child and fell into the biggest bout of depression I had ever experienced. Postpartum Depression is a real fucking horror, y’all. It is nothing to sneeze at. At that time I didn’t have the stamina or the willingness to go to a therapist, but my primary care physician put me on anti-depressants after my six-week postpartum check-up because she could see that I was struggling, and that is when my life changed.
There was always a stigma with pills in my family. I would overhear my mom talk to people about how she was sad or irritable or couldn’t sleep, but pills were never the answer. You just had to pull up your bootstraps and keep on keeping on. But honestly, if my doctor had not recognized what I was going through when I was going through it, things might have ended differently for my baby or for me. I had a total loss of control during those early days. Not to mention a colicky baby and a husband who was just as green as I was. It was touch and go for awhile, but the pills helped me so much, that only six weeks into my antidepressants (which was Wellbutrin, and they are totally kick-ass), I decided that if I had to take a pill everyday for the rest of my life to feel better, I would. And I do. Well, now I take two, and this is only after ten years of trial and error.
Look it, I’ve been on Wellbutrin (awesome-sauce, but it made my blood pressure skyrocket), Prozac (the magic pill for more reasons than one, but it gave me horrible migraines after three years), Buspar (this is an anti-psychotic that they paired with Prozac to help with anxiety after I lost my daughter and now it’s on all my charts as a no-go because it made me suicidal), Celexa (good stuff, but plummeted my libido), Zoloft (made me feel no emotions, like zero emotion, all the time, weird stuff), Lexapro (Celexa’s sister, but the one I am currently on because I finally decided I could deal with the libido and the inability to lose weight like a normal fucking person as long as I have a pill that makes me not sad about those two things very often) there has to be some give and take. Then there are the other pills.
The first time I took a Xanax was the night I was released from the hospital after giving birth to my dead daughter. Yeah, that sounds harsh. Because it was fucking harsh. I was given a prescription for Xanax before I left the hospital and my husband drove to Target to get it filled before we went home just in case, even though I told him there is no way in hell I’d be taking that kind of pill. Stigma, remember? Well, I took that kind of pill (which happens to be a pill in the benzodiazepine class. It also happens to be highly addictive and is a way that a many of lonely housewives made it through the 70s, apparently, Valium is in that class) and I was able to sleep that first night. For a few hours anyway. Until I woke up screaming that I was a baby-murderer and had to take another one. That was eight years ago and I still, to this day, keep a bottle of Xanax next to my bed. I am on the lowest dose possible, and I routinely break it in half. I am prescribed 30 of them to last me for three months and I have never run out of them. Why? Because at this point they are more of a crutch than anything else. Just knowing I have them when a panic attack threatens is good enough for me. But things are changing now.
This new town, new me has me thinking differently. For the first time in two years I am with a therapist on the reg. She is a licensed therapist, so she can’t prescribe drugs, but I still wanted to take the burden off of my PCP, so my therapist told that I could use her offices’ Mental Health Nurse Practitioner for all my mental health medication needs. It was interesting, and a little weird at first, but after our first visit I felt confident that she gets it. Don’t get me wrong, I love my PCP, but she doesn’t specialize in mental health. I mean, when I have lady-garden issues, I go to a lady-garden doctor. When I have tooth pain, I see the dentist. So it makes sense that I would go to a mental health professional for my medication now too. And she is nice, but she is aggressive.
The first thing she did was take me off Xanax. Now remember, I have been on this pill (as needed) for eight years. I was a little nervous, but talk about being on a pill with a stigma. In fact, one of the first things I said to my new pill-lady was, See, see that face you made when I said I take Xanax, I’m tired of that face. There is a stigma attached to this pill and I don’t like it. She smiled and apologized for the face. She gets it though, and then she explained the stigma. It’s a highly addictive pill, with a big street value. I know all this of course. I know it first hand. I have a very close friend who was addicted to them a few years back and I watched her life unravel at an alarming rate. She finally got real help, but at a major cost to her life and to her family. So I get it. I do. But when something works, it is hard to turn your back on it.
Long story short (What do you mean, Missy? You always tell a long-ass story, we know this about you!) Well thanks, but let me get to the point here. Long story short, she put me on a new pill. Not a new anti-depressant (just yet), but a new benzodiazepine. And this new one is old, really old. Maybe you have heard of it, it’s called Klonopin. I had heard of it. In fact, I had heard bad things about it, I guess the sorts of things people hear about Xanax, but this one is supposed to be longer lasting so you don’t have to take as much, meaning it has a lower risk of addiction. Okay, I went with it. Next month we are changing my other pill. Apparently there are new fancy ones with less side effects. I’m game. I always trust the professionals.
So here we are. I came home and started to read all about Klonopin, then got myself so upset by what I was reading that I had to take a damn Klonopin, y’all. I wish I were joking. But, it turned out to be okay. It sort of cleared my mind, a feeling I haven’t had in awhile. And it made me talkative and happy. It made me relax and appreciate the good stuff all around. I might be able to get used to this. Maybe just maybe.
I’m telling you all this today because I have learned over the last few years that the only way to break down a stigma is to talk about it. An open and honest discourse about uncomfortable topics has never let me down. We see very little progress when we keep closed off. When we let other people dictate how we should feel, or act, or get help when we need it. We see very little progress when we feed into those antiquated ideas of what is right and what is good. Because the bottom line is, what is good for me may not be good for you. But we shouldn’t be judging each other when we are just trying to figure it all out.
As always take care of yourself and others.