Stuff I Did in March, Part Three: Asking for Help

Every year, I dread February. But March usually brings some relief. Even though it’s still winter, the days are obviously getting longer, and spring is coming. March is a often sunny month here in Winnipeg, and most years, I start planning my garden, spending a bit more time outside, and generally perking up after the February slump.

This year, though, I just kept sliding downward despite the longer days, the mild weather, and the promise of spring.

There have been lots of difficult things in my life over the last few years. After sixteen years together, I got divorced from the person I honestly thought I would grow old with. The lifelong difficulties with my dad and my stepmom culminated in total estrangement from them and from most of that side of the family. A couple of bad incidents at work of inappropriate behaviour directed toward me by “superiors” resulted in a sick leave and union involvement. In the middle of it all, one of my health issues (hyperthyroidism) flared up again, so there was a year and a half of med adjustment, blood tests, and appointments with the endocrinologist. Last spring, I abruptly quit therapy, not because I felt I was ready, but because after not meeting several commitments he had made to me, the therapist said something to me in session that I felt was a “last straw” of unprofessionalism; I was too overwhelmed by everything else going on to address it, so I just walked away. In the fall of 2014, my house had a sewer backup that rendered my basement tenant homeless and led to half a year of frustrating renovations and asshole contractors.

But I dealt with it, you know? I have some good, wonderful, supportive friends. I hate asking for help, and I seldom have over the last years, but just having them in my life has made a huge difference to me. I have tried hard to make art consistently (“a doodle a day keeps the crazy away”), to spend time with friends, to also spend enough time by myself, to eat well (this month will be three years as a vegetarian), and to spend time walking the dogs to get some exercise. Although I had to stop taking university courses because of the financial consequences of the divorce, I’ve taken other classes and learned new things and read lots of books, but I have also said no to over-committing myself or doing things out of duty or guilt or “shoulds.”

So this year, even though February was hard, I reminded myself that this happens every year and that things would get better in March.

But then March came, and there was no relief. I was still glued to the couch every night bingeing on Netflix shows, eating chips-and-dip for dinner and neglecting my house and my pets and myself. Sure, I went out and did a few things, but my heart wasn’t in it and I felt like I was just going through the motions. By mid-March, I was getting concerned. What if the February Blues just weren’t going to go away?

For about a year now, I have been considering going back on antidepressants. I had been on sertraline in the past, and that worked well for several years, but then my insomnia “broke through” and other symptoms started coming back; I quit the meds cold turkey in 2007 or so. I don’t recommend this! I had lots of withdrawal symptoms, the worst being the sensation of dozens of bugs biting me, or little electric shocks on my skin, for days.

But for the last while, I have sometimes wondered why I am trying to do this on my own without going back on meds. With everything that has happened over the last few years, there have of course been days and weeks and even months when I have felt utterly overwhelmed. There have been nights when I went to bed thinking how nice it would be to not wake up (“for a week or so,” my anxious brain would add. “I don’t actually want to be dead,” I would try to convince myself). But especially during my divorce, being dead—or, more accurately—“not being”—seemed like the only way out of all that confusion and pain and rage. My clever, self-protective mind dealt with this by just dissociating a lot of the time, but that’s also a state of extreme discomfort for me, and when I’m there, I struggle really hard with wanting to self-harm as a means of trying to “get back into my body.”

Still, I feel that I have done really well. I have not been actively suicidal (no plan or intent or gathering of means). I have not lost my job or lost my friends or lost my mind. In the times in between major stresses, I remember that the key is to get quiet, get grounded, listen to the Good Animal Voice inside me, my trustworthy and accurate instinct. And the way to do that is through art, through connection with my cats and dogs and friends, through regular sleep and not drinking alcohol and eating lots of veggies.

But sometimes it’s just so hard to remember why these things are important. And my insomnia was getting worse. I was waking up at night and starting into the dark for hours, anxious and agitated, going over everything that could possibly go wrong in my life, everything that had gone wrong in the past, and every humiliating or shameful incident I remembered.Β  Even zopiclone would only guarantee five solid hours of sleep. Then I had a couple of full-blown panic attacks: tight chest, palpitations, feeling like I was choking, breaking into a sweat, nearly blinding terror that I was having a heart attack and about to die. And I thought, you know what? I need some help. Which is why I’ve been thinking about the meds.

Here’s the thing, though. I am a big believer in meds and therapy and taking care of your mental health. I am all about the anti-stigma aspects of mental health activism. I am always quick to suggest to people that they consider all options, including meds. But because of my own history, I hate asking for help in any way, and after having been shamed so much for being on meds in the past, after being ridiculed for being weak and needing help, after being taunted for making mistakes and not being perfect, it is really, really hard to believe that it is okay for ME to use antidepressants. Now to be clear, I feel the same way about the blood pressure pills I am on, but I’ve been on them for so long that I don’t really think about it anymore. In mid-March, as I got ready one morning, I looked at the tablet of atenolol in the palm of my hand and realised that once I’ve been on antidepressants for a while, it would be this easy. Part of my morning routine. And just as I finally gave in and took the anti-hypertensives because it was a matter of my long-term health, I decided to call my doctor and go back on antidepressants—because it is a matter of my long-term health.

First I did my research. I work with psychiatrists, and the reference materials available to me are excellent. I made a few lists: one of my symptoms and diagnoses, one of the side effects I was unwilling to tolerate, and one of the meds that would meet my criteria. I finally narrowed it down to citalopram and venlafaxine, and walked over to my doctor’s appointment prepared to advocate for my choice. My nurse practitioner heard me out, and wrote a prescription for venlafaxine without any argument, which was a relief but also a tiny bit disappointing since I was so prepared to convince her if she disagreed!

I walked my prescription over to my lovely neighbourhood pharmacy (where they let me take the Fluffy Dog right in as long as he behaves) and picked up my venlafaxine. Then I walked home and took my first pill right away, before I could have second thoughts. My nurse practitioner had warned me (and I read in my reference books) that venlafaxine can have pretty bad withdrawal symptoms, so I knew that once I started, I was pretty much committing to this. I know it’s usually four weeks or so before any real effects can be noted, but I am generally pretty sensitive to meds so between that and the placebo effect (read: my relief at starting meds for a problem), I usually start to notice effects pretty quickly.

The first thing I noticed was that within an hour of taking that first pill,Β  I felt extremely nauseated and my head started to hurt. I took gravol and painkilers, and tried to tough it out. Most side effects go away within a week, and I really wanted to give these pills a chance. The headache and nausea lasted for close to three days, and then stopped. They returned on the seventh day when I doubled my dose, but only lasted a day and a half, and weren’t as bad.

The capsules are filled with tiny pellets and they make a little dry, hissing sound as they go down my throat, which is somewhat disconcerting. For the first few days, I took them in the evening, and by the end of the first week, I noticed that I was already less anxious when I was awake in the middle of the night—BUT—I was still awake in the middle of the night. The pharmacist had said that it can have a sedating effect, but it could also cause wakefulness, so I decided to move my dose to the morning to see if that made a difference. It did. So now I’m on 75 mg daily and will go back to see my NP in a couple of weeks.

I’m glad I’m back on meds. I’m mad that I waited so long. I’m hopeful this will be helpful. I’m sad that even though I am a proponent of meds for treating mental illness, I feel so much ambivalence and shame and resentment and anger and weakness about needing / using them myself, and about talking about it. It’s so stupid: I 100% believe this is a good thing to do and try—for OTHERS. But I myself am supposed to be strong enough and healthy enough and perfect enough and “together” enough not to need them.

It reminds me of the last time I saw my dad, before he and my stepmom stopped talking to me altogether. Dad and I were lunching together to try to discuss some of the difficult issues we’d been trying to address via email. I thought I was being very clear and logical and making a good fist of explaining how I felt, when he suddenly pointing his finger in my face from across the table and interrupted me: “There was nothing wrong with your childhood!” I froze, stunned, the proverbial rabbit in headlights, and he repeated, slowly and with great emphasis: “There was—NOTHING—WRONG—with your childhood.”

That’s the voice I still hear. Not necessarily his, although that’s one of its faces. But all of the people who have told me that my experiences didn’t happen, that I don’t feel what I feel. That the abuse is all in my head. That I have no reason to be depressed, or anxious, or to have flashbacks, or to be fearful of people. That the problem is ME. The voices of authority and judgement and punishment, telling me how I am allowed to feel, what I am allowed to remember, who I am allowed to be. And somehow this translates into me being ashamed of my own pain and my need for help. This translates into me being ashamed that my dad won’t talk to me and my stepmom shamed me and my grandfather touched me, because obviously I was a very bad kid if even my own family doesn’t want to love me. The problem is very clearly ME.

This translates into me being ashamed of going on antidepressants, because “obviously” I have no reason to need them. Even though I know—I KNOW—that mental illness does not necessarily have a clear cause or reason, any more than cancer does. Sure, sometimes the cause is obvious, but just as often it isn’t. Someone on Facebook shared a quote today saying maybe we should call it “mind cancer” instead of “mental illness” because people might take it more seriously.

I’m just so tired of trying so fucking hard to be strong all the time. I just want a little help. And I asked for it, and I got it. So baby steps.

 

 

 

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21 thoughts on “Stuff I Did in March, Part Three: Asking for Help

  1. honestme363

    Oh Nissetje. We all need help sometimes wether it is through family,friends, art, pets or meds. I remember feeling the exact same way as you, thinking I should be able to handle it all on my own. One of my very good friends shared some ‘pams’ with me. I remember the relief I felt after swallowing that first pill (I was having severe panic attacks). It knocked me flat out and gave me a break from my own mental Rollercoaster. I wondered why it took me so long to admit that I wasn’t coping well. Good for you for being strong enough to recognize when you needed you some extra help, researching it and asking for it. I hope the side effects fade away and that it brings you the help you need. xo

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. nissetje Post author

      Thank you so much. The side effects are already gone, except for a bit of tiredness during the day (although that could just be that my sleep isn’t perfect yet). And I feel very comfortable with the decision now that I’ve actually acted on it. As with so much in my life, the dread is always bigger than the actual event. Thanks a lot, Anxiety!

      As for the “pams,” I overheard my dad at my grandma’s funeral saying “Pam is our friend” and I was confused because we don’t know a Pam. But he explained: lorazepam, diazepam, clonazepam… Yep. Sorry to hear you were having panic attacks. My limited experience of them makes me want to run away screaming, and certainly contributed to the decision to go on meds!!! I hope that’s in your past, now.

      Liked by 1 person

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          1. honestme363

            awesome! What are you making? I’ll be working a part of the weekend. Some semen testing. And catching up on some sheep care here, they need their hooves trimmed. 😊 I hope it stops snowing! I have parked up on the road at the end of the driveway. It’s a mud pit here!

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            Reply
            1. nissetje Post author

              Ha! The Fluffy Dog would like to provide a sample for testing. The Brindle Dog is in season, and he is wild with lust and despair. Good luck navigating the mud! Do you do the hoof trimming on your own or does someone hold the sheep for you?

              I’m making my to-die-for vegetarian lasagna. It’s a two-day process, which is how you know I love my brother, since I don’t actually like cooking very much. πŸ™‚

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              1. honestme363

                We have a chair type thing that we flip them up into. Once the sheep are on their hind end, they feel like they are stuck? and don’t really move. It amazes me how easy they are to handle, for the most part. Veggie lasagna sounds great! I hope your brother will appreciate all of the work 😊

                Liked by 1 person

              2. nissetje Post author

                Oh, that’s cool about the sheep. The Fluffster is like that too, if I roll him into a certain position. Even though he could easily get out of it, he somehow feels like he can’t, so he’s at my mercy, haha!

                And yeah, the bromate will appreciate it. πŸ™‚ Wouldn’t make it otherwise!

                Liked by 1 person

  2. spearfruit

    Please do not feel ashamed for helping yourself become better. And asking for help, that is what friends are for, to be there in time of need. I hope the meds help you get to feeling better. Hang in there! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. nissetje Post author

      Thank you very much! I’m already feeling some relief, and glad I did it. Feeling shame isn’t really something I have a lot of control over, but at least I can take concrete actions like going on meds or calling up friends, so yeah. I’ve been really enjoying your self-exposure posts, by the way!

      Liked by 1 person

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  3. Col

    I wish you all the best Nissetje. I can only imagine all that you have gone through. I see your kind heart in way you love your animals and I hear the strength in your honesty. I would feel honoured to be placed on your friend list and would love to share anytime.

    I too am a vegetarian… and truthfully… not much of a cook. I would love to hear of your vegetarian lasagna recipe. I am always looking for new veggie dishes to add to my small collection.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. nissetje Post author

      Thank you so much! One of the great pleasures of that photo shoot was getting to meet you. Quite wonderful, actually. I look forward to seeing you again. Also, I think I’ll write a blog post about the lasagna, since quite a few people have asked about it!

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      1. Bitey Dog

        Hooray! I went through a period like you did where everything that could go wrong did – and then a few more things for good measure. It took a long time to crawl back out from under all of that mess. Looking forward to more happy posts!

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
  4. WeaverGrace

    I am bursting with responses to your post. As I poured words into this comment box, I recalled a WordPress principle guiding us bloggers to resist leaving long comments, and to reblog the inspiring post instead with our response. How would you feel about my reblogging your post?

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  5. WeaverGrace

    Reblogged this on Weaver Grace and commented:
    I was bursting with responses to Nissetje’s post as I poured words into his comment box. Then I recalled a WordPress principle guiding us bloggers to resist leaving long comments, and to reblog the inspiring post instead with our response. So here’s what I would like to say to him:

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Stuff I Did in March, Part Three: Asking for Help | Weaver Grace

  7. Pingback: Mind Cancer | Weaver Grace

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