Treatment Resistant Mental Illness & Me

It’s been a year since it all fell apart.

About a year ago, after a successful recovery from postpartum anxiety, depression, and OCD, the carefully cultivated set of tools — medication, meditation, self-care — just stopped working. Just. Stopped. Working. Poof.

I’m done trying to figure out what happened, whether my body chemistry changed or I’d spent too long on the same SSRI or some stressful event triggered something or other. I am done reading studies, reading the bibliographies of studies, hunting down other studies cited. Omega-3s? Augmentation with low-dose atypical antipsychotics? Turmeric?

I’ve probably tried half a dozen new-to-me pharmaceuticals in the last year. I’ve added supplements, taken them away. I’ve yoga’d every damn day. Changed my diet. Changed it again. I’ve changed my professional circumstances. I live in a house I like, with an abundant garden. I hike. I have good friends, from whom I hide, mostly, because I can’t deal with who I am these days. Panicked. Overwhelmed. Undermotivated. Unclear in thought.

It will work out. There are full days of joy. But today and many other days I am excessively irritable, unsure of myself, some days confined only to my bedroom or office because the rest of the house feels contaminated by crumbs and papers and dirty footprints.

The post I wrote a year ago, despite being in the throes of anxiety, feels hopeful. I want to be honest here: I do not feel that way, not today. I just want to scream. I just want to wave a magic wand and take away all of the external stressors and be left in a sea of calm, a sea to which I can eventually acclimate, and then come back to real life, a whole, working human. Not because that sounds nice, but because that sounds like the only way I could possibly survive.

Right now I’m just taking a single atypical antianxiety medication, at a lower dose than what I’d taken previously. I’m trying St. John’s Wort because the studies seem like it can’t hurt, plus a tincture for adrenal support, a tincture of ashwagandha, cod liver oil, and motherwort. It’s not magic. It’s marginally better than the cocktail of pharmaceuticals I was on before. To be clear, I have nothing against psychiatric drugs. I’d be fine taking a pill or four every day for the rest of my life if it enabled me to feel like myself. I’m no longer nursing A SINGLE OTHER HUMAN so I feel like the whole wide world is open to me now, but it turns out there isn’t just a switch to flip to make things all better.

Treatment resistant mental illness sucks, y’all. That’s all there is to this. I’m still here, still trucking along, still getting it done by some miracle. It’s just hard. It’s uncomfortable. It’s not fun to talk about and it’s not fun to live through and it’s not fun to Instagram.

And really, why do anything if it’s not fun to Instagram?

All quiet on the southwestern front or: how anxiety is eating my lunch

All quiet on the southwestern front, I know. It’s hard to write when things are hard, not because there is less to say, but because it feels like those things might be less worth saying.

My instagram feed this weekend was a flurry of sunny pictures from the garden along with captions detailing my anxiety. Nothing if not dualistic, I guess. The last few weeks have been a challenge, a collection of challenges. I’ll go to open a spreadsheet or word doc, to pick out a shirt to wear, to look in the fridge for a snack and suddenly feel myself gripped by what can only be described as waves, Herculean waves, of panic and fear crashing into my core, the tips of my fingers, my shoulders, my everything. I’ll stand up, jump around to try to spur an endorphin rush. Pick up my phone and open the mental health app that provides prompts for helpful exercises, like breathing, meditation, or other ways over/around/through the anxiety. I’ll do 15 minutes of yoga. Text a friend. Change my setting. Eat something. Take a shower.

And sometimes it works, often it doesn’t. I still do those things, because as a friend and I commiserated this weekend, one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves in the heat of the moment is that those things aren’t worth it. They are. They absolutely are.

I finished a course of treatment (cognitive-behavioral therapy with somatic work) a few weeks ago, after pain from a surgical procedure triggered a traumatic event. It was, by all measures, successful. I processed the trauma, learned new skills, kept myself centered in the present. I saw my doctor and reported that things were, technically speaking, pretty okay. Yes, Mike had lost his job and that was stressful; yes, the transition was creating new challenges and we were experiencing some growing pains. Yes, Georgie is still nursing, with all the hormonal shifts that entails, but I’d gotten through it before, right? I could recognize those as external stressors and plan for additional time and space to cope.

And then– I don’t know what. Something changed. It felt like the medications I had come to peace with, that I took dutifully every day, just stopped working.  As I write, the kids are asleep, I have the house to myself, I’ve taken my medicine and had a cup of coffee and done some stretching, and yet– despite dutifully checking all of the self-care boxes– the knot in my stomach is tightening and growing. I’m breathing into it, pressing my feet into the floor, scanning my body for sensations of anxiety, or calm, or nothing.

I’ve been reading articles on how to talk with your children about depression and anxiety, and I think we’re doing okay on that front, being honest and respectful but putting no weight on the babes. I’m not feeling well, but I’ll be okay, and it’s not your job to make me feel better.  I completed an intake for a psychiatrist closer to home, with more availability should I need more frequent appointments, Mike and I are starting relationship counseling this week, and I’m seeing a GP to identify any nutritional deficiencies or health problems that might be exacerbating the issue.

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I don’t ascribe any agency or ill will toward my anxiety; it’s more like a force of nature: a cold wind that blows through your sleeves and skin and bones and then doesn’t, whether or not you have to walk to work and forgot your jacket; ocean waves that knock into your face if you’re there, or carry you gently to shore, you know, just whatever they need to do, with no regard for whether it benefits you or not. I respect that about nature, that sometimes there are ripe thimbleberries on our hikes and sometimes there are poisonous mushrooms, that sometimes it hails mercilessly on the mountain even when the sun was shining moments before, not out of animosity or generosity, because there isn’t anything moral or value-based about it. It just is.

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There are absolute, very definite spots of brightness: the words and actions of friends, knocking out a work task with skill, planting and harvesting our little backyard plot, those two girls so full of life. I can still volunteer with a postpartum mother, still eat roast bison dug from a five-foot-deep pit of burning juniper and corn alongside friends, still knock out some sauerkraut and kombucha and homemade wine from grapes Mike and Georgie harvested that Winnie and I stomped. It’s quite all instagram-y, really, including those captions:

My garden is still alive; look at this fennel! Also I suffer from debilitating anxiety

This is a pinto bean grown from seed and there is a lead ball made of worry in my belly

Spaghetti squash and tomatoes and sage and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, did I mention those?

And later, I’ll pick up Winnie from school, pick up Mike from the same, and we’ll head to dinner with friends. I’ll sharpen my wit and my tongue and make biting, hilarious comments during the debate tonight, I’m sure. Soon enough, I’ll come out of this haze, the knot will soften, and like any pain, I won’t fully remember just how hard these moments were. Thank goodness.

I’ll also post a truly excellent zucchini bread recipe soon. This is a mommyblog, after all.

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