Less than five hours from now, I will take a significant step in my lifelong mental health battle. And it's just like me to do so with this very public announcement to the world:
"I am taking my doctor's advice and trying medication for anxiety and depression."
There. I said it. And once I post this blog, there's no taking it back. And I'm okay with that. Because I've tried most everything else and it hasn't worked.
I've struggled with anxiety and depression all of my life. I've denied it. I've drank myself through it. I've made terrible decisions and life-threatening choices while pretending I wasn't feeling it. And I've spent far too many 3AM's alone with sad songs and a battered soul. I've put myself through so much pain, ironically in an effort to make the existing pain go away.
It doesn't. Not for long, at least. And when it comes back, it doesn't just creep in. It returns with a roar and a vengeance that threatens to take me down completely.
(As I'm writing this, I imagine that people reading it will fall into two camps. One group will understand the words but not really get what I'm describing. The other group, though, will nod along and think, "fuck, that's totally me, too.")
For those who aren't quite getting it, I'll be even more direct. No matter what I am projecting on the outside, no matter the jokes I make or the laughs I share, there is always a voice inside reminding me that these people don't really care if you're here, they'd rather talk with each other than with you, and it doesn't matter anyway because you'll soon be home, by yourself, sitting in the dark and feeling like you are absolutely, completely alone.
Pretty screwed up, right? I mean, cognitively, I know that's not true. My heart knows that I have amazing people in my life who would do anything to make me happy. But it's not my heart that is the problem. It's the insecurities and irrational thoughts that drag me under. And no amount of Facebook "likes" can keep me afloat.
And it's not just imaginary scenarios. Real life plays its part, too. When bad things happen, it's not enough for me to process the reality of the situation. I feel the need to magnify and amplify the pain, like what is already there isn't bad enough.
When we lost our Marine to suicide, it broke my heart. But instead of grieving for the life we lost, I began to obsess about what to do to keep it from happening again. I became consumed with the fear that saying the wrong thing, or not saying the right thing, or not being there for someone in need... any of these would lead another Marine to take their life, and I'd live the rest of my life knowing that I had failed. Again. How screwed up is that sort of thinking, to take an already tragic moment and turn it into a weapon to beat myself up with?
And so much more pain followed. Other suicidal friends. Rescuing a stranger and losing them to their injuries. Another stranger choosing to end his own life by stepping in the path of an oncoming car. A friend falling to his death in a horrible climbing accident. So much pain and loss, with no end in sight. Each of these events were awful, but the combined wave of sadness was too much.
So my outward appearance became more forced and my anxiety and depression became more severe. But I still acted as if I could just make myself feel better. Go places. Drink more. Laugh louder. Have fun. For fuck sake, John, have fun. Hey everyone, look at me and the fun I am having. Life is awesome, isn't it?!
All the while, my life was steady falling apart. Many of you noticed and tried to help, but I wasn't willing to let you. I just said, "I'm good now, thanks," and went on about my day. I did go for counseling, which was a huge thing. I saw a counselor several times and he was able to help me as much as anyone could. He gave me suggestions for handling the dark moments and, for the most part, they've been effective. I mean, I'm still here, right? But there was also the recommendation that I add medication to my treatment plan. And I said no.
But here I am now. And I'm ready to say yes.
What changed my mind? A painful, tearful conversation with my husband. Listening to myself talk, saying things like, "I'm just done with this, all of this. I'm so fucking tired and I just don't care, anymore."
Yeah, that will set off alarms. Because I know that's not me. That isn't the person I really am. That's the messed up brain chemistry telling me lies. It's telling me that life is too difficult to endure and death is a solution. It's telling me that the joy I experience is a bandaid, that reality is nothing but pain and disappointment.
How fucked up is that?
Fortunately, I know better. In my rational moments, I know better. I may not feel okay right now but I believe that I can feel okay. I know that life can be filled with authentic happiness and joy. The good times in life are the tonic that carry us through the bad times. And as my husband so eloquently put it, "love is the point."
I am loved.
And people need me to stay.
So, today marks the next chapter in the journey. I meet with my doctor this morning and I've decided that I am going to have the prescription filled. I don't know if I will be on medication for a few months, a few years, or even the rest of my life. And right now, I don't care. I'm going to focus on the here and now.
And like all the other good and bad things in my life, I'm going to share this experience with any of you that are willing to read along. Because there should be no shame in getting help. No shame in taking necessary medication. And no shame in admitting, "I'm in pain."
Not everyone is comfortable sharing something like this with the world. I'm not all that comfortable with anything about this myself. But I know how important it has been to me to know that I was not alone in times of struggle. Seeing other people going through what I was going through helped me believe that things would get better. If they can do this, I can do this.
I need help. And I'm going to get it. And if you are in the same situation, I am begging you, please reach out to someone. Find the help you need. Because there is no honor in suffering in silence and no reward for standing alone.
Happiness is the goal. But I'll start with my own survival.