Disclaimer: Nothing in this post is meant to suggest to others to stop taking medication or to change their existing mental/behavioral health regimen. It is simply my story, my truths, and if it gives at least one person reading some hope, then I have done my job. If you are experiencing a crisis, text HOME to 741741 to reach a Crisis Counselor.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is also the first May in my 32 years of life that we are in a global pandemic so mental health awareness is perhaps more important than it has ever been.
Many of our followers know that I have struggled with both depression and anxiety. Sometimes I still do. My "gremlins" (that's what I call depression and anxiety) surfaced in full force about a year after my daughter was born.
I don't recall feeling depressed as a child. I have always been highly sensitive, and highly sensitive children are known to pick up on people's energies and emotions very intuitively-- so it's possible I was absorbing a lot of what was around me as a child, whether that was good energy or bad energy. Clinical depression; however, did not present itself in me until I became a mother at 27. And I hid it from the world.
From 2017 until the beginning of this year, I battled both depression and anxiety on and off. Looking back I would say the longest streak that I was in the "absolute pits" was from January 2017 until October 2017. Now that might not seem like a long time to those of you blessed to be gremlin-free, but for those of us who have to kick away gremlins on a daily basis, that can feel like an eternity.
I was living in the US Virgin Islands at the time, working in finance, breastfeeding my 1.5 year old, and trying to be a perfect everything else. I was on different medications, which I found out about a year later through a gene test I was not biologically compatible with.
Since that time in the US Virgin Islands, I have been tested for almost all of the standard anti-anxiety and anti-depressant pharmaceutical drugs. I have an adverse gene reaction or show no results to 26 of them. My psychiatrist calls me an enigma. Once she gave me a very small dose of something she prescribes to her most severe inpatients suffering from insomnia and schizophrenia that helps them find rest -- and it did nothing for me. I sat up that night reading a book.
The next session when I told her this, she fiercely shook her head in confusion and told me, "Yeah, I don't think medication is for you. I want you to try eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). This is a trauma issue, not a chemical one."
This was a psychiatrist telling me this. A woman trained to prescribe medication. A woman who worked day in and day out in a hospital prescribing psychiatric medication, and she was telling me to stop taking medication. Now again, this is my story. This is my unique body chemistry and I am in no way suggesting that people run to the toilets to dump down what they are prescribed.
I just want to say that for me, medication did more harm than good. I couldn't function well on it, even on the smallest dosage. My quality of life was worse, not better. But I know that's not the case for everyone and I vehemently disagree with people who see things so one-sided, especially those who shame others for taking medication.
So for those of you who preach to the masses to just "belly breath their way through depression and anxiety" and/or "all medication is poison" ... just be quiet and gnaw on your overpriced kale that was probably grown unethically. Lol. Please get accepted into medical school before you try to impose those types of opinions (and judgment) on people. You have no idea what type of harm you are inadvertently spreading to others who need psychiatric medication to function. I am not one of them, but I will always advocate for them, because I know many of them.
Anyway, this past year I took my doctor's advice, weaned off medication, and started EMDR with a trained/certified EMDR therapist. I was very skeptical. Very. 'The therapist barely talks and I hold these vibrating things in my hands while I replay traumatic memories in my head? Sounds like lunacy.'
It wasn't. For those of you who need all the dirty scientific details, you can read more about how exactly EMDR works here.
In layman's terms, using bilateral stimulation (to mimic what our brains do during REM sleep), EMDR opens blocked pathways in the brain caused by trauma and re-establishes healthy ones so that painful memories can become stored and neatly filed away just like a memory of going to get gas for your car. You don't dwell on that trip to the gas station, right? It's because your brain filed it away properly. There was nothing significant about the gas station so it got filed away like taxes. That's what EMDR therapy does to traumatic memories - files them away properly.
Now these sessions can get INTENSE. You might cry like you never have before. You might relive your trauma. You might feel numb. That's why it's important to find a therapist who is trained (and certified) in EMDR because they will know how far to push things and when to dial back. Right now during COVID-19, I don't think EMDR is a viable therapy to deliver because it works best in-person. But I do hope that changes soon. Because it saved me. It nudged my brain to heal itself.
It takes a lot of work, is not a silver bullet and may not work for everyone -- but for those like me who have been struggling for many years in battling your gremlins and have yet to find a long term solution, EMDR might be it. So look into it. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which I recently learned about at a conference, might be another one to try.
In close, stay well. Be well. Reach out for support. And remember that you are NEVER alone in what you are going through -- so don't battle those gremlins in solitude. I know that's what your mind is telling you to do (isolate) but it's lying to you. Those gremlins are some MFs. Please know that myself and so many others who have been there and are still there are always here for you and always will be.
Lastly, here is an awkward picture of me pretending to be a Viking, in case anyone needs to laugh (laughter's also good medicine). I greeted my Grubhub driver like this last week and I'm not sure I will ever greet another food delivery person a different way.