anecdotes and reflections on life with depression and anxiety
If you've been following along, you know that I wrote last week about the anxiety I sometimes experience at night. I focused in that post on how the anxiety feels for me physically, but there's still so much more to say. Because when it feels like ants are crawling through my veins or I can't catch my breath no many how many deep breathing techniques I try -- then what?
When the night time anxiety monster rears its ugly, dumb old head, my response can vary. Several months ago I was dealing with it every night, flipping through my coping mechanisms like a deck of cards, hoping to draw the right one. Lately it's less frequent, thank goodness, but there are still nights that go something like this.
Once I'm awake and feeling restless, I tend to try to convince myself that it's not really anxiety -- that I'm just having trouble settling down and getting to sleep. I usually persuade myself that I just have to get up and pee, maybe have a sip of water, and my body will calm itself back down. (This never works.)
Other times I try to go back to my book, praying that whatever I'm reading will either pull me in toward sleep or distract my mind from the discomfort in my body, from how hard it is to breathe. Or I'll play a mind game, some kind of alphabet game or counting backwards. I'll even put in some earbuds and try music or a podcast (again, a choice -- do I listen to something interesting to distract myself, or something soothing and droning to lull myself to sleep?).
I might lug out my weighted blanket, bought just for nights like this, and haul it over my body. If it helps, it really helps. If it doesn't, it makes me feel trapped and short of breath and the already-terrible anxiety escalates. Most nights that feels like a risky choice.
Next, maybe I'll crack a window, or turn up the air conditioning if it's summer. Maybe I'll put a cold pack on my face. Maybe I'll go out to the living room and pace, or find something soothing on TV that might trick me into calming down. It's a frustrating game of trial and error, of trying to pick and choose which intervention will help ease the anxiety and not exacerbate it. It feels unending and the days pass in a stupor because I am getting no sleep.
And so, after a week (or two, or three) of nights like this, my most common initial response evolved. I was unwilling to flip through the deck, hoping for a lucky card. Instead I began to reach immediately for the bottle of Lorazepam (a generic brand of Ativan) that lives on my nightstand, mentally calculating how much I'd already taken before I had even tried to sleep. I'd heave a sigh at the concern that my tolerance had gone up once again and then swallow the pill, feeling guilty and worried and relieved all at once.
I've never been reluctant to take, or admit to taking, medication for my mental illnesses. From the time my first therapist suggested it in college, I was willing to accept the idea that adding some pharmaceutical engineering to my clearly imbalanced brain chemistry could be what I needed. Back then I thought it was temporary; my therapist suggested I was in a set of circumstances that had caused my depression, so the symptoms would theoretically relent as my circumstances changed.
Nine years later, I've been diagnosed with dysthymia (chronic, low-level depression), major depression, generalized anxiety, and seasonal affective disorder (all birds of a feather, really). However I decide to think about it, the meds are likely to be a mainstay of my wellness plan for the foreseeable future. It's not that I want to be taking them, and it's even less that I want to be dependent on them, but for me, part of being well is releasing the guilt and doubt over taking advantage of what works and simply letting it work.
With the anti-depressants (and, oh, how many types of them there have been, over the years), this was relatively easy. Take them once or twice a day, as prescribed, every day. There's no decision-making involved, unless you are in the kind of dark place that convinces you to stop them because you aren't worth it, or in the kind of good place that convinces you to stop them because they worked and you're cured! (More on this another time, I think.)
There's no pause to think, no self-assessment, no "do I need this right now?" or "can something else help me during this difficult moment?" There's just routine.
But the Ativan, a benzodiazepine that can be habit-forming, is only prescribed for me to take as needed. To me, that adds a whole new layer of decision-making to the idea of self-care via responsible medication. It requires making a choice during a fragile, terrifying moment in which I'm not all there and I'm desperate to feel something other than panic and misery. It demands a tough call at a time when I don't have my best judgment available to me -- and that feels scary.
Continued thoughts on this topic coming later in the week -- please join the email list or follow @gowhereithurts on social media to catch the next installment!
oh, hey --
My name is Lauren. I'm thirty-something, and I like to take naps and read good books and watch bad television. I love my husband and I love my cat, and I live with depression and anxiety, which is mostly what you'll read about here.