It’s going down

I talked to my doctor yesterday, and he confirmed what I had been feeling for a while now.

It was OK to go down.

***

I started taking antidepressants in the summer of 2015.

(Let’s not even get into how I SHOULD have started taking them in 2012 when I suffered from a bad case of post-partum depression.)

I mean, LOOK AT ME. SO DEPRESSED. CLEARLY.

I had a surprise hysterectomy that spring that sent me down a dark path, and some other stuff went down — stuff I will likely never write about in this space — that made 2015 feel like the year my whole life went to shit.

Me + my sis, literally days before I took my first antidepressant (2015)

” … Mental illness isn’t always obvious. It’s not always the inability to get out of bed, or gaining weight, or withdrawing, or losing interest in what you like to do. Sometimes it’s struggling to breathe while you panic about all of the balls you’re juggling, and wondering how you can possibly get through another day. Sometimes it’s looking at the people you love and feeling like you are completely, utterly failing them. Sometimes it’s laughing and making small talk when you’re not sure you want to be alive.Me, in 2015

I summoned up my courage. I went to my doctor. I cried. He wrote me a prescription and I gladly accepted it.

I started taking Sertraline. One little yellow pill to get started (25mg) and then two for a few weeks, then three. At some point, I went up to 100mg which meant a big fat orange pill — the equivalent of four yellow ones.

Picture for posterity. First dose. Summer of 2015.

I got a semi-colon tattoo. I started feeling braver about talking about my mental health. I’d been so freaked out at the idea of taking medication, but really, it wasn’t a big deal. It was a relief.

I started feeling better.

“… I’ve heard people describe depression as feeling like they were moving through life underwater or in a fog, and they said taking antidepressants helped them feel like themselves again — helped them feel clearer. What I learned was that I wasn’t in a fog or under water. I was clinging to the edge of a shore — just my head and shoulders in the heat of the sand, and freezing water rushing over the rest of my body. Taking antidepressants has allowed more of my body to crawl up onto the sand. To feel the warmth of the sun. To feel like myself again.” Me, in 2015

Me + C, Halloween 2015. Three months on Sertraline.

I complained to my doctor at some point of being cloudy and in a haze. We decided I should step down from 100mg (big orange pill) to three yellows (75mg). Then I tried just two (50mg).

And then … for a long time … I did nothing.

I didn’t dare to adjust my dosage again, because whenever I went up or down by 25mg — one little yellow pill’s worth — I would have 24-48 hours of being a hot mess who cried ANGRY TEARS OF RAGE over not being able to find her hole-punch. Really. That happened. It was easier to just … stay.

Pills were fine.

I was fine.

Life was (mostly) fine.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But was I actually still broken?

And if I am, had the pills ever “fixed” me anyway?

Me, the other day (fall of 2019) in the doctor’s parking lot.

The thing people almost never discuss about antidepressants is when to go off of them.

It’s very strange. You choose to go on medication because you are depressed and/or anxious and you need help with your brain’s wiring, and yet you’re supposed to trust THAT SAME BRAIN to tell you when it’s time to stop?

In some cases, I suppose people use them to get through a bad-but-temporary situation and then they know it’s time to taper off.

But what about those of us who have struggled with depression and anxiety since they were teenagers? Those of us who spent 20 years living with mental illness before taking any mediation? How do we know?

May of 2013, so 2+ years before starting antidepressants.

Sometimes I look back through pictures of me, BP and AP — Before Pills and After Pills — to see if I can detect something different in myself. How was I really feeling back then? How did the pills change how I feel?

I don’t find any answers.

In some BP pictures, I look heart-breakingly sad. But then that same day, there are pictures of me being silly and laughing.

But it’s the same with the AP (After Pills) photos. There are no clues.

There are just smiles. Poses. Brooding expressions. Who the hell knows how I was actually feeling, other than (apparently) in a selfie-taking mood?

That’s just it, isn’t it?

There is no “before and after.” Antidepressants are not a life sentence, nor are they a miracle cure. In all of those photos, there’s just me — happy, sad, depressed, motivated, excited, anxious, silly, cranky, all of it. I’m the one who’s been here all along, medicated and otherwise.

I was depressed.

I am depressed.

I was anxious.

I am anxious.

I used to think the pills had fixed me. I used to think they bubble-wrapped my emotions and kept me safely protected from the demons in my head.

But the truth is that I’m not necessarily any different than I was, on that summer day four years ago, that I cried in my doctor’s office and asked for a prescription for antidepressants.

I was happy.

I am happy.

I had bad days.

I still do have bad days.

I’m the same.

I’m different.

***

I can’t explain why I started feeling like I wanted to try life without Sertraline. I have no idea what brought it on.

Maybe just a feeling of … curiosity? Would life feel better and brighter, or terrible and depressing? Would I feel happier and more engaged with everything, or would I be filled with feelings that were too strong?

I always joke that ever since I’ve been on antidepressants, “I can’t cry human tears.” It’s true. I literally CANNOT cry while taking them, unless I’m adjusting my dosage and having temporary rage-cries over office supplies. What would it be like, I wondered, to be able to cry? Is crying a good thing? Am I actually glad to not be able to cry?

(It’s a little like having a period — another regular experience I haven’t had in 4+ years and have trouble remembering.)

There’s also the matter of being in a very different place than I was 4+ years ago.

Four years ago, I had two small children at home with me. I was recovering from a life-changing surgery I hadn’t expected. I was struggling to earn a living as a work-at-home journalist. I was dealing with the aforementioned “other life shit” that was making me feel like I was drowning on a daily basis.

I want to go back and hug 32-year-old me. She was very tired. She was going through hell. She was struggling, and she talked to her doctor about it. I’m very grateful she did.

But now …

Life is different now.

I am different now.

Me, the other day (fall of 2019) in the doctor’s parking lot.

I’m four years older. I’m four years wiser. I’m four years stronger. I’m a 36-year-old mother, wife, business owner, and all-around ass-kicker.

I’ve also learned SO MUCH about managing my own mental health. I understand more about myself now.

I know that I still have bad days when I’m on medication. I know it’s possible that I might feel those bad days more strongly without the gentle fog of the pills. What I don’t know is how I’m going to react to them since it’s been more than four years of having that cushion.

That isn’t to say I didn’t need the pills, because I did.

I’m not saying I don’t need them now, because I’m not sure that’s true.

I am saying that I could easily be BACK on them at any point.

I am not too proud to start them back up if I feel I need them again. Believe me.

***

My doctor’s appointment was yesterday.

He suggested I start taking just one pill (instead of my usual two) and maintain that for a week or even two, before tapering off to just one pill every second day, and then none at all. He isn’t anticipating I’ll feel many side effects, but he wasn’t there when I screamed and cried and probably threw a hole-punch the last time I adjusted my dosage. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I wasn’t sure when I’d start tapering. But then I slept like hell last night and came down with a cold. My throat hurts and I feel like crap, so I figured I might as well combine the feeling-like-crap days.

I brushed my teeth, slathered on my day cream, and took only one pill.

I feel spacey today, but that’s likely just having a cold. I feel a little sick to my stomach, but I often do when I’m sick. I have not yet cried over office supplies, but that’s potentially happening tomorrow or the next day when my system realizes shit is changing. But who knows? Maybe I won’t feel much of a shake-up.

I don’t know if going off my antidepressants is a good idea or not, but it feels like something I need to try.

Something I want to try.

And so I am trying.

I am always trying.

So what do you think?

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