I forgot where my brain goes when the antidepressants aren’t steering it. Suddenly everything that is real, and is truly sad, is so sad that it distracts me from living life. When the antidepressants are full steam they convince my brain that these realities are inconsequential. I smooth them over dismissively, replace the sadness with optimism and am obnoxiously perky about the whole situation. I forget that when the antidepressants are gone, those thoughts and emotions are still real. And they deserve to be given validation.
When I was younger any time I that I felt any extreme emotion my mother would inevitably roll out this whopper: “Have you taken your meds today?” I wasn’t allowed to cry, or get angry, or ponder life’s injustices without it being attributed to whatever mental illness I had most recently been diagnosed with by “the professionals”. What started as a diagnosis of ADD soon morphed to Depression which was changed to Bipolar which was changed to Borderline Personalty Disorder. From age 4+ I had to disown my innately passionate nature and attribute it to some inherent flaw.
I think what is saddest about this warped perspective is that I learned to see myself as a broken victim of circumstance and biology. Anytime I failed, or made someone mad, I would shrug and say “Sorry, I forgot to take my meds today”. It infuriated my older sister who felt like I could get away with murder by using this excuse. And my mom always acquiesced when I’d pull this card. I was never held accountable for my thoughts, feelings or behaviors. They were always excused because of my “special circumstances”.
It reminds me of that old movie about Helen Keller, where, out of misguided pity her family allowed her to act feral because of her circumstances. When Anne came to the house to work with and teach Helen she refused to let her continue treating people like crap. She refused to let Helen live at that low standard. Basically, she refused to let Helen’s entire life be victimized by her incapacities. And we all have incapacities. Mine weren’t as drastic as being born blind or deaf, thank God, but they were extreme character flaws that went incorrected and excused away.
The thing is when you’re young your parents can advocate for you and explain those excuses. They can move you from school to school as your run into problems with authority. They can blame other parents and teachers for their own incompetencies. But when you’re an adult, no one cares what the excuses are and you are the only one stuck with the consequences of your thoughts feelings and behaviors.
Actually, that’s not true. When you’re an adult, no one cares about the excuses and the consequences of your thoughts, feelings and behaviors have a wide ripple effect. You can either keep commitments, or you can’t. You’re either good company, or you’re not. You must learn to overcome the adversities within yourself or you will fail because the laws of the world don’t bow to your capabilities. You either prosper or you flounder. And meanwhile the people around you — friends, family, bosses, coworkers– will either enjoy your company, rely upon you and you will reap the fruits of healthy relationships OR they will tolerate you, try to help you find your way or eventually abandon you to your own decisions.
So at age 25 I started to grasp that. There was no more self-pity of “well I was never taught that” or “this happened to me so that’s why I am the way I am”. If you never got taught a lesson it’s time to start teaching yourself. Catch up. The world won’t wait. Your character flaws CAN be overcome with diligence and intentionality. And if you don’t pursue that, you will suffer for it — in your relationships, career, happiness and quality of life, financially. The hard work and change was no longer as intimidating as the thought of living a life of unhappy mediocrity.
Coming back to today’s revelation, I now recognize my tendency to ruminate on the deeper complexities of life as just a part of who I am. The passage of time, the horrible mistakes I have made, the people I’ve hurt, the opportunities I screwed up, the injustices of the world, the suffering.. they plague me. Instead of jabbering nonstop about trivial cultural garbage — like the latest fashion trends, or what new app is popular — or numbing my mind with TV, games, movies, books, food or constant activity, I sit quietly in the company in my husband and we share silence. And instead of pushing the feelings that inevitably surface away, I embrace and acknowledge their rightful place. It’s a different kind of peace. Somber, quiet, mature and heavy.
This peace, however is not despair. If I didn’t refuse to succumb to it, despair would come easy to me. I have to work hard at stoking the kindling flame of faith and hope. I refuse to become bitter or cynical. I force myself, for every minute I focus on what is wrong in the world, to pray with deep gratitude for what is going right. I make myself focus on the people who, like me, are working hard to overcome evil, instead of focusing on the people who intentionally commit evil.
And you know what? The passage of time — loss, as a whole — is sad. But it’s not just sad. It’s complex. It’s not black or white. Sometimes I feel like the wiring in my head is so jumbled that I really can’t attribute words to what I’m feeling, because the big ball of “feeling” is so vast and so multifaceted that one word or even five, fifty or 300 words, can’t encompass it. This used to make me want to explode. I hate not being able to communicate effectively. But now I see it for what it is and I give myself space to process. I allow myself to be the sky, with its various clouds passing through like visitors. The sky itself remains unchanged and peaceful. Sometimes silence can convey that vast multitude of feelings better than words can.
Or sometimes art. Or music.
What is most interesting is that our culture doesn’t acknowledge that feelings can manifest physically, as pain or illness… especially repressed emotions that we don’t allow ourselves to experience or express. Or that someone has invalidated for so long you feel ashamed for feeling.
When my first step-father died I was thirteen. I had to be a strong pillar for my mom. I didn’t know how to process grief. I certainly didn’t know about the repercussions of not handling it in a healthy way. I also didn’t have any friends or a supportive community or family network. As I sunk further into depression, unbeknownst to me, my body manifested these emotions as mononucleosis. Yes, the mono strain was introduced to my body via germs. But the point is I was so run down, all of my body systems became wholly susceptible to disease and illness that an otherwise healthy and robust 13-year-old immune system could have fended off. My mom had to literally wake me up to get me to eat, and I missed months of school.
I bring this up because now, as I begin to exhume repressed thoughts and emotions that my antidepressants staved off, or that I was made to feel small for feeling, I have had to find new avenues to release them. I have noticed that when my emotional and mental faculties are depleted, if I have a weakened body system — i.e. my GI tract, my liver, my endocrine system, etc. — it is more subject to attack than when I’m feeling and thinking 100%. Each body system will manifest these weaknesses in different ways. Do you follow me?
So, say emotions surrounding a family death have put a lot of strain on me emotionally, mentally and spiritually. If my GI tract is already weakened because of a poor diet with little nutrition, this emotional strain might manifest as upset stomach, or I might become more susceptible to the flu. I will become sensitive to foods that normally don’t phase me. When I’m in tune with my body it will intuively tell me to stay away from sugar, dairy, heavy meals and meat. I’ll crave simple soups and lots of veggies, maybe eggs.
I will not be able to be this attuned to my body, mind or emotions if I am stuffing my schedule full of activities, back-to-back meetings, hours of loud, hyper stimulating TV shows or zombie-fying myself on Instagram or game apps.
So here is how this has all manifested for me, which is what led to this blog post:
Recently my son whacked me in the left eye, leaving it half bloodied. You know, when a blood vessel bursts? This now physically weakened or compromised my eye, which, having struggled with vision problems since I was young was already a weak area for me. Still today I have a -7.00 nearsightedness. If I was listening to my body I would have stayed away from contacts and choose glasses, or forewent mascara. But I wanted what I wanted — mainly to “look beautiful”– and went against what I should have done, which was to let my eye rest and heal. I kept my schedule busy and I’ve also let my meal planning go astray so my nutrition — you know, the energy and sustenance required to help us combat injury — was also awry.
That might not have been a big deal if I wasn’t simultaneously under immense emotional duress from coming off of my antidepressants, during which repressed emotions are being exhumed… plus marital struggles (nothing like Valentine’s Day to remind you of those) plus, you know, the general state of the world. I have also been under mental duress trying to run two businesses, and manage my household responsibilities. Which eventually translates into spiritual duress because I’m not doing what I should be doing and I know it. Which was to let my mind rest and heal. Offload stuff from my schedule. Say “no”.
So first I got painful, small ingrown hairs on my left eyebrow and along my lash line. I thought it was weird but didn’t think much else. I didn’t change my lifestyle afterward. One dinner we ate a burger and fries meal at 9pm; I kept running of fumes over the next couple of days, just neglecting that calling toward healthy, simple and nutritious food, easy days, little company, and good sleep. I focused on house projects, entertained guests, hustled for work.
Then, after eating a slice of Dulce de Lèche cheesecake as a Valentine’s Day “indulgence”, I got a massive headache around my eyes, which has never happened to me before. I know better than to eat sugar. It really doesn’t agree with me… but I did anyway. Again! I didn’t do what I should. And then, to top it all off, as all of this really manifested into a physical maladie, I got conjunctivitis in my left eye only. Which hasn’t happened since I was thirteen.
It really made me stop and think, as illness should.
Luckily, with a lot of Lavender and Frankincense around my left eye, I am nearly back to normal (yes it really works). Which is pretty miraculous because the times I’ve had pink eye it is something out of a horror movie for at least a week — pus, swollen eye, transfers to both eyes, etc. — until I get prescription drops that kills the bacteria. But, under my new commitment to myself and using former go-to remedies, I literally stood over my diffuser with lavender blasting my eye last night and have religiously smeared Frank and Lavender all around it since the first symptoms appeared.
I have also allowed myself to really rest today with Jackson (who has also become much more agitated since I began this taper) while processing these thoughts and feelings (thus this blog post). Jackson and I are intimately in this together as we share my physical, emotional and mental state through our nursing relationship. Did you know that cortisol can be transferred through breath milk? If I am in a flustered, stressed out and upset state, that will literally be conveyed to my son not only atmospherically but in his nutrition that my body makes.
My husband is in this with me too. And my employees and friends. This is t easy on anyone, but it will pass. The best thing any of us can do is nourish our bodies and minds and rest, rest, rest. Especially J and me as we deal with the physicality of antidepressant withdrawal. The detox is real.
As I rested and contemplated I was just really reminded today just how inextricably linked our bodies, minds and souls are. You can imagine after neglecting any of these complex systems over years how they can manifest as autoimmune disorders, chronic pain or illness, even cancer. And our culture that keeps us from being attuned with ourselves, really listening to the “shoulds”, makes it even worse.
The first step is self-awareness. Then comes acceptance. Then comes intentionality and strategy. And then change. I refuse to betray my body and mind anymore.