I Thought it Was Just Stress, Now I'm Holding a Bottle of Antidepressants
Today I took my first-ever antidepressant.
It's not something I ever thought I would do, which is a little bit funny to say, as a person who dealt with depression for a significant portion of her life.
Back then my depression was rooted in my beliefs about myself. I thoroughly believed that I was worthless, unloveable, annoying, stupid, ugly, and a general drain. Pretty depressing. I never had a medical diagnosis or took drugs, but I did see counsellors and do a whole lot of work to painstakingly teach myself that what my heart knew to be true was not actually true.
This time it was different. This time, I was just stressed out.
Normally I don't mind a bit of stress. I like being busy, and a little stress fuels me, but over the past year and a half, it's become too much. I can't seem to handle it anymore. Every little challenge makes me want to curl up and run away. My brain feels tight, like a ball of elastic bands.
I tried a bunch of things:
I took time off, and when I was off I partitioned my brain to not think about the stressful things. This worked relatively well. Sure, my brain still felt tight, but other than that, my breaks were a-okay.
I turned off all notifications on my cell phone except for texts. I had developed an automatic-anxiety response to phone notifications, and this was temporary magic for reducing stress.
I indulged in comfort and relaxation where possible (to the detriment of my bank account and benefit to my muffin top - being bummed out is expensive and fattening).
I also tried to eat more healthily and became a smoothie enthusiast. (Contradictions are at the heart of stress release.)
I started exercising more regularly and tried to re-incorporate meditation and prayer into my life.
I carved out time for things that gave me joy and made sure I was writing every single day.
I set aside weekly "Andrea Time" when I would buy groceries, do laundry, prepare meals, do yoga, and otherwise relax and set myself up for a good week.
I actually managed to say no to a few things.
I did all the things you're supposed to do to manage life and bring joy and reduce stress, and I did all those things on repeat.
To say it didn't work wouldn't be entirely correct. Instead, I'll say that it... worked? I mean, I survived. I was able to continue to force myself through life, to drag myself back into my responsibilities, and to keep plugging away, chasing that ever-moving light at the end of the tunnel.
Except that things kept getting harder. Perhaps not objectively, but inside my brain and body they were getting worse and the desire to retreat only grew stronger.
Like a good little mentally-aware citizen, I made an appointment with my counsellor.
"Hello, counsellor," I said, "I have been feeling very stressed out for a long time, and the things I normally do to deal with stress aren't working. What other suggestions do you have of ways to deal with this horrible feeling?"
Instead of offering gentle advice about learning to say no or making time for health or drinking more water, she talked about depression and anxiety.
"But it's just stress," I said, "it doesn't feel anything like depression."
"I'm used to being stressed out, it shouldn't be a big deal."
"I'm a busy, productive person. Stress is just a part of it."
"How else am I supposed to do everything?"
"This is clearly circumstantial - if things were different, I'm sure I'd feel better, so this can't be depression."
"I just don't have the energy to deal with things right now."
"Everyone has responsibilities and life is full of challenges, I just need to figure out how to deal with them like I used to."
"This is what it means to be an adult."
"I work in theatre. It's a stressful field, what do I expect?"
"Everyone is stressed out, it's normal. Why should I be different?"
Obviously, the moral of this story is that I was telling myself lies again.
So, today I took my first antidepressant.
The goal is that they will help me feel like I'm able to face challenges again, including the biggest challenge: slowing down and doing less. Creating a life that doesn't make me secretly wish I would get hospitalized just to get a break. For the past several years, this has been my New Year's resolution, and I always resolutely fail. I am terrified of what it will take to actually make it happen.
Thanks to what I'm assuming can only be the placebo effect, today was largely awesome. I felt energized and like I was winning at life for most of the day (with a little dizziness and weird vision stuff thrown in for good measure - yay brain chemistry). We'll see what happens tomorrow.
Andrea Loewen is a writer, theatre-maker, and choreographer in Vancouver. She writes for a variety of online publications, including Loose Lips Magazine and Vancouver Presents, as well as her own site, The Receptionist Blog. She spent most of her life hating herself and then spent several years learning how to turn that hate around, which became the material for her first book, Feeling Better: A Field Guide to Liking Yourself, set to release in February of 2019.