I suppose that I should weigh in here and write a little blurb about all of the above, since I have experience with, well, all of the above. I have struggled with depression since college years (at least). So let me see….15 years. It has haunted me, and I always suspected that I needed medication. But I was embarrassed. I thought it was my fault: not a disorder, but stupid, inept, basket-case me.
When my oldest child was born, and I recognized in myself some things that truly frightened me, I knew it was time to get professional help. I was laden with anxiety, self-loathing, anger, and incredible sadness. I lost all those pieces of myself that gave me joy. I felt myself trickle away as I became crippled by depression, and I knew as I looked at my precious newborn baby girl that if I could not get well for me, then I would get well for her. The odd part though, is that I didn’t so much trickle away as trickle up. The world around me shrunk. I was caging myself in an illness. And I knew I was not well.
Medication was suggested in those early days. I refused to consider it. I continued to get behavioral cognitive therapy once a week for 5 years. The depression became milder, less frequent, and shorter in duration. The changes I made in my life were absolutely astounding. My therapist saved my life. She gave me hope. She gave me back my self-respect.
And then I had my 3rd child. I went into a frightening tailspin that started with a panic attack in the OBGYN office. It went downhill from there…and a painful few weeks later I was sitting in the office of an MD knowing that medication was a must, and that refusing was not an option. I knew because I knew. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t manage it, embarrassed to be in that office and asking for meds. But I knew I had to swallow my pride. I knew I was sick. Terribly sick. And terribly scared. And so it was that Zoloft and Xanax were recommended.
I explained to my doc that I was not so sure about meds….I was anxious about meds…and my doctor gently explained that a symptom of anxiety is to be anxious about taking meds. Duh. So I took the meds. My medications pulled me back from a precipice and brought me back to myself. When I suffer a state of panic I take a Xanax. When I do, I don’t feel altered, I don’t feel funky, I feel totally, completely normal. That is what Xanax does for those of us who truly suffer from anxiety. It helps us to feel what we should feel: not emotionless, not without pain, sadness, nervousness or anger…we feel all of those things, only, within the normal range. On Xanax I don’t sweat profusely and suffer painful heart palpitations and obsessively pick the skin off my lips. On Zoloft, I eat normally. Before medication, and when I was in a state of anxiety or panic, food tasted like sawdust and I would go the whole day without eating and not notice. I was easily upset over the littlest things, and I could become derailed by as little as a tantrum. I would tailspin into these soul searching sadnesses….it’s my fault. If I were better, she’d be better off with another mother, I am unfit….
On Zoloft those thoughts are simply gone. The longer I have been on Zoloft, the less Xanax I have had to take. I am getting better and better and better.
Xanax and Zoloft returned me to my normal self. For whatever chemical reason, having babies took my preexisting condition and threw it WAY off balance–into the realm of the frightening. And the drugs righted it, and then some. I struggle with all the things that everyone struggles with. But now I struggle normally. I can hear myself now, and I can see so much more clearly.
And the truth is that I owe all of this improvement not to the drugs, but to that little voice deep within that was guarding me and loving me. It was that little seed of truth that was always there that made me seek help when I needed it. No, it said. This is not the way. I am here for you dear one, I love you. Get help.
What can I say but that I’m back. I am myself. Here I am.
So, where does Zen fit in? I discovered Zen a year and a half ago by stumbling onto a book, Momma Zen, Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by Karen Maezen Miller. And wanna know the crazy part? It’s all the things my therapist said in her office. It’s all the things I already knew were true. But the book is written so lovingly, gently, beautifully, and eloquently that it took my awareness to a level I never dreamed possible. Be present, take responsibility, let the past go, honor yourself, and more than anything else, be kind to yourself. And so began my journey….down the path to truth. And the truth is, it was always there.
The truth of Zen has been with me since I was born. I see more and more it has been with us all. My therapy and my medication were tools that enabled me to hear it and see it more clearly–to return to my beloved self: to the little girl who loved to sing, laugh, play, and who had an enduring adoration for all living things. The child who cried during Feed the Children infomercials, and called to donate her allowance. The child who locked herself in the bathroom after watching Project X and wept for an hour. The little girl who adopted the stray cat, who wrote poems about silence, and wished she could live alone in the woods. The child who hiked to streams in the dead of February and marveled at the tender green shoots of emerging spring….the teenager who climbed Mount Rainier. One. Foot. At. A. Time.
The teenager who said, why should I be so blessed and others be so unlucky? What makes me more worthy? The teenager who realized we are all the same….
That little girl is still here. She is always here. She got buried under a lot of illness, but I have set her free. And of course, it was she who freed me.
Seeking help is not only brave, it is a kindness–and not just to you, but to all who love you. Our suffering is their suffering. Oddly enough, sometimes we can only see this when we are well. When we are sick we feel the pain so keenly that there is nothing else.
Zen is what brought me back to peace. It was the voice that was and is always there. And it is always love. To all who have helped me on my path–my husband, my family, my therapist, Maezen, my CHILDREN and myself….thank you.