This week was one of the most emotionally draining weeks I can remember ever having. If you’re like me, you know that keeping as many parts of your life as stable as possible helps you feel stable. This means going to bed at the usual time. Eating healthy. Sleeping enough. Avoiding alcohol and excessive caffeine. Working out consistently. Making sure you only have one stressor to deal with at any given time. Avoiding fights and conflicts with those you care about and those you don’t. Staying on top of your self-care rituals (and everybody should cultivate these). Then, life throws you into the abyss and nothing seems manageable.
This past week, the candidate I voted for lost the election for the presidency. While I was upset and afraid myself (and still am), I felt millions of hearts strain under the weight of our country’s decision. I was also sick the day after the election and not just with a cold; I had a high fever and severe body aches all day long. I’m also in the midst of some career turmoil and struggling to make some decisions regarding my next steps. On top of this, I got into a discussion with both my parents on separate occasions about their choice for the presidency (which was not my choice). Having a conversation with your family about why they voted for a candidate you find repulsive and how it’s all going to be okay from their perspective is extremely frustrating and I didn’t have the energy to find common ground. Additionally, I was set to go back to work on Friday after taking a leave of absence to try to better take care of my mental health, which has been declining recently. After all of this swirling around in my brain, making it hard to function, I decided to go back on anti-depressants after being off of them for close to four years.
I will be the first person to tell my friends and loved ones there is no shame in saying you suffer from an illness, which is what anxiety and depression are. They are a chronic condition that can wax and wane and often in an unpredictable trajectory. I also believe that medication can be helpful for many people and is often one piece of the treatment puzzle in addition to lifestyle changes, therapy, and support systems. However, I have a hard time being okay with my decision to go back on medication. I feel ashamed. I think this comes from a lot of the people around me and experiences I had in my early 20’s.
I’m a certified yoga instructor and spending time in that community, I found it to ultimately be an extremely judgmental community and one I did not feel accepted in. If you weren’t eating vegetarian, you weren’t living right. If you did not engage in the practice of putting teachers on a pedestal, you were being disrespectful. If you were eating mushrooms, you were dead inside just like them. If you had depression, you were a fundamentally selfish person (I actually had another teacher tell me this once when I sought her support and advice during another time in my life where my depression was impacting my functionality). I felt like if I were to take medication, I was not worthy, not good enough. Even outside of the yoga community there is a huge stigma towards people who suffer from the invisible illnesses.
I tried to take Buspirone this past spring to alleviate my anxiety that was rapidly building as I worked my first nursing job on a chaotic, inner-city medical/surgical floor. I felt it helped initially, but as six months passed, I found myself sinking deeper. Why do we have such a hard time with vulnerability? With perceived weakness? I was afraid to tell my boyfriend, who I had just started dating last spring, that I was on a medication for anxiety. I thought his reaction would be disgust and that he would want to leave me immediately (he didn’t). Perhaps this is because I know this is likely to be a lifelong condition for me and some days it feels like a burden. It feels hopeless. I know the struggle intimately and it’s hard for me to imagine somebody else accepting this as a fact of life when I would do anything to rid myself of it. It’s a lot to ask of somebody, to remain by your side through inevitable extremely dark moments. I am in one of those dark moments right now and every day I think about my boyfriend and how it affects him. I worry about him and whether he’s doing okay. While I have an obligation to myself to be well, I also have an obligation to him. So, here I am.
I am taking medication again and I’m going to try to avoid being ashamed. When it gets to the point I can’t bring myself to work, I keep isolating myself from people around me, I keep having suicidal thoughts and urges to self-harm, I can’t bring myself to eat, and nothing seems enjoyable anymore, it’s time to accept the help available. When I am worried about my life and whether I will survive this bout of sickness, it’s time. I’ve realized, and it’s hard to remember this when you’re in a shame spiral, but people who are quick to judge you for your choices and treat you with condemnation are insecure in their own lives and probably not worth listening to anyway. You are the person who hears every thought inside your head, endures every panic attack, and feels every physical manifestation of your illness. You decide what will help you, in conjunction with your treatment team. Nobody else.