Today’s society is working hard to erase the stigma of mental illness and mental health in general. But the same time, we still glorify those that work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. We don’t celebrate self-care enough – we celebrate those that pave their own way, work their way to the top, and conquer.
In 2020 I found myself unable to compete with those who were persevering. I wasn’t conquering – I was having trouble just existing. Everything started to get really, really hard. Everyday tasks such as going to the store or vacuuming were insurmountable. Take the kids to the park? That’s so much work. Go on a picnic? Sounds impossible. Instead I found myself taking three hour naps – not doing fun activities with my kids. Paying the bills? Anxiety inducing. (Conversely, not paying the bills induced far more anxiety.)
My road to improvement started with my anxiety medication. This drastically changed so many things for me. For example, going to the store was no longer a nightmare. Before, I would be overwhelmed with noise, bright lights, and unable to follow my grocery list. I would often get half the items on my list and just get the heck out of there. Recently, I found myself shopping with my fourteen-year-old daughter and I realized that we were browsing, walking slow and unhurried. I wasn’t anxious or panicking. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the obnoxious music playing, or the crowds of people around us. I wasn’t feeling like I was being suffocated in my mask. I was…enjoying myself. This, my friends, would not have been remotely possible without anxiety medication.
I went to my doctor again in 2020 complaining of exhaustion. No matter how much I slept, I was constantly tired. I would struggle to sleep at night and then take three hour naps during the day instead. I explained to my doctor that I had a history of thyroid issues, and I asked to do a blood test to see if my thyroid was functioning well. She asked me a series of questions, and then explained that yes, we can test for thyroid issues – but it sounded like I was suffering from depression.
Oh. Depression. I thought to myself. I don’t want to have that. She looked into my medical history and found that I was on an anti-depressant as a teen, and we started that medication again. I don’t know how to explain the transformation that began after I had been taking that medication for a few weeks.
Before anti-depressants, running sounded awful. After starting them, I began to run again. FOR FUN. I even signed up for an adult gymnastics class, where I would wear tight athletic clothing and constantly make a fool of myself. I enrolled my eighth grader in a gymnastics class too, and pretty soon we were having handstand contests against the living room wall. I was having fun again.
Before anti-depressants, human interaction was something that was wholly draining for me. I would go to a social function, like church, and then take a three hour nap when I got home because it was so exhausting for me to interact with others for even a few hours.
Before anti-depressants, I was not the mom that did fun things often, because all of the fun things sounded like they would be so much work. I still, to this day, have never taken my children camping – even though I’m sure they would love it. Maybe this needs to be the next thing that I take on, because camping always sounded like something that would take so much work (setting up a tent? cooking food over a fire? NO NETFLIX?!)
Before anti-depressants, I couldn’t fathom getting a dog. Walking it every day? Taking it outside? Vacuuming pet hair? It sounded really hard. So after a few months on anti-depressants, when I realized that getting a pet sounded like fun, I knew that some huge changes had happened in me.
I take my kids (and the dog!) on walks often now. We walk a mile and a half to our favorite park, and walk home. (We also walk to the Dairy Queen that is nearby. Often.) My house is the cleanest it has been in a long time because cleaning no longer feels impossible. Doing things with my kids is more fun because I am engaged and laughing instead of tuning out. I’m back to being my silly, goofy self – and I didn’t realize how much I had missed her.