My Grandaddy once swallowed his watch battery instead of a baby aspirin. He usually carried the medicine in the front pocket of his striped polo shirts and, apparently, that’s where he put his watch batteries too. My Grandmother, convinced that he was near certain death, called poison control, who told her that they just needed to watch for it…on its way out.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that particular discussion of “No, you do it”
I don’t remember who got that particular chore but I do know that all ended well, without my grandfather being poisoned by a battery the size of a ladybug.
Medications are weird, aren’t they? A particular co-worker at an old job could always tell when I’d used Nyquil the night before because she said I was “too chill”, whatever the fuck that means. (Or maybe I know what she means a little). When Al and I fist got married, I was on birth control, which turned me into Satan’s mistress. My emotions flung around so wildly, the people around me never knew if I was going to punch my first through the phone to strangle the landlady or fall into a weepy mess on the floor over a call to the insurance or laugh hysterically because I found a small snail on my shoulder. Needless to say, I wasn’t on birth control very long.
For as long as I remember, when filling out medical history forms, I’ve always put “None” in the blank on medications because I just haven’t historically taken daily, long-term meds.
No more, friends.
You’ll remember that I last left you at the end of April while we were grappling with The Baby’s new diagnosis. My fans who breathlessly wait for new material must have been worried about me.
Did she die? Has she been institutionalized? Did she pack up and go to Indiana and leave this all behind?
No, no, and no.
Truthfully, we’ve hit our new normal (for the moment) and, since I write best when I’m angsty, I haven’t been inspired to write for some time. Shortly after the diagnosis, I contacted a psychiatrist for the first time ever. You’ll remember that the phone call with the doctor sent me on a downward spiral that ended in a panic attack.
It scared me- to lose control of my body like that. If Alex hadn’t been there, if I’d been driving, if, if, if…
Too many ifs.
I knew that I needed help. If The Baby’s diagnosis holds true, then we have lots more stress and emergencies before us and I can’t have panic attacks whenever we get bad news or something catches me off guard.
So, I chatted with a psychiatrist. My idea, since I read one blog and have a friend, was to just get a rescue medication, something to take when a panic attack is imminent. She explained that if we could get my daily stress down, then my ability to respond to surprise stress without having a panic attack to added stress would be better. I was still a little wary but I trusted the professional and agreed to try a low dose of Zoloft, my very first psych drug.
I waited the requisite six weeks to let the medication work. I don’t know what I was expecting- to go from a glum, wired Type A control freak to a circus clown who runs around throwing pies and pulling multi-colored flags out of childrens’ ears, whilst her house sits in ruins.
But the affect of the medication has been much more subtle than that.
If my capacity to handle stress is a boat, for most of my life, my boat has had maybe very tiny holes that were easily fixable and has been resting in a calm quiet pond. Seriously, I have not had a very stressful life. Parenting changed all that.
Cracks started to appear in my boat and the water got choppy. While the boat was still functional, my feet were wet and, occasionally, some monster wave would wash over me and the water would come dangerously close to the top of the boat.
But I have tools, right? Like the dusty sand bucket from my childhood that didn’t get much use until my boat started filling up. So, I would use the self-care tools that I knew to slowly dump the water from the monster wave back out of the boat and go back to the new normal of having soggy socks from the gaps between the planks.
The Baby’s diagnosis was like a combination of having a hole punched through the bottom of my boat by some unknown projectile while also in the middle of a monsoon. My boat capsized and I, thrashing in the waters of Lake Stress, had a panic attack. Even after we had righted the ship and the weather had mostly cleared, the water was now going to be daily at my knees instead of my ankles- there is just no way to fix all of the damage this diagnosis has done. The amount of daily, chronic stress that I was going to have to grapple with had tripled in one phone call.
It took me a few days to get used to the idea of needing to be on Zoloft. My legalistic religious upbringing was whispering in the back of my mind, “You don’t need medication- you just need Jesus. It’s a lack of faith to be on meds.” But I knew that I didn’t really believe that. I certainly don’t believe it for other people, I would never tell my friends that they shouldn’t be on meds if they thought they needed them. I’ve sought out meds for my kids. If I believe they can help other people without being sinful, why not me?
Much to my chagrin, the Zoloft didn’t get rid of the stress. I did not get a new Pfizer sponsored diesel-engine boat. I did not get some magical wizard who can quell bad weather. My daily stress and the surprise “Hey! The Oncologist Wants You to Make an Appointment This Afternoon!” stress still happen. I still have cracks in my boat and the weather still gets dodgy sometimes.
The Zoloft just gave me a bigger bucket so that I can handle the daily stress better- daily emptying my boat by throwing big buckets of water over the side. I’m better prepared for when the freak storms or the occasional shark bite because my boat is emptier than it would be if I was trying to empty the water using the beach equivalent of a ladle.
Overall, this is good, friends. The Kid seems to have reached that part of being a teenager where his brain just screams, “COME AT ME BRO” most of the day and yet, I mostly remain as cool as a cucumber. At first, my capacity to calmly handle his shit threw him off. He wasn’t sure what to do with my new demeanor.
We’ve had a few hiccups with The Baby’s health, which are made all the more fun with the pandemic. And I was able to step back from the situation and look at it rationally instead of flailing around emotionally and drowning myself. It felt good- to be able to handle an emergency without panicking.
If I had one critique, it would be that there are times where I wonder if the Zoloft has numbed all my strong emotions- bad and good. For example, if I’m most inspired to write when I’m angsty, does that mean that I’ll continue going six months in between blogs? I’m a fiery, passionate person and I love that about me! I like that I feel deeply and care deeply and yet, on Zoloft, that has also been minimized. I don’t want to be a blah person.
I recently told the psychiatrist in a follow-up visit that I know this won’t be forever. The pandemic will reach some sort of normalized conclusion, my children will get the fuck out of my house, I will have more than 45 minutes of alone time to myself, etc etc and then maybe I can get off the Zoloft.
For now, I needed it so I took it and I’m proud of myself.
You write what most of us have experienced in our own ways. And I took Zoloft for a time when my boat was sinking. It enabled to get through the days without causing my family and friends hurt and worry. It was good help.
I am so glad to hear that! I hadnt realized that it was so stigmatized for me.
Besides your mom and me there are others that are glad to get another taste of your humor, wit, and storytelling.
You might pray for God to send you a different muse for this season of you life.
PLEASE keep writing. Bearing your soul like this is therapeutic for you, Others are blessed and they know how to best pray for you and your family.
That’s a good idea, John. Maybe I can find something beside angst to inspire me. I hadnt thought about this as an opportunity….
I took Prozac for a period of years where chronic stress was a way of life and fighting for our lives was a daily occurrence. It was what I needed for sure. And while it did dull my other emotions too- joy, elation, passion, etc- for that season I found it to be worth it. Also don’t be afraid to try another option if you aren’t liking how one makes you feel. Everyone responds differently. For instance, Zoloft made me too apathetic, like “not motivated to respond to my crying baby” apathetic. With Prozac, it was different for me and made me able to cope with life better.
Kudos to you for doing what you need to do to keep your boat afloat for yourself and your family!
Thanks, Madi! I for sure agree that the benefits outweigh the costs at the moment. My doc said to give the Zoloft a little more time before trying something else but that’s definitely on my radar!
Welcome back! I’m glad your mind has become a little more at ease, even though your life has not gotten less stressful. It took a lot of courage to eschew what you thought you knew growing up about what you needed to cope with the world around you. I am always proud to know you. I started listening to your biographical history podcast. Good stuff. See you when you feel like it. 🙂