First off, thank you all for your emails and comments on the last post. Your kindness, as always, means the world to me, and it’s one of the reasons I keep writing.
You know, for the last several years, I’ve come down with a severe sinus infection about twice a year, almost like clockwork. These sinus infections were so horrible and so debilitating that I literally could not function normally. I couldn’t sleep through the night, and I couldn’t breathe, and I’d sometimes find myself crying through my fourth shower of the day because the hot water seemed to be the only thing that relieved the pressure in my head, if only for an hour or two, and I was just absolutely miserable. I missed a lot of work and school due to them, and I even had to get extensions on exams one year because I was too sick to take them.
My doctor put me on a crazy expensive steroid nasal spray a few months ago that I now take daily. It has helped immensely, but apparently it hasn’t solved the problem completely, because the sinus infection I just got over is the second one I’ve had this year that I’ve let go for several weeks before getting antibiotics for it. Both times, I ended up talking to a health care professional who was like you dumbass, you should know what these symptoms mean by now, you shouldn’t have let this go on so long. But the thing is, I’m so used to the knock-me-on-my-ass sinus infections that when I get the milder ones, I don’t recognize the symptoms, and I just think I’m under the weather.
It’s kind of like that now, with my noggin. This entry is somewhat long, and very personal, so I’m putting the rest of it behind a cut in case you aren’t in the mood for it.
I was in college when I was first diagnosed with depression, although I suspect it had been around for many years before that. At the time, I was in a rocky relationship and the only good thing that came out of that dynamic was that I got sick enough that I absolutely had to get help.
Initially, I met with a nurse practitioner in my hometown who went through a checklist of symptoms, wrote me a prescription, and sent me on my way back to college. That first medication seriously fucked me up. It spiked my serotonin to the point that I rarely ate, and I stayed awake for days at a time cleaning things, and on the rare occasions when I did sleep, I had such horrible nightmares that I preferred not to sleep at all. So that led to an additional prescription to make me sleep at night, and I hated it. I had no follow-up care, and I wasn’t seeing a therapist, and I had no money, so I stopped taking both prescriptions when my refills ran out. It was a bad time for me; I wasn’t doing very much of anything that was healthy, and I was alienated from my family and my friends, and I engaged in some really self-destructive behavior without much concern for the consequences.
After Christmas break that year, I began to see a psychologist and a psychiatrist, and after my initial suspicion of both, I began to trust them both completely. I seriously cannot say enough about the counseling program at Northwestern; I received phenomenal care there and probably would not have graduated without it. My family history combined with the manic behavior brought on by the first medication made my doctors worried that I was bipolar, and I was put on some serious medication that didn’t help me much more than the first one had. I’m pretty sure that depending on how close we were, most people I knew that year either thought I was batshit crazy, or that I was dying of some horrible disease. I had to have weekly blood tests to be sure the new medicine wasn’t destroying my internal organs. It made me sluggish and fat and while I wasn’t engaging in self-destructive behavior anymore, it was mainly because I didn’t give two shits about anything and spent most of my time sleeping.
I hated every minute that I was on that medication, and when I went home for the summer and was no longer seeing a psychologist weekly who’d make sure I was taking it, I threw it all away. And I was okay for a while.
But then I went back to school for my senior year and suddenly found myself sitting for days on end in my dorm room. For a few weeks, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t go to class. I didn’t go to work. I didn’t go out with friends. I didn’t shower or eat or sleep. I sat in my room.
I finally went back to my doctors just in time to avoid failing all of my classes for that quarter, and they put me on Wellbutrin, which made an amazing difference in my quality of life. I worked hard in therapy for the rest of that year, and took my medicine religiously, and surprised many people I knew when I managed to graduate on time, despite having to take a double course load and complete two additional credits independently AND work two jobs during the spring of my senior year.
Nothing about it was easy; in fact, it was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I had to meet with many of my professors individually and explain to them why I hadn’t been in their classes for the last few weeks, and I had to work out plans to make up my classwork with each of them. I had to take some serious hits to my GPA, which hadn’t been stellar to begin with. I had to meet with my dean several times to explain what I’d been going through, and to get her permission and blessing to continue on with my studies. I was pleasantly surprised and touched more than once by the caring and concern showed by nearly every person I met with, and each time a professor showed that compassion, it was easier to meet with the next one.
Lots of people tried to get me to drop out of school for a while, and I knew in my heart that if I left, I’d never go back. So I stuck it out, and a lot of it sucked, but in June of 2001 I received my degree along with my classmates, and I kick ass because of that.
It’s always been a goal of mine to function without medication, but so far I have not been able to achieve that. My time in therapy left me with some killer coping methods, and reserves of patience and strength I never thought I could develop. I’ve been to a couple of therapists since I left school, and I don’t know if they just weren’t good fits or if I got spoiled by the awesome doc I had in Evanston, but I never accomplished much with them down here and I really feel like my work in therapy is done.
I’ve tried with my PCP’s guidance to go off of the medicine more than once, and it never works. He says that I should consider this as evidence that my depression is chemical, and not something I can work through or shake off, and that I should be prepared to accept that I might always have to be on some kind of medication. And that’s awesome advice, but it’s difficult for me to accept.
The good news is that even on my worst days, I feel better than I did on many of my good days in college. And I’m pretty sure I’ll never be that sick again. But it does look like I’m going to have to live most of my life with some chemical intervention, because while I am quite capable of functioning without it, it really takes a lot out of me, and I’m not myself without it. It should not be as hard to get through a day as it is for me when I’m not taking that stupid pill every day, but I need to get over the stigma that I try to talk everyone else out of, and accept that many of the people I know and love and respect are taking antidepressants, and that it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference in the way I perceive them. If taking a pill once every morning is all it takes to get me feeling normal, then I should do it. Not everyone has it so easy.
It’s been hard to write this, because I know that my family and friends and other people I know in real life will read this, and while nothing I said is a secret, per se, it’s all stuff I prefer not to bring up. And I don’t want anyone who cares about me to worry, because really, I’m going to be okay. This is just a blip. I feel it’s important, though, for people to know, and if it makes even one person feel better about what he or she is going through, then it’s worth it for me to share my own experience with you.