May is Mental Health Awareness Month! Over this month, I plan to do different posts about mental health and how it affects my life. To start, I present my story:
I was the happiest baby—easy to please, always smiling, rarely grumpy or cranky. Even when I got the chicken pox at Walt Disney World, I didn’t complain, I was too busy entertaining my family, blisters splattered across my face and tummy. Even with moving a lot as a young kid, I made friends very easily and had confidence bursting out of me at all times.
It wasn’t until the fifth grade that I experienced my first bout of anxiety. My school was trying something new with combining classes and my class just so happened to be the guinea pig: a 4th/5th grade split class, two grades in the same classroom with the same teacher. On some levels, there were no problems, but when it came to school projects—and as a 5th grader, there were many—we were always frantically rushing to finish on time. When I started getting overwhelmed with due dates, I would get terrible stomach aches. So much so that there were times that I didn’t attend school just so I could work on these projects. Not until looking back on it now did I realize that these stomach pains were anxiety induced.
I didn’t really start to battle mental illness again until the end of high school. I had recently been afflicted with my chronic headaches and was feeling really discouraged. I was feeling so sick all the time and we couldn’t find any reason why. I had doctors who didn’t believe me; telling me that it was all in my head and that I needed to go to therapy. I felt hopeless and tired and so, so angry. When I told this to my mom, she told me that I was depressed, something I adamantly dismissed. What did I have to be depressed about? I was surrounded by great friends and family, a roof over my head, food on my plate, and was attending college. What gives me the right to be depressed? My mother insisted on me seeing a psychiatrist. I explained all about my pain and other chronic illnesses. Ultimately, she diagnosed me with anxiety, depression, and some OCD tendencies.
I have always looked at my depression as a symptom of my pain. If I didn’t have all this pain, then I wouldn’t be depressed. I get anxious and upset when I can’t find a job or I’m forced to cancel plans because of my pain. My chronic illness has made me a reclusive introvert, fed up with living this limited life. There is a direct correlation between my chronic pain and my mental illness. They are one in the same.
The next step was to try to find the right medication. I was hesitant at first, I still didn’t think I was really depressed. My doctor assured me that in a lot of cases, antidepressants can also help with pain. Let me tell you, we went on quite the journey to find the right medication that worked with my body. Prozac left me feeling like an emotionless zombie, while Zoloft gave me my first ever panic attack where I started hysterically crying for no reason and couldn’t stop for hours. Just as I was getting ready to give up, Cymbalta floated into my life.
Now I won’t say Cymbalta cured me, but I don’t want to even imagine who I would be without it. Honestly, I don’t know if I would even be here. It didn’t make my headaches any better but it helped me to control my OCD and it keeps the depression and anxiety managed. I’m the kind of person who holds everything in until someday I explode into a puddle of tears. As my chronic pain has gotten exponentially worse over the years, my depression and anxiety has as well. And at that point, we upped my dosage. Antidepressants are so finicky and to truly get the most out of them is to be very diligent to take the right dose for you. I try not to let my illness consume my thoughts, but nobody’s perfect. Mental illness is a constant battle that is never consistent. Something you have to continually work at to find success.