Antidepressants: My Story

Hi friend,

I started antidepressants a few months ago (a first for me), and I’d like to share some of my story with you. Maybe it’ll resonate, maybe not.

Even if it does, the details of my story won’t be the same as the details of yours. But it’s been a very difficult year for so many of us, and I want these conversations to happen out in the open.

Mental health is important. Asking for help is important. And sharing our human stories is important.

So here’s mine.

A year and a half ago, my family learned that my mom has the gene for a horrible form of early onset dementia. (A fact which also means that each of my siblings and I have a 50/50 chance of having the same.)

Two weeks later, I met the love of my life.

This is how life goes sometimes. High and lows woven together; a tapestry of gratitude and grief.

For several months, I lived a strangely compartmentalized life in my own mind.

In quiet moments alone, I was filled with pain, dread, and horror; a sickness that ripped through me with dizzying violence. It wasn’t just heartbreak, it was terror. I cannot live in a world without her. I cannot watch her disappear. I cannot. I cannot. I cannot.

Panic started rising up, on hikes, while rock climbing, while laying in bed. It was a box of darkness I couldn’t open; it felt like doing so would kill me. So I kept it in a closet in my mind, and threw myself against the door to keep it shut.

At the same time however, I was falling in love.

During those early days with Drew (my now-partner) I was filled with euphoria, adrenaline, and oxytocin; it was pure joyful bliss. I found myself high as a kite, overwhelmed and obsessed in the best possible way. I couldn’t believe we had gotten so lucky as to meet.

This was the back and forth of it, for a while. Life-altering grief; life-altering joy.

A few months later, the pandemic hit.

I had been visiting family, so for three (very long) months I was trapped across the country from Drew, crammed together with my family, stress-eating junk food and watching the coronavirus play out terrifyingly on the world’s public stage.

I didn’t handle that time especially well, but adrenaline got me through. Work had exploded, so I was just putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually, I took the risk and flew back to Los Angeles. My lease was up soon, and Drew and I had been apart longer than we had been together.

I had just under a month to decide what the hell to do.

Do I sign a lease with someone I barely know in a Covid hotspot that’s shut down indefinitely? Do I move across the country with him and stay with family? Where do we go? What do I do with my stuff? In the end, we made the decision to go all in together, and buy ourselves the time (and money, since he was furloughed) to see what would happen with the world.

The plan was this: we would put my stuff in storage and spend a few months together with my family in North Carolina, followed by a few months together with his family in Miami. It was chaotic and rushed, but seemed like the best option.

The plan was flexible, but I wanted it to be short term. After years of being a nomad, the thought of living out of a suitcase again made my soul splinter.

(It has now been almost a year, but we close on our new house Friday!)

Itinerant life was challenging for both of us; new cities, new families, no space of our own. And the truth is that while I love this person madly, I don’t actually love partnership. I don’t like compromises, or taking someone else’s needs/feelings into account. I don’t like being places I don’t want to be, and I don’t like doing things I don’t want to do.

In short, partnering with Drew brought with it a surge of intense personal growth, healing, soul-searching, and liberation work. So while I was pushing away a tidal wave of grief and terror, dealing with a global pandemic, and trying to keep up with a business boom, I was also navigating what I can only describe as the crushing realityof having met someone I wanted to spend my life with.

All of this is to say that, looking back, I can see how the depression was already building, already spiraling; hidden by pragmatism and busyness. I didn’t feel ok, but I was incredibly functional and there was shit to be done. My brain was constantly busy, constantly working and doing and surviving and problem solving. There was just so much that needed to be tended to.

It wasn’t until we got in the car, just Drew and I, to drive to Miami for a few months, that I got hit with the first devastating tidal wave of panic and sadness. From pretty much that moment on though, the waves kept coming. They were so powerful I often thought I would drown.

Day after day I cried over everything, and nothing. I moved between numbness, anxiety, and a sort of sadness-abyss that wanted to pull me all the way under. I loved working, because when my mind was busy I was able to put the sads away, but as soon as I had a chunk of free time it was right there again, waiting for me.

As you can imagine, this was extremely hard on my relationship. We didn’t know what was going on at first, and I couldn’t name what hurt for a long time. It just felt like relentless heartbreak, and in my desperation to figure out the “problem,” I often hurt his feelings, and exhausted us both to the bone.

It’s almost embarrassing to me now how long I took to connect the dots, but it wasn’t until a few key experiences lined up that I was able to name what was happening.

First and foremost, my business coach asked me what would excite me — anything at all — and I realized I could neither remember the last time I had been excited, nor name a single thing that sounded exciting. I realized I had sort of gone numb, but didn’t know when, or why.

Over the next few weeks I connected a few more. I got invited to work on my lifelong dream project and instead of feeling happy, I felt dread and fear. I got engaged, and barely had time to celebrate before I fell back into the abyss. This is not how life is supposed to feel. Also, a friend mentioned that I used to share a lot of my personal life in my public writing, but no longer did. She was right. Why had I stopped that? When?

And then it clicked. This numby, shamey, griefy, scary darkness… it’s depression.

To be honest, what came next was a horrible time. Naming it was a relief, but it also made things worse for a while.

Admitting how dark things had gotten to my partner and family really drove it home. I had my first panic attack in nine years. I pulled a muscle in my back from crying so hard. I filled out two separate telehealth surveys that said I was “severely depressed,” and recommended antidepressants.

On the one hand, I was able to stop trying to come up with stories and explanations for what was wrong everyday, which made things a lot simpler. But on the other hand, I was suddenly unable to hide from the thing that had been haunting me.

The thing lurking underneath it all.
The beast trying to pull me into the abyss.
The news about my mom.

I disappeared a year and a half ago, because I couldn’t be here and hold the truth of what was going to happen — that I would have to live in a world without my mother. That I would have to watch her lose her mind, and that if I have the gene I will have to face losing mine too. (Or watching my siblings lose theirs.)

I disappeared from my body, and I disappeared from my work. What would I have written about? How I had spent all afternoon crying again? How all of our parents are going to die and life is just too desperately sad to bear? No. Better just stick to work-related topics.

A few months ago, when the dots finally connected, I started taking antidepressants. I did it because I wanted to come back. Because I need the support right now. Because I miss writing, and feeling safe. Because I want to share more of myself with you again.

I miss you.
I miss me.

I started antidepressants because Drew and I deserve a stretch of time together in which I’m not crying every day. Because he deserves to meet the real me, and to get a break from endless emotional labor of supporting me. Because I had a book proposal to write, and a house to buy, and an engagement to enjoy.

The journey with the meds hasn’t been smooth sailing — they take a long time to work, and there have been side effects and dosage issues to navigate in the meantime — but I don’t regret it for a single second. Within two months I had more energy, I could think more clearly, and most importantly the endless quicksand of sadness that had been ever-present for months was showing up less and less often.

What’s been interesting to notice is that the more safe, stable, and balanced I feel emotionally, the more capable I feel of facing the thing underneath it all. The biggest, darkest, scariest, and most painful thing. The thing I tried to push down; the thing depression rose up to hold for me.

I’ve been starting to talk about death more often. Her death. My death. The logistics of the whole thing. Do we get tested? How do you save for retirement if you might not live that long? What does it mean to choose death over a life without your mind? Conversations like getting into an icy cold pool; dealing with it at a pace my body can metabolize. Dip a toe into the topic; rest. Take another step. Rest again.

The whole thing is horrifically dark, but naming it helps. Looking the thing in the eye makes it less powerful. And I know in my heart that my depression won’t fully go away until the thing has been properly dealt with.

Also — like so many of us — part of my recovery will include the processing of pandemic losses. Who am I now? In a new city, with a new house, and a new partner — what do I want now, and what do I need? What matters to me? What does the next phase of my life hold?

It’s a lot. And I talk to people all over the world for whom it’s a lot in other ways right now — who are grappling with their own demons and questions; who are trying to name what hurts and figure out how they can get the support they need.

Maybe it’s a lot for you too right now.

I still have bad days, but now I have neutral days too. It’s like I was drowning, and someone grabbed my hand. I’m not out of the water yet, but knowing that I have help — that I’m being held up enough to start doing the work needed to heal — makes all the difference.

I look forward to having the space and time and bandwidth to process all of this; to heal and settle and re-embody; to return to myself and my life.

And if you’re struggling right now, I wish the same for you. The hand to keep you above water until the storm is over. The help you need to look at your beast in the eye. The ability to metabolize your own nightmares, and step into a new era knowing that you are fully here.

Sending you so much love and strength,
<3
Jessi

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