Breaking the Stigma: Managing Mental Health with Medication

This month it was my goal to share vulnerably at least a few times during Mental Health Awareness Month. I wanted to hopefully just show one person some hope. I find when we are struggling we often assume we are alone.

My history with depression and anxiety has been a presence in my life since I was 14. I never had a big group of friends, and I always spent time reading and I remember writing a lot to express myself. As I graduated high school things shifted and I began coping with unhealthy ways. When I had my daughter I realized I was not going to be able to be the mother I wanted and carry on with my lack of coping skills. This is also the first time I learned about postpartum depression, thinking about it now I would say the circumstances in my life led me down that path and having a child triggered much I had buried.

I managed that time with Zoloft and my life began changing. I started to attend Weight Watchers and I stopped binge eating to cope with my feelings. I found exercise and mote important running. Finally, the lasting catalyst for my change was developing a personal relationship with Jesus and dedicating my life to Him.

A year later I had lost 100 pounds and weaned off all medications. I felt amazing. I felt unstoppable and all that triggering trauma stuff? I had shoved it back into the darkness and covered it up with before and after weight loss victory pictures and running accomplishments. I really thought I had beat depression and anxiety.

The thing about trauma is, it will hide in the basement until someone stirs it up. You cannot predict when or how but when left unprocessed and stuffed away, it usually reappears later. As Dr. van der Kolk identifies in his book: the body keeps the score. Our brain and body remember the patterns of behavior and those pathways become activated when we get triggered.

For my it took another period of postpartum depression to surface And those old familiar feelings of feeling unworthy and unlovable returned. That deep dark sadness that had no end came back, and I realized I had so much anxiety that I was constantly trying to outrun it. At the time I just tried to cope with running and “getting back to basics”. Again I told myself I was a new creation in Christ and I didn’t need medicine anymore I could cope on my own.

And for a period of time I did. I successfully worked through some postpartum depression after our second son was born. I ran the Vermont 100, my 3rd 100 miler and this really sort of helped me get back on track. The running and the mood stability became very intertwined. When I began my pursuit of finishing my Bachelor’s degree I began understanding a bit more, the family system and the ramifications of broken family systems.

It was during the beginning of my graduate degree that I really became self-aware of my own past and how it was affecting my present. I attended a few counseling sessions to complete the programs requirement and I worked through a few things and I really thought I got everything under control.

Until once again life hit me, hard. I vastly underestimated the weight of giving birth during the pandemic. I have written posts about my postpartum journey here and here. But this time it was different. I was on Zoloft for a few months and was feeling a little better but I did not feel like myself. I was definitely feeling a few of the common side effects and honestly did not feel it was worth it to keep taking the medication. So I tried to wean off it and I thought I could manage.

And then, life hit again, this time with a broken ankle that required surgery. The day after I fell I scheduled a call with my primary care physician and discussed my options. I knew I needed medicine to help me cope and that would keep me out of a dark depression. My doctor was very understanding and helped me navigate the best choice and we decided on trying Wellbutrin XL.

Wellbutrin is different than other medications. It is an NDRI which means it works by keeping the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine available to the brain’s neurons for longer. This helps improve concentration, focus, and give energy. Since Wellbutrin does not influence serotonin, it works differently than many other antidepressants. I was hopeful that it would help me stay ‘up’ longer throughout the day and not be as drastic as the Zoloft.

I started taking the medication about 5 days post surgery. I had to be off all pain medication to avoid a reaction. Which meant I would be in pain but hopefully get better mentally. At first I didn’t notice much but after a few days I began to feel better. I had energy and I didn’t have to be dragged out of bed at noon time. I got up on my own and left my bed by 9-10am everyday which was much better!

Working through depression has felt slow like this beaver crossing the road. It’s a day to day battle that requires me to be steadfast and diligent. I have to take my medication every morning and I have to exercise. I have found those 2 things help me greatly. I have been on Wellbutrin for 2.5 months and I do see the difference in myself. This long bouts of depression do not linger within me. If I am upset or struggling I can get outside and it helps immensely. I have begun mental health counseling for myself again, hoping to do some emdr and gain better coping skills. So I am focused on getting well and staying there.

I often describe medication to others like this. I see it as a bridge, if I want to get to healthy island and I have been living in darkness for a long time, the medication is a path for me to get myself into a health zone. If my blood pressure was high I would take a beta blocker until I could improve my lifestyle and manage it. If I got cancer, I would go through treatment to hopefully recover. I see mental health medication the same way. It’s a medical need for me right now and that’s ok. It may be here for a while or it may be here for a short time. Either way I will be ok.

We need to keep talking about medication for mental health like this, we need to help others bridge their gap and gain wellness.

Again, resources for mental health please do not wait. Seek care today. Mental Health America has great screening tools. The National Suicide Hotline is open 24-7 by calling 1-800-273-8255 or text the word HOME to 741741

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