I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while now. Mental health is something that didn’t mean anything to me until earlier this year. Anxiety and depression is something you just can’t fully understand until you’ve gone through it yourself. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and it’s not something we need to be hiding from everyone. I hope that by shedding light on my experience it will help you feel like you don’t need to suffer alone either. Getting help was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but by far the best thing too.
Growing up I was taught to keep my emotions under-wrap. I wasn’t allowed to be sad or feel sorry for myself, but I wasn’t allowed to show joy or get too excited about anything either. Essentially, I was taught to stay small, not draw attention to myself and suck it up.
This upbringing definitely helped me achieve great things. I was a straight-A student, went to a good university, went to grad school and started making good money soon after that. It also helped me become the strong and independent woman I am today, which in turn attracted the right guys and my now husband.
To say the least, the way I dealt with emotions up until this point in my life had served me really well: I could control my grades by studying, control my income by working harder, control my body by exercising more and eating less and ultimately, I could control the life I wanted have.
But when I was hit with infertility, everything changed. This was something I could not control. None of my previous coping mechanisms would help me overcome this.
Not only that, almost ALL of my coping mechanisms were actually PREVENTING me from getting pregnant!
Coping mechanism #1. I had to stop the restrictive eating
Coping mechanism #2. I had to stop over-exercising
Coping mechanism #3. I had to stop over-working
Coping mechanism #4. I had to stop putting so much stress on myself
So when you take away all of the ways I knew how to work through challenges in the past, I was left with nothing. I felt hopeless and sad. I felt stressed and worried. I felt guilty.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was becoming depressed and suffering from anxiety. When my doctor suggested I start on an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication, I was really taken aback and did not think I was at the point of needing medication. I blamed my hormones, my recent move and job change, the family issues I was facing at the time and all of the uncertainty that came along with those things on why I was feeling blue and anxious all the time (and yes, you can feel both of these at the same time) . I was convinced that I was strong enough to overcome my anxiety on my own with more conservative approaches.
I continued to see my naturopath, practicing meditation, journaling, listening to motivational podcasts and openly talking with Mike. These things definitely helped and I continue to practice them regularly because they do provide a significant benefit, but they just weren’t enough on their own.
I didn’t see it then, but now it’s so clear. I would cry multiple times per week. Sometimes multiple times a day. I remember crying so much at one appointment with my naturopath and I just couldn’t stop. I would cry when we would visit friends who were pregnant or had babies. I would cry when I watched movies or commercials with babies or pregnancies. I cried every time I heard a pregnancy announcement. And a lot of the time, I just cried for no reason.
I thought I would feel like a failure if I had to take medication to improve my emotions. I thought medication would change my personality and my motivation. I thought medication was only meant for people who were really depressed and suicidal. I thought I would be considered weak if I needed medication to feel better…
Boy was I wrong.
It wasn’t until our 3rd failed cycle that I finally came to the realization that maybe I did need it. I remember that month very vividly. Constantly obsessing over every symptom, taking 1,000 ovulation predictor tests and pregnancy tests, and not being able to sleep because I was so worried about what more I could be doing or if I did something wrong. When the nurse called to tell me that the pregnancy test was negative, I was numb. I just couldn’t imagine going through it all over again next month. All of the uncertainty, the medications, the driving to and from Toronto, the invasive doctor’s appointments only to have them say none of it worked and I’d have to start over again next month. I have a whole new appreciation for anyone that has had to go through this for years and years. It takes more strength and perseverance than you could ever imagine.
I cried a lot the following week. One day I cried all day and couldn’t leave the house. I remember lying on the kitchen floor and I just couldn’t get up. Every time I spoke to Mike I cried. I called up my mother-in-law and chatted with her as she has always been there to listen and offer advice, especially in times like this. She showed me that I was in fact showing signs of depression and encouraged me to try the medication. She told me she never understood why people would choose not to live a happier life if the medication worked for them.
It was that month I decided to go back to my doctor and try the medication. I also asked him if I could speak to a therapist to help work through my feelings and emotions.
He agreed and I started the medication (Cipralex) immediately and the therapy the following week.
Looking back, I don’t know why it took me so long to finally try the medication and seek a therapist. It took about 3-4 weeks after starting the medication, but I noticed a huge difference. My outlook on life changed dramatically. All the little things that used to ruin my day don’t bother me anymore. I generally feel happier than I ever have before. I feel more optimistic, less anxious, more confident talking to people I don’t know, and I am less hard on myself. The only way I can describe being on antidepressants/anti-anxiety medications is feeling like you’ve always just had one glass of wine. You know that feeling? It’s enough to take the edge off but not so much that you can’t drive or make rational decisions. However, everyone is different so your experience may be very different than mine.
Coincidentally, the month I started the medication was the same month I conceived. I am not sure if it was the medication alone that helped the most, or everything else I “didn’t” do that month (you can read more about that here) but either way I am so grateful that it worked.
Now you are probably wondering if I discontinued them once I got pregnant as they aren’t completely safe in pregnancy. Well I didn’t. This was a personal choice and I don’t think you’d be wrong either way. I personally felt more stable on the medication and I didn’t want to go back to my old worried and stressed-out self. I strongly believe that this baby will do far better with a happier mom. I will see how I feel after the baby is born, but at this point I plan to continue with the medication – I feel really good. All of the side-effects wore off within the first month and I think the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. Again, this was a personal decision and I don’t want you to take my experience or choices as medical advice.
I want to end this post by reminding you that this is my story and these are all personal experiences. Just because this worked for me, doesn’t mean it’s going to be the best fit for you. If you feel great right now and are happy using natural ways to address your mental health (like meditation, therapy, naturopathy, journaling, etc.) all the power to you! However, if you are suffering and need more help, don’t be embarrassed to ask for it. There is no cut-off or amount of suffering that you need to go through in order for it to be ok to seek help. Everyone has different experiences and no one deserves to get help more than someone else. Everyone is entitled to their own happiness, no matter what your story.
You shouldn’t be ashamed to want to feel happy.
For a while I felt embarrassed to tell people that I was on medication. But it was hearing stories from people who I looked up to who shared that they too needed medication to help them feel better that made me feel ok with it.
Opening up about my mental health and sharing it publicly is hard, but now that it’s out there, it no longer has power over me. I no longer feel ashamed. I feel stronger than ever.
And most importantly, I feel happier than ever.
Thank you for reading this super long post. If it resonated with you in any way, please share it.
Until next time,