I have been taking anti-depressants for a long, long time. Sometimes it feels like forever, like I will never know what my baseline is ever again. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to, anyway. I know when I’m there it can be pretty scary. For me, and for everyone who loves me.
Taking meds isn’t something I’m ashamed of—it’s also not something I talk about in casual conversation. And yes, I know that sometimes, especially with people I don’t know very well, I’ve couched it under needing them for my intense and often crippling sleep disorder. I do have the disorder. They do help with that. But that’s not the real reason I need them.
I need them to counteract an emotionally abusive childhood that left me with PTSD similar, in some respects, to what a soldier experiences after battle. I need them because there are times, deep and dark and terrifying, that I can go right back to that childhood and get stuck there for days.
I need them because my husband deserves a functioning adult who doesn’t completely break down with fear and despair when I lose my keys. I need them because my children deserve a mother who doesn’t think that they would be better off without her. One who doesn’t wonder if she should just check out so her husband could remarry and give her kids the mother they deserve instead.
I need them because I have a chronic illness. The fact that that illness is emotionally-based doesn’t make that need any less urgent.
I used to think that taking meds and going to therapy kept me afloat. I used to think those things kept from drowning. Dying. Never once did I consider there was any correct combination of the two, along with some life practices, that would help me to live.
Tyler Knott Gregson wrote, “Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim.”
I didn’t think swimming was possible for someone like me. I thought I had to be content with not being dragged into helplessness by the undertow.
Recently, after many attempts and misdiagnoses and combinations and failures, I finally found a med that really works. That helps me reach the shore. Combining it with some lifestyle changes, a lot of therapy sessions, and a daily writing practice has led me to the weirdest feelings I have had in years. At first I didn’t recognize peace. Satisfaction. Energy. Contentment. Hope.
I don’t know that I’ve truly felt those things before, and I’m still not one hundred percent sure that’s what I’m feeling now, though my heart tells me it’s so. Feeling those things is as foreign to me as speaking Greek or reading Sanskrit. Intellectually, I’ve always known those things can be done, but I couldn’t imagine being able to do them with any fluency.
It’s hard, feeling those emotions now, and not being angry for the decades I have spent without them. It’s hard to appreciate, without bitterness, that I will likely have decades ahead of me to enjoy them. My wonderful, kind husband often quotes a Chinese proverb to me whenever I feel I’ve waited too long to be truly happy: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
I’ve planted my tree. I must tend it every day. I have to nourish it with fresh water and sunlight. I have to prune away what is dead. And I need to sit under it and appreciate its shelter. I’m sorry I didn’t plant it sooner. I’m grateful I planted it now.
My story is not unique. I wish it was, if only to spare people the times I have been paralyzed in bed, shaking, not seeing a way out of self-loathing and the lack of faith that I would ever amount to anything worthwhile. But the best part of my story is that it isn’t over.
As Coldplay sings, “I’d rather be a comma than a full stop.” I hung in there through the wrong meds, wrong diagnoses, wrong therapists, and wrong docs. I have earned this little reward of mine with my fierce tenacity, and I am going to revel in every bit of it.
My story may be nobody’s business, but I will share it, publicly, for one reason: if someone you love is white-knuckling it through the wrong, listen to their story, because it deserves to be told. Heard. Then, if you want, tell them about me. Tell them that right is out there, waiting to be found. Tell them to plant the tree and swim to shore and really, truly live. Tell them, after decades and even if I struggle to believe it still, what I know to be true. It’s not too late. It’s never too late.