Yesterday, Dr. Scott Lurie and I celebrated our 8 ½ year anniversary. Dr. Lurie is my psychiatrist. We first met on April 9, 2008, in the little blue house with the red door where he sits in his swivel chair and listens to men and women like me every day. On that Wednesday, and many other days (and nights) since then, Dr. Lurie saved my life.
Two years before I met Dr. Lurie, I had just turned 37 years old and was two months pregnant with my third child. Life was better than it had been in a long time. Since my first panic attack on a Greyhound bus bound for Washington, D.C., in the early ‘90s, I had gotten married; moved from Richmond to Atlanta to Charleston to Charlotte; worked in six different jobs; lived in (and partially renovated) five homes; birthed two children; and taken at least five different medications to help combat my bouts of acute anxiety and its dark alter-ego, depression.
Before becoming pregnant, my daily cocktail had consisted of Wellbutrin and Effexor. This combination worked well for me until my pregnancy test was positive and I weaned myself off a little too quickly. I’ve never taken recreational drugs or even smoked marijuana, but I have a pretty good idea what it feels like to give up crack after two weeks of withdrawal symptoms like whooshing sounds when my eyes blinked, sobbing fits, and buzzing in my ears, like the singe of a mosquito when it flies too close to the blue light.
While pregnancy always seemed to abate my psychoses, those months after childbirth were rock bottom for me. Couple that with a very high-maintenance baby who would only sleep in a Moses basket in our master bathroom with the fan on, and you have a formula for severe postpartum depression. I would go days without showering, going to bed and getting up in the same robe and pajamas, barely functioning on jagged amounts of sleep between endless nursing sessions and sporadic crying fits.
By the time Sarah Grace was 1 1/2, I was barely holding on. Having left my hometown of Martinsville, Virginia, for the University of Richmond in 1987, I had taken many less-traveled paths and become far worse than I ever imagined. An only child of a single mother (my older sister married when I was 11), I had already survived a fatherless youth, bullying, molestation, HPV, being fired from my first job, cheating boyfriends, and emotional and mental abuse. I was nearly 40 years old with a nice house and three beautiful children whom I was blessed to stay home with, but all I felt was shame and disappointment for falling from high school salutatorian and ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ to a near-agoraphobic wife and mother.
Dr. Lurie is not my first psychiatrist. Since that first panic attack at 20, I’ve talked to nearly a dozen mental health professionals in individual, group and couples counseling. Each one has given me a safe place to talk without judgment and a better understanding of how to take care of myself. I still have lots of not-so-great days, but I’ve now been on a combination of Cymbalta and Klonopin for more than five years. Once upon a time taking antidepressants made me feel weak. Other people didn’t want to talk about it, so I pretended to be okay and then cried in the shower or paced around the house after my family was asleep. Catastrophic thinking, PTSD, separation anxiety, suicidal thoughts, OCD, hyper-vigilance, and insomnia—I’ve experienced them all.
It’s taken me 46 1/2 years to get to a place where I’m not worried about what other people think about me. I’m worried more about people like me who are hurting and in despair. Look at me. I think most people would say I’m nice or thoughtful, without a clue of what I’ve overcome or who has helped me along the way. I’m not saying that because I want attention or praise. If you knew how much it takes some days for me to just put my feet on the floor and take one step after another, then you can probably relate to a lot of what I’ve shared.
So, happy anniversary Dr. Lurie! Thank you for listening, especially when I called you in the middle of the night, freaking out because I hadn’t slept in days or because I had “roller-coastered” off and on my medicine. I’ll see you in six months for our next celebration. As usual, it’s on me.
Stephanie Norton lives in Charlotte, NC, with her husband Bill, three kids, and their two beloved rescue dogs. As a former award-winning PR professional, she enjoys writing, streaming her favorite shows, and all things chocolate. Twice a week, she delivers The Produce Box to her friends and neighbors. You can find her on Instagram & Facebook.