between normal and hell
Several weeks ago I was working on a blog post entitled, “The Things That Scare Michael Dahl.”
Bats were on the list I had started to form — I’ve had many scary personal encounters with bats. The dark was on the list — I’m quite certain the bogeyman comes out in the dark, especially when you are trying to get up a stairway.
And a change in mental health medications was also on the list …
… yeah, so, the intent of the post wasn’t really for me to list the gobs of things that scare me. It was meant for me to grapple with the fact that my present multi-week bout with anxiety and depression wasn’t just going to pass. I wasn’t simply treading through trying times that would soon be over.
I was engaged in an acute struggle with my chronic Anxiety and Depression. And my meds weren’t working. They weren’t doing their job. I had to consider a change. Yes, that scared me a lot.
Readers of this blog may know that for months I was probably creeping further and further from normal — the place mental health medications are supposed to help you be — and closer and closer to hell.
I entered hell on March 26, 2015 with a panic attack that honestly had me running away from work so no one else would have to see me in such a sorry state.
For a few weeks I just let the hell envelop me, hoping it was a hell-cloud that the winds of time would move along … as had happened many times before. But as I now know and as I was grappling with then, the meds that had been working for me for several years had stopped being effective.
This is to be expected. Those treating their chronic Depression and / or Anxiety with medications are told by their doctors that sometimes the drugs just stop working. I don’t how to describe why that happens to some people. Has someone just become immune to the drugs? Or did the brain change … adapt … become slightly different in its physical makeup?
I don’t know.
I do know that — having had to change medications a handful of times in the past 14 years of diagnosed chronic Anxiety and Depression — that the decision to change medications is a very difficult one.
Before you get to making that decision, you hope things will change … naturally go back to your prior normal … because sometimes they do.
You cling to the past … hoping for the stability that doesn’t feel like it was that long ago.
And then you hit a breaking point. The current state becomes unacceptable. You remember what normal felt like. You know you’re not headed in that direction. And you want to go back.
But going back requires moving forward. Plowing through what is not going to feel comfortable.
I am not going to gloss over this. Changing mental health medications can be emotionally and physically painful. You should prepare yourself for several weeks — sometimes longer — of not feeling right, of not feeling in control, of not being anywhere close to your best self.
Your hope is that moving from one medication to the next medication will be like going from Point A to Point B. But sometimes, for some people, not all the drugs work. So you go from Point A to Point B to Point C to (well, lets’s hope there are not too many points / drugs).
But there’s usually a normal at the other side. And it is worth getting to. It is worth the discomfort — sometimes pain — to get back to your normal, healthy self.
Right now, I am hoping I am heading for that normal.
You’ll note that I’ve written the word normal several times in the past few paragraphs. Why? Because that is the goal. You are not looking for drugs to numb you, or falsely elate you, or to turn you into some superhuman. You are not looking to escape normal happiness or normal sadness or even normal grief.
You’re looking to get your your moods to be appropriate to the situations you are in.
Before I describe my current situation, I want to air something that’s been jostling around my mind. Obviously, I’m pretty open about my struggle with these illnesses. But I hope in the future — the very near future — to be able to stop writing about the struggle. I want to be past this, at my re-found normal. I want to go back to just being Michael: the gardener, the yogi, the social justice advocate, the blogger, the content member of the Dahl/Rassier/Franco household.
That will happen.
But as I am prone to share. And I had already been sharing my multi-week residence in head-hell. I figured I should continue sharing until I make it back to that hoped for place.
Again, I share because that’s just who I am, and it helps me process. I share because I know it helps others in the struggle know they are not alone in how they feel. And, I share because I figure it be good for those who don’t struggle with mental health difficulties to at least get a glimpse of what it can be like.
I also share because I’d prefer those around me know that sometimes there is a reason I am a bit awkward … and it has nothing to do with them. I’d prefer to control the understanding of why Michael is acting weird rather than having tons of false assumptions directed my way that I’ll have to address later.
So, where am I now?
I am somewhere between hell and normal.
The past week — with doctor’s advice — I’ve been tinkering with dosages of one med, stopped taking another, and allowed myself to take the extra, temporary, chill pill more often I found acceptable before. This has led to periodic zoning out, high fatigue (I haven’t been able to practice yoga for over a week), and a lot of naps and sleep. That could be a regrettable side effect of the current med mix. It could simply be a transitory state as my body and brain get used to the new treatment. Or, it could be my brain sinking deeper into Depression. It’s difficult to know until I have given my brain some time to adjust to the new med mix.
My new doctor and I will know the answer a week from now, after the transitory period for this drug option should have passed. I’m trying not to draw conclusions as I deal with the rumble and tumble of the transition. I’ll know soon enough. But as anyone who’s gone through this knows, it’s hard not to over-analyze how you are feeling when you are going through this.
But here’s the thing, when you are clinically depressed and or anxious, what’s obvious is that you are almost constantly aware of how you feel and how that seems out-of-whack with how you should feel. (Okay, I shouldn’t speak for others … maybe that’s not how others experience it.)
What I do know is that for me when the cloud of Depression or Anxiety lifts … well, it’s a bit surreal. One morning I wake up, or one moment I just realize that I am not aware of how my feelings are out-of-whack with the rest of my surroundings … because they are not out-of-whack. I feel normal. And as time passes, I realize that the normalcy has settled in.
And I hope that it takes residence in my brain for years to come.