Updated: Sep 1, 2020
Mental health disorders run in my family. We have everything from ADD and ADHD to anxiety, clinical depression and bipolar disorder. I’ve been anxious for as long as I can remember. When that’s the case, it’s hard to pinpoint whether it’s nature or nurture or some combination of both. I tend to lean toward the latter.
I was an anxious kid. There’s no denying it. I was always worried about something. Worried someone would forget something I needed. Worried about the stove being left on when we were leaving for the weekend. Worried if my hand weren't physically clasping my favorite purple blankie it would be forgotten. I was always checking and rechecking things, even before I hit double digit age.
So, fast forward to adulthood and very little changed. I found ways to manage of course, but as I got older, it progressively became more difficult. Couple this with the mood swings associated with depression and you’ve got a nice recipe for disaster. Couple those things with the sudden onset of deteriorating hip joints and you’ve got a shit storm to be reckoned with.
I wasn’t exactly on mentally solid ground when my hips first when mushy. I was dealing with the average stress of living paycheck-to-paycheck even though I was working full-time, I didn’t really know who I was and I was heavily codependent with my best friend who was also my boss and that wasn’t exactly a recipe for success either.
So, that fateful day when my left hip joint seemingly disappeared (which you can read about here if you haven’t already), it was icing on top of an already baking shit cake.
I started feeling like I was holding on by my fingernails every day. I remember after an especially intense staff meeting one Friday I walked outside and climbed into my piping hot car and sat inside with the doors closed, windows rolled up and ignition off as my body started shaking uncontrollably. No one else had left the building yet, so I was still alone in the parking lot and I just started screaming. I know I was crying too but mostly I just remember the screaming. It was like whatever was boiling up inside my body had become too much and it demanded escape.
Once I felt safe to move, I started my car, drove straight to the gym, stripped down to my underwear and laid in the sauna until my body stopped shaking. I was left completely drained. When I drug myself home that night, I had very few thoughts in my head. And when they did start coming back, they mostly circulated around “What’s the point?”
What scared me was that for the first time in my life, I truly struggled to answer that question.
The next several weeks I was in a near constant state of distress. And as if dealing with the depression, anxiety and now hip issues weren’t enough, I also have endometriosis and that wasn’t going to go away just because everything else was crashing down around me too. There was a span of at least 2 weeks where I was leaving work early almost every day.
I couldn’t stop crying. I’d manage to hold it together long enough to get through one client at a time and then I’d be back in the break room clasping the counter in pain and sobbing. I felt like everyone around me was getting frustrated. I didn’t feel supported but I don’t blame anyone for that. I didn’t know how to support myself or ask for support, so how was anyone to know how to help me? I don’t even know that I fully expressed how bad any of it really was.
Eventually I confided in my mom and my brother about how bad my mental health had gotten and I got in to see a psychiatrist who started me on Celexa - an antidepressant/anti-anxiety med. Unfortunately, I didn’t couple that with regular talk therapy because I had terrible insurance and paying out of pocket wasn’t an option back then.
After that, I started making more of an effort to take better care of myself. Or, I tried to anyway. I made an effort to find workouts that didn’t put as much stress on my hips (which is super difficult), and eventually I hired a personal trainer, who I adored, but who is very anti-medication for mental health. After working with her for quite a few months, my body had started transforming nicely and I was feeling pretty good so I went ahead and stopped the Celexa.
This was the weird part about my hips deteriorating. There were legitimate periods of time when they didn’t hurt that bad. Like, I went out dancing with friends, took Zumba classes, went hiking, you name it… and sure, the next day was rough, but in the moment, I was able to mostly keep up. It was after I stopped moving when the problems really started. I think this is how I adopted the mentality to just keep moving. Just keep going. If I keep moving, I can stay ahead of the pain, I can outrun the pain. I can beat this.
I never stopped to consider that what I was doing wasn’t realistic or healthy. Every day I was talking myself out of the way I felt physically, mentally and emotionally. I was in survival mode 24/7 but I didn’t know it. I didn’t understand why trying to keep up with my peers felt like a massive undertaking. Why did everything feel so fucking difficult all the time? What was I doing wrong?
I come from a household where we were taught not to make excuses for anything. Or rather, that’s what my dad always instilled in us. And, I understand why he did it, but I also think there’s an unintended dark side to this. A result of this channel of thinking is that when things aren’t working, it means I’m doing something wrong. It means something is my fault and I should be able to fix it. It all comes back down to me always, even when that’s not realistic. Of course there is good to be had from not making excuses, but there needs to be a happy medium. I did not learn that happy medium growing up.
It wasn’t until earlier this year that I finally got back on medication for my depression and anxiety. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Even after my doctor sent in the prescription, it took me almost a week before I started taking it. I was afraid. Afraid of potential side effects. Afraid it wouldn’t work. Afraid of who knows what. But after talking it over with my therapist and agreeing it was the best choice, I went ahead and took the plunge. I’m now on Lexapro and it is doing exactly what I need it to be doing. I waited at least 3 months before passing judgement because I was convinced it wasn’t going to work or it would just be a placebo effect. But given the state of 2020 and the fact that I’ve barely had to spot-treat with Xanax, I can confidently say it’s working and I will not be stopping it any time soon.
The toll chronic disease has taken on my mental health over the years cannot be discounted. Being misdiagnosed and now undiagnosed takes a toll. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t contribute to how I ended up in an emotionally abusive relationship, but we’ll unpack that another day. What I have now is a keen awareness and a level of acceptance I wish I’d had many years ago - Radical acceptance.
That’s not to say I just roll over and say I’m okay with existing in a body that keeps malfunctioning and I’m okay with my doctors not finding the answer yet, because I’m not. But it’s to say, I accept the hand I was dealt and I will continue to show up for myself the way I need to in order to get the answers I need and live my best life. I will make the accommodations I need to make for myself even if they look different than my peers, because I have to do what works for me and my body.
Most of all, I will continue making my mental health a priority. Talk therapy is a must-do on my self-care list. I’m lucky now to have great insurance and as such, access to a therapist I really connect with and talk to every week. It’s integral in how I keep my head above water as I continue dealing with my health challenges.
Lexapro + Talk Therapy + Self Awareness = Much stabler ground