Treating myself to mental health care

#mental health  #health care  #depression  #anxiety  #self care 

Anyone who reads this blog or follows me on Twitter is likely to be aware I suffer from depression. I get that kind of depression that’s more aptly described as “suicidal depression” than simply just depression. To say it’s a real buzzkill would be an understatement.

But in addition to depression, I also have anxiety and ADHD. It’s a real fun trifecta, let me tell you. Not only do they each have their own symptoms, but together they make for a really fun feedback loop. The ADHD wrecks my ability to focus and be productive. That lack of getting things done increases my anxiety over my personal abilities and skills. And with that also comes an increase in depression as my feeling of self-worth decreases. That, in turn, makes me even less productive as it consumes me more and more.

I’ve dealt with this pretty much my whole life. I was diagnosed with ADHD as a young child, around 1st grade, maybe? And spent most of my childhood as a literal Ritalin kid. I took Ritalin for a solid seven or eight years. It certainly helped me focus in school and prevented me from bouncing off the walls—I don’t mean this as a metaphor, I actually would be bouncing off the walls. However, it came with a huge side effect of making me a completely different person. It changed my personality so much and I hated it. When my doctor wanted to try me going off meds for the summer after seventh grade, I got a taste of freedom and refused to ever take those meds again.

Fast forward way into adulthood and my ADHD is no better than when I was a child. I’m terribly unfocused most of the time and very impulsive. I’m also constantly shaking my leg or fidgeting with something without even consciously knowing it. I physically cannot sit still. Over the years, I learned some coping mechanisms. Large amounts of coffee being one of them. Another is what I would call “controlled multitasking,” where I quickly switch between a few different things to avoid giving my brain a chance to lose focus on its own. Still, neither of these gets me too far, but they’re they best I’ve got.

Running has always helped my depression and anxiety, but it’s not a cure. It gets me through a day at a time, but that’s a lot of pressure to put on running alone. If I get injured or am lacking motivation, my depression can creep up. And if I fall into a bad bout of depression, running can’t get me out. About all running can do in those bouts is keep me from suicide.

After the election last year, I decided it was time to seek some help. I knew the time ahead was going to be really rough and I just didn’t have enough to battle it all on my own. I had tried therapy before and it’s not that it’s completely unhelpful for me, but its effects are limited. I feel good by the end of a session and for a few hours afterwards, but then it wears off until my next session, usually a week later. It’s a lot of money to spend on something without a lasting benefit.

I decided it was time to try medication. I made an appointment with my doctor to talk about meds for all three conditions, depression, anxiety, and ADHD. At my appointment we talked through some options and she told me she’d like to deal with the depression and anxiety first, as ADHD meds often increase anxiety as a result of them being stimulants. It made sense to me.

She started me on Lexapro last December and it took a little while before I saw any effects of it, but once it kicked in, it was like a subtle game changer. Subtle and game changer aren’t two things you’d expect to go together, but that’s how I’d describe it. The changes weren’t in my face or overly obvious. I felt better, but not totally different. Mostly, what I felt was how I feel in those moments when depression and anxiety are low. Instead of feeling that way 10% of the time, I now felt it 95% of the time. It’s only when I actually think about it that I realize how big of a change it is. Sometimes, you don’t notice a change when that change is simply the absence of something.

This has been great. I feel like I’ve been given a lot of my life back back. Lexapro made it possible for me to survive through the hell 2017 has been. I don’t get sucked down into depression or anxiety the way I used to. I can still feel those emotions, but they’re no longer in control of me. I feel like an actual person and I couldn’t be more thankful for this.

Of course, I still had ADHD running wild, but one thing at a time, right? A few months ago, I finally felt like my depression and anxiety were steady enough on Lexapro to start thinking about addressing the ADHD. I made another appointment with my doctor—a different one, thanks to my PCP taking a new role where she no longer sees patients. We talked things through and he asked me what I was hoping to get from medication and all that jazz. I thought it was really great we talked through expectations beforehand. I think that’s a thing that’s often lost with mental health care. Providers don’t always ask what you’re expecting to get from a treatment up front. Managing expectations is important.

I walked out of the appointment with a prescription for Adderall XR. I was excited to try something, but I figured it’d be a bit of a trial and error.

After about a month of Adderall, I just wasn’t feeling like it was helping. I hardly felt different at all. I was still easily distracted and unfocused. Plus, my anxiety had gotten a little worse.

I sent my doctor an email telling him I didn’t think Adderall was the right fit for me and asked what else he’d recommend. He suggested we try Wellbutrin next. I was pretty skeptical of this one, as it’s used to treat many different things. Though, I was interested in the fact that two of those things it’s used to treat are anxiety and depression without being an SSRI. My doctor said he has a lot of patients who take it along with Lexapro.

After just two and a half weeks on Wellbutrin, I’ve been finding myself much more able to focus and less distractible. I also have more motivation to jump into tasks. Most days, it seems to take until the afternoon to really kick in, but once it does, I’m able to sit down and actually do some work for a few hours straight. I’m able to switch over to email or Twitter for a few minutes to take a break here and there and then jump right back into what I was doing. That ability to switch contexts and jump back into where I was has been really impressive to me so far. And small distractions that would normally derail my productivity for a half hour afterwards are nothing now.

It’s only been a little bit with the Wellbutrin, but it’s feeling like it’s exactly what I hoped for. It’s a light touch that helps me actually get some shit done. Plus, my anxiety and depression feel even slightly more handled than with just Lexapro alone. That could be all in my head, no pun intended…for once.

I wish I had jumped on this years ago, but I just had such a bad taste left in my mouth from growing up on Ritalin that I couldn’t stomach the thought of more medication. Now that I’ve actually tried some other meds and seemingly found a combo that’s working for me, I’m feeling so much better. I feel like a much more productive member of society.

It’s okay to need help. And it’s okay if that help is in the form of medication. Everyone has their own needs and there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for mental illness. You gotta find what works for you and not be afraid to try different things until you get where you want to be.