Recovering from a Mental Health Injury

Hey there! It’s been a few months. Where to begin?

When we last left off, things were going relatively well. I started seeing a therapist in October and was making good progress in my mental health. Together we cultivated a toolbox full of anxiety management techniques and dug into the ideas of acceptance and mindfulness. As a result, my running improved greatly. By December, cutting out gluten and corn in September had helped me drop almost 20 pounds, and I had more motivation to keep it up.

After the dumpster fire that was 2020, I was ready to enter the New Year with high hopes. Or rather, I planned to tiptoe into the year quietly, so as not to spook it and send it running, on fire, into the barn, thus starting a blaze that would level the entire city.

The fact that I haven’t blogged for 5 months tells you all you need to know about how that worked out.

Two days before New Year’s Eve, we were faced with a family emergency that threw our little team of two into chaos. Then just as things started to calm down on that front, my mother came down with COVID. With a lot of stressful nights and careful watching, she is now back to 100% healthy. We’ve continued to work through a handful of other unrelated issues since then, but after the 1-2-3 punch that was January-February-March, I made a change and wanted to share here.

No, not wearing a fanny pack 24/7 (although I really dig this one)

I started medication again.

I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression since age 12, and went on Zoloft back in 2003 to manage severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. While the medication made me gain much of the weight that took me years to lose, it worked. I am a big proponent of medication for mental health, but for some reason, kept telling myself that I didn’t need it this time. I had found running and acupuncture, and I was in therapy. Shouldn’t that be enough? It sort of was, until I found myself in crisis around the end of February.

The best way I can describe my tipping point is that it felt like I was working two full-time jobs. In addition to working 9-5 for money, every free hour was spent working on my mental health. Every thought was focused on my own thoughts. My mind was in constant motion from one anxious thought to the next, with no safe place to land. I moved in and out of depressive states that put me in some dark places. VERY dark.

But if living with anxiety and depression at that level was like treading water endlessly, starting Effexor was like grabbing onto a life raft and finally feeling the relief of not having to try so goddamn hard for the first time in months – years, really.

The pic I sent my husband after I picked up my new prescription for mental health (covered in cat hair that I didn’t see until later).

With Effexor, I still have anxious thoughts. But instead of the anxiety flowing through my whole body and causing a physical reaction in my clenching stomach and sweaty palms and racing heart and shortness of breath, the thoughts… stay in my head. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s fascinating. The medicine “opens the window” and gives me the mental space to work through the anxious or depressive thoughts using the tools that I’ve developed over 7 months of work in therapy. It’s still work, but it’s not as stressful, and it’s easier to let those thoughts pass and return to regular thoughts.

It’s also not some magic bullet, either. I was faced with a hugely stressful situation last week that created a swell of anxiety that not even Effexor could stop. The day was rough and I spiraled, thinking that it was a sign that I had backslid into my old ways, the medicine was useless, that nothing could fix me. But the window had been “opened”, and after a day or so, I was able to approach the situation tentatively and work through it a bit. It was a good reminder that while meds are helpful, I am also stronger and better equipped to handle anxiety than I was a year ago thanks to therapy.

We decided to try Effexor because its mechanism of action is similar to Zoloft, which I had a good experience with, but also includes norepinephrine to possibly improve my energy levels and attentiveness, which had been impacted. And despite being worried about weight gain, Effexor has had the opposite effect of the Zoloft and I’ve lost a few pounds already. I don’t feel the need to turn to food for comfort, and nighttime snacking (which was my Achilles heel) is all but nonexistent. It’s motivating me to move more but not affecting my sleep. I wish I’d started this stuff years ago.

July 2020 on the left, April 2021 on the right.

I say all this with an asterisk: just because I am having a good experience doesn’t mean that it’ll work for everyone. I’ve had people message me about it but don’t want to sound like I’m pushing this drug or overselling it. This is just me explaining how it’s helped me and keeping the conversation about mental health going.

In December, Olympic runner and filmmaker Alexi Pappas shared her story of depression and the importance of treating mental health issues the same way we treat physical ones. She referred to them as “mental health injuries”. That phrase stuck with me.

As runners, we are often sidelined by things like shin splints, hairline fractures, or torn ACLs. But we treat those injuries with things like physical therapy and medication. Why don’t we view mental health struggles the same way?Having a mental health injury isn’t a weakness in the same way that pulling a muscle isn’t a weakness. They stop us in our tracks, take time to recover from, and in some cases, there is often a chemical – physical – imbalance, and medication like the one I’m on can be an IMMENSE help. But yet, the stigma around it remains.

Why?

I’m tired of being anxious and depressed and feeling like a prisoner in my own mind. Now that I found the combination of things that seems to work for me in this moment, I’m going to talk to anyone who will listen about it, in the hopes that it helps even one person take that step and get help for themselves, whether that’s through therapy or medication or both.

And that’s what’s going on in my world these days. How are you doing?

6 thoughts on “Recovering from a Mental Health Injury

  1. Really glad to hear – and honestly I don’t know why we stigmatize mental health injuries and treatments. But we certainly do.

    With my wife, I talk about it like Vector analysis (because of course I do) – there is magnitude and direction. When she was really deep in a dark space, neither one made sense – she was reacting to the wrong things and not in proportion, but couldn’t help it (obviously) and the inability to control those reactions only made things worse.

    More recently it has been just a ‘magnitude’ problem – the things that bother her make sense, the basic response makes sense, but the magnitude of the response is out of proportion. That is where the meds have really helped her.

    Both of our kids also deal with depression and anxiety (and younger son with bipolar as well), and Lisa’s therapy and experience with meds (and her general medical background) has helped provide us a language to work with the kids as they grew up and have become adults. Still not easy.

    These discussions always remind me why I hate the ‘running is my therapy’ or ‘endorphins are my depression drug’ type of thing because they are so harmful to actual treatment of an injury.

    Liked by 1 person

    • AMEN. I hate the idea that running as therapy is enough. It is therapEUTIC, but not a replacement for therapy. Though I told myself the lie that it should be enough, even though I’ve had good experiences in the past. Much of the time, self-judgement is even worse than any external stigma we might encounter, because we’re the only ones truly standing in our own way.

      Liked by 1 person

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  3. Your strength is amazing. And, of course, you’re absolutely right – mental health is as – if not more -important than physical health. You have so much of both. I love following your blog, and seeing this reminded me why. Thanks for putting yourself out there – the internet can be a scary place some (most?) days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the kind words. I’m trying – if anyone gets even a little boost from my writing, I’m happy! We’ve all got to help each other out wherever we can ❤

      Like

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