Friday, September 9, 2011

The Light

For the past month or so I've been living with emotional pain so intense that I haven't known if I could survive. I have anxiety and depression and lately the crushing anguish I've felt has been more than I can bear. Since middle school, I've been taking medication that helped light the abyss, allowing me to live a normal and happy life. In early spring, working toward having a baby, I decided to wean off of this drug because my anxiety was very typically well in hand. Things went well--no baby, but I felt free in a way that I never had before. I had battled anxiety and depression and walked away victorious.
Then came the bar. Studying for the exam was an extremely stressful time but the crushing black clouds of anxiety and depression that I feared failed to materialize. But two weeks before I was to take the bar--by this time I was studying 10-12 hours a day and the pressure was on--I got a urinary tract infection. The stress, frustration and anger I felt at this can hardly be described. I was in pain, with constant need to use the bathroom, and even though medicine quickly cleared up the physical symptoms, I was left with a consuming fear that it would happen again and totally destroy my chances of passing the bar.
Since then the clouds have been building and my life has become short spurts of pleasantness surrounded by emptiness and gnawing fear. It helps to stay busy but as I'm alone and unemployed in this house all day that's a challenge. Even when I can stay busy the merest moment of quiet, calm or contemplation sends a bolt of panic into the pit of my stomach. I didn't want to go back on medication. I wanted my impression this spring and summer to be true. I wanted to dispel the gloom that had once defined my life. As time went by, I realized that things were not sorting themselves out. I needed more help than talking, crying, staying busy, or even counseling could offer. I needed medication. So two days ago, I found myself back in the psychiatrist's office, where three months earlier I had happily chirped that Operation Overcome Anxiety had been successful.
As I spoke with my doctor, I realized my attitude had changed. Anxiety and depression are not hurdles to overcome. They may be shadows that flicker through my life, but they are part of the landscape. I had thought the brave thing was to push through the pain, but I was losing more and more of my life as I tried. My anxiety comes from a place that eschews reason and rationality and stems from a chemical imbalance that I can't control by myself. For the person born with diabetes, it is not a personal failure to have to take insulin to survive. I've had to learn that it is not my fault that I cannot cope with anxiety and depression on my own.
The decision to go back on medication is not without its costs. Recent articles have demonstrated a possible link in the use of SSRIs like the one I'm taking in pregnancy, and autism. The pill that provides me more immediate relief is not recommended for pregnancy. I felt like I was so close to starting a family, and I can't stop sobbing over the delay this may entail for those plans.
I feel assailed with questions I can't answer, with anger I can barely control. I want to scream that it's not fair. It's not fair to have come so far and endured so many difficult things just to have the rug yanked out from under me the first moment I have a chance to think about who I am and what I want my life to be. I'm angry that the second my husband and I finally get to live together after three years of marriage he has to live with first, a raging lunatic freaking out about the bar exam and second, a raging lunatic sobbing all the time about her irrational anxieties and deep, mind-numbing depression.
I find myself at a crossroads--a puzzling tumult of anger and calm and grief and peace and sadness and fear and happiness. I have all the pieces of my life--but my ability to reassemble them depends on my ability to fixate on the light peeking out through the clouds. Telling an anxious person not to worry is like slapping them in the face--it's like feeding an unmedicated diabetic 3 pounds of sugar and telling them to just process it like the rest of us do. But giving an anxious person hope is an even riskier proposition. When your mind tells you the very worst is a very realistic possibility, and that stories have as many sad as happy endings, it's hard to believe that once you're stuck in the pit that you'll ever be able to climb out again. Even when it's not your first time. It is hard to imagine that what you want most in the world--your old life, with moderate highs and lows, with many things to do and many things you want to do--even exists anymore.
At moments, I feel like it's so close. I have a spark of true happiness and then a shot of fear wondering if I'm really climbing out of the darkness or if it's just another false handhold. Other times I sob face-down on the carpet in my front room and vaguely wonder if someone coming over for a visit might look in the window and think I'm dead.
But the light is there. I can feel it's warmth when I sing or laugh with someone I haven't seen in a while, or have to disentangle myself from one of the chickens when I'm trying to clean the coop and it just has to stand at precisely the spot where my arm is right now. These moments give me hope that even if tomorrow isn't much better, it will be a little bit, and that the next day will be a little bit better than that.

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