I’m a full-time English teacher-mom, and I take anti-depressants. And no, you’re not going to convince me I shouldn’t.
I remember it clearly: I was an awkward sixth-grader trying to be confident. I was on the school news team, and it was my birthday. I was excited because I had the job of reading the names, but when I got to them, mine wasn’t listed. I was too insecure to add it in, so I kept going, pretending nothing happened. That day, I felt invisible, and my anxiety and depression started to take over.
Many will say their childhood was filled with magic and imagination, or birthday parties and friends. I had moments like this, but my brain was not built to see the positive in everything. I was driven by fear, and that’s what I remember: fear of my parents dying, fear of losing my friends, fear of my classmates. Although I had many wonderful childhood experiences, my brain didn’t let me see those as often. The bad memories are at the forefront, and I know that’s because of anxiety and depression.
In elementary school, my mind got in the way of anything good, and I didn’t believe in myself. My insecurities were evident when I won an award for my fifth grade class and could barely comprehend my name when it was called. I was also in the talent show that year, but could only compare myself negatively to other performers. I was athletic and strong, but I felt insecure in my tall frame.
By sixth grade, I was split from some of my best friends, due to a zoning change that year. For someone with anxiety, that was nerve-wrecking. I tried to fit in by staying active and doing well in school, but awkward middle school situations made it worse, and I started hitting a wall of self-doubt and fear.
So, I stopped going to school. My stomach would hurt, and I would feel sick, so I convinced my mom to let me stay home. Day after day, I refused to go to school, and even when I tried, I would start sobbing in the parking lot from fear. I couldn’t make myself go. It was a physical and emotional reaction that was out of my control.
Thankfully, I transferred schools, and things got better from that point on, but later, as an adult, I would feel my mental health decline.
With my first teaching job, I lived with constant anxiety. Deadlines, terrible behavior from my students, and an overwhelmingly large work load meant I was always stressed out. I carried my work home every night. I would feel sick all weekend if a parent emailed me on a Friday afternoon. If a student said something negative to me, I agonized about it for days. People don’t realize the all-encompassing stress of teaching, and how, especially for someone who is genetically prone to anxiety, teaching can take over physically. Every day my stomach was upset. It wasn’t until years later that I realized this was anxiety-induced IBS.
When I had my first child, I had postpartum anxiety and depression. I was constantly afraid of something happening to my baby, and I found myself crying often. I experienced rage that I’d never felt before, and I would blame my husband for anything that went wrong. I kept blaming these behaviors on exhaustion and stress.
Almost four years later, I had a miscarriage, and I fell into a depression that took over for months. Because of that loss, when I got pregnant with my daughter, I was scared and anxious through my entire pregnancy. I had horrible thoughts every day about losing her. I was almost sure it would happen.
The last straw was when there were multiple mass shootings in California. I obsessively read the stories and looked at the pictures. There’s nothing wrong with being aware, but I was letting the terrible news consume my day, which brought me to a yet another few months of depression. At this point, I was exhausted. I was internally spinning with fear and what-ifs. I wasn’t allowing myself to live in the present.
The problem with anxiety and depression is that they show up in other ways. Anger was a big symptom of mine. I thought I had a terrible temper, but looking back, it was all related to my mental health. Anxiety makes you nervous and uptight, which makes you angry and irritated. Depression makes you feel worthless, sad, and lonely, which makes you angry and irritated. Anger was probably the biggest problem I had, and only the people who loved me the most had to deal with it.
I eventually had a more serious talk with my husband about how I was feeling, and as he listened to what was going on inside my mind, he said that he didn’t know how I coped with my own thoughts. He didn’t understand how I obsessed about things so much that it depressed me. It’s not that he was judging me; he was just trying to understand, and he couldn’t. This is common when you try to talk about your mental health with someone who has never experienced the same symptoms. He softly suggested that it might be time for me to get some help so that I could feel better. He had suggested this before, but I had put it off.
I went to the doctor. And right after I had my daughter, at age 30, I started prescription ant-depressants. I’ll never look back.
I no longer have a sick stomach every day.
I no longer experience unnecessary rage.
I no longer have severe heart palpations.
I no longer feel sick with nerves if I get an accusatory email.
I no longer shake every time I sing in anticipation of making of mistake.
I no longer think about negative things constantly.
I no longer worry about death all the time.
I no longer have depression every few weeks that stops me in my tracks.
I no longer spin in my own thoughts.
I no longer feel guilty about being a mom.
I no longer hold so much invisible weight.
Many people can work through depression and anxiety by reading self-help books or going to therapy, but that isn’t the solution for everyone. It’s not realistic. My brain is broken, and it’s a combination of family genetics: a bipolar grandmother, ADD and OCD, and rampant anxiety and depression.
Here’s the deal: I see kids—16-year-olds—struggling to find a reason to live. They are depressed. They need help. I recently spent an hour listening to a student filled with hopelessness. I told him about the day in sixth grade when I felt invisible, like he felt that day we talked, and then I told him about getting help. It gave him hope that I waited until I was 30 years old and was still doing okay—and even more hope that he could choose to get help now.
Help could mean a variety of options, but for some it might mean medication, and that shouldn’t be frowned upon. If I could go back and re-wire my brain to not feel so fearful all the time, I would, and it would have changed many aspects of my teens and twenties.
I’ve heard so many people say that they worry medicine would make them feel numb or emotionless. Yes, some medicines will have adverse effects. You have to play around and find the one that will best fit your body. The first type I tried was great, but it made me sweat heavily as a side effect. The second one made me feel more anxious, and I was always shaking my leg. The third is a happy place. I still have some side-effects, but those are far more manageable than the symptoms of depression.
I’m sharing this on the chance that there’s someone else struggling who can use my words to find the confidence to get the help they need. Most people who knew me during these years wouldn’t have guessed how much I was struggling. High-functioning anxiety is a talented liar. An anxious brain will also lie to its owner, convincing them that they’re just not worthy of being happy, or that it’s normal to feel unhappy. That’s just life. Everyone is exhausted with out-of-control thoughts. But that’s not true. To change that belief, more people need to open up about the joy help can bring, whether that be through therapy or medication.
I’m writing this for my elementary years of nervousness, my middle school years of panic and anxiety, my high school years of passivity, and my college years of pushing aside my need for help. I’m writing this for the 30-year-old mom who finally said, Yes, I want to feel different. I’m writing this in hopes that others who struggle will find their peace.