When I was growing up - especially in my late teens and early 20’s - my hormonal ups and downs were enough to cause whiplash for anyone close to me.
I’d be hyper and loud and laughing and “on” one minute, loving being the center of attention and the life of the party and making everyone laugh, and then worrying about all the things that were out of my control after I was alone: “Was everyone thinking I was obnoxious? Did I embarrass ______ when I said _____? Was I being too loud? Did I make a fool out of myself? Did I hurt ______’s feelings by saying _____? Did I pay enough attention to ____?”
The worries would consume me well into the night, to the point that I couldn’t fall asleep and I’d toss and turn for hours.
You know in high school when they do the “Most Likely to Succeed”-type things? I got Biggest Flirt in one of those 😍, but in another one it said something like, “Most Likely to Ask If Her Hair Looks Ok.”
I can’t remember the exact wording, but it was something along the lines of me asking if my hair or clothes looked ok, or if I had something in my teeth.
Forever checking with others to see if I had myself in order and to make sure I was getting a "read" from them that said they viewed me favorably, and that I hadn't somehow dropped from their good graces.
It was exhausting and reeked of insecurity.
I never really understood what was meant by that description of me in the graduating-senior booklet until much later in my life.
Now I can see it clearly for what it was: it wasn’t low self-esteem or hormones - not in the monthly moody way, anyway. It was anxiety.
By the time I was in my 20’s, this general knotted up feeling of dread was always with me.
But it was especially paralyzing when I’d see something awful on the news. Stories of child abuse or animal abuse or crimes against the elderly wouldn’t just have me tossing and turning at night, they’d pop into my thoughts while I was driving down the road or sitting in my cube at work, and I’d almost have to plug my ears and tell myself, “Stop. Stop thinking about that,” and I’d force myself to think of something happy or funny.
By my mid-20’s, the thoughts were so pervasive and all-consuming, my husband convinced me to do what my mom had told me for years to do: go see a doctor. Worrying like this over things out of my control was not normal.
And it was ruining my relationship with my husband.
I knew I hated feeling knotted up, but I couldn’t see just how bad it really was. I’d spend hours and hours of my day second-guessing every word I’d said to every person I’d talked to throughout the day, but at the same time I’d resist the thought of needing help.
“This is just the way I am - I’m a worrier,” I’d think, or on the occasions when I would acknowledge having a problem, “I don’t want a prescription to “fix” me - that’s just a band-aid, not a cure for what is wrong with me.”
I didn’t want to turn to a prescription - a vice - like some (many in my own family) turn to alcohol or drugs.
With my new marriage hanging by the hair of its chinny-chin-chin, I finally agreed to see a doctor.
After trying a few different types of antidepressants, we finally found one that worked for me.
I was like a new person.
I don’t obsess over things I see on the news, anymore.
I don’t worry myself into a lather over things I’ve said in social settings, wondering if I’ve made a fool of myself or whether I’ve offended someone or hurt their feelings.
More than 20 years later, I still have little pop-ups here and there of that annoying, worried voice.
But it’s so, so much better than it was before pharmaceuticals.
They removed the veil between reality and the thoughts of, “This is just how I am,” so I could more clearly see that I did have a problem.
The meds work for me - I’m one of the lucky ones.
They don’t work for everyone.
The latest celebrities who took their own lives were allegedly under medical care for anxiety and depression.
Maybe they weren’t lucky like me, and their meds didn’t work?
Or maybe they didn’t like the way the medicines made them feel, so they stopped taking them.
In my experience, there are some downsides to antidepressants (which are commonly used as anti-anxiety medications, like in my case).
I’m not as funny as I once was.
You have no idea how devastating this is for me. Being funny is the one thing I’ve got going for me.
I’m still funny, good Lord. I’m not a bologna sandwich.
But I’m not as funny.
I’m not as loud and exuberant as I once was. I’m not as quick-witted.
It’s like the meds have sanded down the edges of my personality.
Maybe people who suffer death at their own hands didn’t like the way their meds made them feel.
Maybe sacrificing the best parts of their personality to heal the worst parts wasn’t worth it to them.
After a celebrity suicide, there’s a flurry of activity on social media about how we have to take mental healthcare more seriously, how we have to make it a priority.
There are posts asking for those who are suffering to say something, to reach out to someone - anyone - so they can get the help they need.
But just like the me-before-meds, people whose medications aren’t working right, or those who aren’t taking them at all aren’t in the right mind to say something.
That logical executive function in the brain is masked and they don’t see that “saying something” is an option.
Sometimes it’s up to those closest to them - like in my case - to push them into getting medical attention.
Not that I would have become suicidal. At least I don’t think I would have. Who knows?
But many times - just like you’ll frequently hear after someone takes their own life - people closest to them say, “I had no idea they were suffering,” and they’ll inevitably blame themselves for “not paying attention” or something else just as tragic.
And it is tragic, because it’s not on them. It’s not something they did or didn’t do that could have saved the person they loved from doing to themselves the ultimate in bodily harm.
Sometimes the person who killed themselves was just dealt a really shitty deck of mental cards and they keep it hidden away from everyone in the whole world until they’re just so tired of their own thoughts, and they can’t keep hiding them all away away, and they need to make it stop right now, right now.
I can’t say enough good things about being medicated. For me, it’s been the right thing.
I do realize I’m one of the lucky ones. And I owe it to the pharmaceuticals industry and to Mark and my mom.