One year ago, I took a cab across the park at 96th street. Just like I did this morning. One year ago, I popped into Starbucks for a coffee and a water. The same Starbucks where I sit, again with a coffee and a water, writing these words.
Today I will leave this Starbucks and meet three Kindergarten moms for lunch. Last year, I left this Starbucks and walked a short distance to my then therapist. Today, I feel happy and strong, awake and alive. Last year was a bit different.
Last year, I unbuttoned my coat and plopped into one of the chairs in a beautiful, book-lined office and told a woman whom I’d come to trust that I was ready. Ready to go off the medicine she’d put me on for what appeared to be postpartum anxiety. A bit of history: I got this woman’s number from my OB and called her in a bit of a panic one Friday afternoon the previous May after waking up and feeling decidedly not okay. Little Girl was but two months old and my hunch at the time was that I was suffering from postpartum depression; I was not really aware that there was anything called postpartum anxiety.
I began to see this woman on a regular basis and for a few months, I opted to try to work through everything without drugs. We talked about how I was doing, coping. I talked to her about feeling stressed, about feeling torn between my family and my writing, about feeling concerned about my drinking. She was the one who told me that I was in fact drinking, and at times to excess, because I was anxious, and also that my anxiety was being exacerbated, and profoundly too, by my drinking. She was the one who connected the dots.
During the summer, I met with her and decided that things weren’t improving. I was still experiencing moments of acute anxiety, I was still dragging and not sleeping well, I was still drinking more than I wanted to be drinking and experiencing an often-debilitating angst in the aftermath of my drinking.
And she said something, this wonderful woman. I don’t remember her exact words, but they went something like this: You don’t need to feel this way.
It was at this point that we talked about medication. I sat in that chair and told myself to be open-minded. For some reason I still don’t entirely understand, I’d always been a bit judgmental about meds, hesitant to go there. But sitting there in her office that day, I decided to try it out. We agreed to begin with a very low dose, to see how I felt, to play it by ear.
Slowly but surely, I began to feel better. To this day, I’m not sure if it was the medicine – which remained at a very tiny dose – or whether it was the fact that I felt like I was doing something proactive to feel better, to take charge. Part of me thinks I got better as time went on because the chaos and sleeplessness was abating at home as my tiniest girl got older. I guess I will never know. I’m not sure it matters.
I continued to meet with my therapist a few times a month. In the fall, I began to mention my desire to wean from the medicine. I told her that I had been open to trying this route, but that I didn’t want to be on anything long-term. She listened to me and told me to wait, that I should give it all at least six months. Per her advice, I did. I waited.
Last December was six months. I walked into her office one year ago and I told her I was ready and this time she agreed. She told me she thought I’d made a ton of improvement, and she was willing to help me taper. I left that day feeling grand, armed with instructions to whittle my dose to zero. I promised that I would come back a month later to check in. And I did.
A month later, now completely off everything, I walked into her office. And we talked and I told her that I felt okay, pretty good even, that I was having my anxious moments, but that these moments felt manageable and normal and fine. She smiled. Good, she said. Before our time was up, I confessed that I still felt somewhat unsettled about my drinking. We talked about my abiding perfectionism, about my ceaseless hankering for control. Before I left, I told her that I was pondering something. That something? Giving up alcohol for an entire year. I explained that it would be a personal and literary experiment and that I’d write about it on my blog and maybe even in a book one day. Oh how she smiled. She said she knew a lot of people would want to read about this, this more subtle breed of struggle, this story of mine.
And here we are. One year later. And I am here in this same little Starbucks and I am smiling into the screen when I think about how far I have come and how different I feel. Please know that this post is not at all about being pro-drugs. It is about being pro-feeling-good, about being pro-honesty.
You don’t need to feel this way.
These words still ring in my ears. And they were, and are, true. None of us needs to feel terrible and shaky and lost and alone. There are things we can do, and people we can talk to, and experiments we can embark upon.
I am living proof of this.
Today I feel happier and stronger than ever. And what matters most to me is that I am happy and strong and silly and present for the three creatures above. Quite simply, quite profoundly, they are my everything. Yes, they exhaust me and confuse me and drive me to swill wild amounts of caffeine. But they also inspire me on a daily basis – to think deeply and to dream big and to take care of myself. For what it’s worth, they also tell me knock-knock jokes that make no sense and whine for peppermint bark at breakfast-time and say the word poop far more than I’d like. But in the end, all of this, this struggle, this story, this silliness and sweetness and striving and strength, is about, and for, them.
It’s crazy and downright wonderful how much can change in a year.
Have you – or has anyone you know – ever struggled with anything like anxiety or depression? Have there been things that have helped you or those you know – talking, writing, medicine, time? Do you know anyone who is feeling not-so-great who might benefit from reading these words today? If so, please send them a link to this post. Again, it would have helped me at the time I was struggling to read something like this. I realize I have adopted a largely unorthodox openness with regard to these personal things, but I do wish more of us would talk about this stuff.