You Don’t Need to Feel This Way

Posted On: 12.12.12

{I began to write this post on Monday 12/10 and I finished it last night.}

Exactly one year ago. I couldn’t remember the exact date but I knew it was around this time of year, so I searched my calendar to see. And I was right. It was December 12th. December 12th, 2011.

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.

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29 Comments for: "You Don’t Need to Feel This Way"
  1. Jen

    Is it weird to say that I can tell you are doing so well just by reading this? Something abt the way you finished with the last para. I am truly so thankful you have chosen to share this. I know so many people who have gone through similar things who have avoided getting answers and taking care. You are helping people and setting a great example for all of us. What a fantastic and important post.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Jen – it’s not weird to say that. Oddly, I feel the same way. I am an incurable perfectionist and self-editor and I have read this again and again. Interestingly, I am even more perfectionistic when it comes to these really vulnerable/open posts. I think that perhaps because the subject matter is a bit messier, I am more inclined to make the words as tight and tidy as possible… Anyway, the point is that I read it many times before posting and even I can recognize the distance I have come, and the genuine joy in my words. The reality is that I have worked hard to feel as good as I do know and there is something immensely empowering that I made the effort and continue to make the efforts to be as strong and happy as possible for my self and my family.

      I continue to wonder why I share these things with the world, but then I am reminded again and again – particularly on these days when I really crack myself open – that there are real people out there reading who can relate, who need that little push, who are eager to hear stories similar to their own, particularly tales with very happy endings… Or are they beginnings?

      Anyway. thank you.

  2. This was a great read. On a morning where I have been struggling and when I am overwhelmingly tired. And, as it always seems to be, your words are eloquent and fantastic.

    Thank you for a great reminder that we can all use a little help sometimes. And that it is okay to accept that help.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you, Elise. This is really about help in every sense of the word. Helping ourselves, helping our families, helping our lives. Interestingly, I think that so many of us fall into patterns of thinking and feeling and acting that feel inevitable and unchangeable and we resign ourselves to a certain kind of experience. But the reality is that we are all capable of switching things up, of seeing life through a new and improved lens, of feeling happy about ourselves and our lives.

      So appreciate your words today!

  3. Rachel

    Thank,you for,this post, like all other posts, I just enjoy reading every one of them.

    In regards to medicine, I have been taking medicine, and was so hesitant at first. My doctor tried to explain that there some people that can benefit from taking medicine (she was supportive in any decision that I would have made). There are also people that need to take medicine to help their situation. For example, people medically need different medicines to live. I needed it for it anxiety, so I am still taking it, and have contemplated going off of it, but I do find balance and peace when I do take it.

    I know everyone’s situation is different. I just don’t know if I want to rely on this medicine forever and ever. Any thoughts, please? Thank you, again and again, for sharing your story.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Rachel, thanks. I was willing, if hesitant, to open up about all of this because I think it is important for us to be able to talk to one another about these very real things. Most of us have struggled with something whether we are willing to admit it or not… The reality is that I am not in a position to offer any advice whatsoever about medicine. All I know is my own experience and that experience was a good one and involved actually a very small amount of medicine taken over a very small amount of time. I think what is important is that you, and all of us, find people who know about these things and people we trust to guide us through these decisions. I know people who will be on medicine for their whole lives and who are wonderful and happy people who are functioning at a very high level. I also know people who have never taken anything. I know many, many people who fall somewhere in between.

      Thank you for your words and support, Rachel.

  4. This is beautiful and courageous. Thank you for sharing so openly. It is often not easy to ask for help or to try something that we feel like we’d rather not try. I know.
    But the key, in your story- you had the courage to DO SOMETHING. Thank you for showing us!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Kate – Thank you. Yes, at the end of the day, this is about acting, about agency. To a large but imperfect extent, we are all in control of how we feel. There is something quite empowering about realizing this, no?

      :)

  5. Former colleague

    Thanks so much for sharing, Aidan. I knew you during your stint at the law firm, and wish I had been a little less cynical, a lot less judgmental (as I tend to be) and much more open so that I could have really have gotten to know what a kind, sensitive person you are. I am happy to have discovered your blog and, more importantly, the real you.

    I was in a similar position – a pregnancy and 6 months of breastfeeding kept me off my zoloft, which I had been taking for 10 years. The pressure to breastfeed was enormous (a lot was admittedly self-imposed), and I slowly was sacrificing my sanity and body. It was only when I had been awake for several days and physically unable to move from the couch, did I finally seek out the help of my psychiatrist (I hadn’t gone since having my son because between working full time and spending time with the baby, I couldn’t find an hour for myself). A year plus later, I can’t believe that I allowed myself to devolve to such a point. I have the usual good and bad days now, but never will I allow myself to fall so deep again. In order to be the best wife, mother person, I need to take care of myself as well – otherwise I am not good for anyone.

    I really appreciate that you shared your story publicly and empowered me to do the same. Thanks!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I am so happy, and moved, to read these words. I too wish we had gotten a chance to know each other back then, but I am not sure I was indeed the kind, sensitive person I think I am now. She was there in me somewhere, but buried under a lot of insecurity and materialism and confusion. I think about this often… how in college and law school and at the firm I was a different, less-real version of myself. I don’t think I was a bad person, but I was a lost person, a person who gravitated towards certain things and certain people because it was easy to do so. What’s interesting – and I was just talking to a new friend about this today – but toward the end of my stint at the firm, I was stealing moments during the day to scribble bits – fictional, real. Clearly, there was something inside me – creative, personal – that was ready to come out.

      I am happy you wrote these words also because they serve as a powerful reminder of why I am taking something so personal, so raw and making it available for public consumption. This is something I continue to grapple with and I imagine I always will, but it is the idea and reality that I am actually reaching people, people who can relate and understand, that makes it all worth it, and compelling.

      I think what so many of us fail to realize – and I certainly did for too long – is that it is our imperfections and our struggles and our more gritty stories that make us better characters and people. I cannot tell you how much my life has changed since I began to be honest with myself and the people in my life (including you and everyone else reading). My life today is rich and real and full of the kind of happiness and strength that can only come from struggle and the kind of awareness and appreciation it engenders.

      Thank you so much for this.
      A

  6. The mere fact you’re able to look back and write so clearly about how you felt and how you now feel shows how far you’ve come. It’s really impressive, Aidan. I think just about EVERYONE goes through periods of restlessness that manifests itself in depression or anxiety. I went through an anxious time myself and was very thankful for the short bit of therapy that I sought. Time and conversation with an outside player were the two things that helped me along. And I completely agree with you that I wish our society was more open to talking about these issues and concerns that most of us face at one time or another.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks, Nilsa. I do feel really clear about this and so many other things. I think that is the biggest gain from my year without wine: clarity. I think you are right that everyone goes through hard periods, periods of things like anxiety, and like depression. I’m not sure why so many of us are compelled to hide these rough patches from the world? Is it because of stigma? Is it because we are in denial ourselves? I’m not sure but it is a privilege to be able to talk about all of this here.

  7. Liz

    Hi Aidan,

    I am so happy I stumbled upon your blog yesterday whilst looking for some inspiration on how to fix my ongoing anxiety/depression/self medicating with alcohol loop. A loop that has kept me spinning for two decades already… I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read your “wine is my weakness” piece… I have three daughters just like you, although mine are in their late teens now., plus my favourite wine is PG, 2nd Chardonnay and I don’t like the taste of Sauvignon blanc but will drink it nothing else. Woah… This was pretty scary stuff, I felt like I’d found my alter ego in some kinda time warp! An amazing discovery and a very positive one at that. Did I find your blog or did it find me?

    Anyway, I have just spent hours reading all your entries on all your reasons why you’re doing what your doing and I think that you’re a very strong, brave lady with a perfect set of priorities. I wish that I had had the courage and the conviction to do the same when my girls were younger. Although I don’t think that they suffered too much, i have a super relationship with all three etc., Time will tell though… Maybe I could have been more “present” but parenthood is such a struggle and you just tend to do the best you can. As a perfectionist though, I always think that I could have done better.

    As they are all out of the family home now, I feel a bit lost and that ice cold glass of PG seems to poured earlier and in much larger quantities. I feel it’s time to make a quantum leap and change my life and am really ready for this. Although, it’s not an easy task giving up drinking for a year when I seem to have surrounded myself with a huge network of people that drink like fish. Mmmm… I will have to work out a plan.

    Aidan, you have inspired me no end. I have that “fire in the belly” enthusiasm that ensures me that this is probably the best decision I have ever made. The question is when to start? What to say to family and friends when they show up with a few bottles of Tattinger and I say … Guess what…. I’ve given up for a year… I can’t imagine it.

    How long did you wait between making your decision and the first day? I’m not sure that this is the right time of year to be starting on this but I’m afraid that if I don’t start soon I may dig myself into a bigger hole and it will be more difficult to climb out in January.

    Any suggestions?

    Best wishes.
    Liz

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Liz,

      Simply stated, this means the world. When I set out on this project/adventure, I was doing it for myself. I knew I needed to make a big change and I decided to make that change in a public fashion, a decision that caused me considerable angst. But once I decided to write freely about everything here, and got past some of the confusion and misinterpretation in the aftermath, things began to click into place in an immensely satisfying and inspiring way. This is when I realized that this was not just about me, but SO many of us. My struggle was on many levels subtle and standard-issue, nuanced for sure, but not a lady-in-the-gutter-needs-rehab tale by any stretch. To this day, I am encountering people who do not understand why in the world I would do this by choice.

      Anyway, the point is that it makes all of this more interesting and worth it to realize that other people out there are dealing with the same thing. I think I knew this, but comments like this confirm it. And the cool thing is that now that I am almost 11 months in and having SUCH a positive experience with all of this, I am really thrilled to talk about it…

      I am not 100% sure of details, but I think I had the idea in my therapist’s office on January 9 and gave it up exactly one week later. I spent the week thinking it through, talking a ton with Husband and mentioning it to a few friends and family. I gave it up on 1/16 but decided not to write about it for at least a couple months to make sure it was something I could do and wanted to do. Two days after seeing my therapist and deciding I wanted to do this, I wrote a very dramatic blog post about a secret that I was keeping and this was the secret – that I was giving up booze. Here is the link: http://ivyleagueinsecurities.com/2012/01/a-big-secret-a-little-fire/

      One thing to keep in mind: There is no perfect time to begin. One of the reasons I decided to do a whole year was that it would force me to go through every single day of the year, every season, every occasion, without turning to wine. At the beginning, it was much tougher. Now it is easy. My only anxiety now is about whether I should extend the year and keep living the dry life…

      I would be more than happy to answer any more questions here or over email. I might even do a post where I encourage people to ask questions about my year and answer questions in the comments or turn each question into its own post.

      Okay, enough rambling. Clearly, I could go on and on about this topic. Again, I thank you. And I am excited for you as I know how absolutely amazing this decision can be.

      xoxoADR

      • Liz

        Thank you Aidan, you have made my day by answering my comment. I have made my decision…. I am starting the most amazing year of my life on December 15th 2012. I can’t wait! Thank you so much for the inspiration. Liz xx

  8. Thank you for this post. I, too, struggle with anxiety, and it all came to a head when I found myself unable to work at my usually high level in a graduate program in English literature. I saw a doctor, was put on medicine, and felt better, for a while. Then, I became (happily, blissfully) pregnant after three months of trying, but was saddled with debilitating morning sickness that forced me to drop a class, thus postponing my graduation date, not to mention my two visits to the hospital for IV fluids due to dehydration. I began visiting a therapist, and she helped me to get through the difficult parts of my pregnancy. I now sit here snuggling my sleeping six-month-old son who has literally healed me from the inside out, and I feel so, so blessed to have gotten the help that I needed from my therapist.

    I haven’t been in therapy since his birth, and I haven’t felt that I’ve needed it, but I’m still on medication – and still breastfeeding – a note to others that there are safer medications out there for anxious pregnant/breastfeeding women! It was so, so important to me that I wouldn’t be forced off of medication if I became pregnant or was breastfeeding, so my doctors and I worked hard to find a medication (and a low dosage) that would still allow me to be a Mama in the way that I so desired – a breastfeeding Mama.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Sara – Thank you. For these honest and wonderful words. And especially for mentioning the breastfeeding thing! When I first met with my therapist, I was still nursing and she told me again and again that there were meds that were perfectly compatible with that. I ended up having to wean because of my daughter’s severe milk allergy (one of the many causes of my anxiety), so it wasn’t ultimately an issue, but it was really good to know.

      I think there is such an important thread to all of this, and that is that we cannot be the parents we want to be when we are not feeling okay and like ourselves. We do not win any prizes for slogging through things that can be helped by certain measures. Believe me, I am not a fan of quick fix/ easy solutions, but I know now that there are some things that it is nearly impossible to weather entirely on our own.

      Anyway, I want you to know I really appreciate your comment. Thank you.

  9. AG

    I think there is an entire conversation that is never spoken aloud about the stresses of a “new mother” and the different ways people can become overwhelmed and/or cope with it. I also think it is so incredibly brave and powerful whenever someone shares their story.

    I saw a therapist to help me get figure out how to deal with my Mom’s MS. It’s an awesome thing when they can see you are evolving..since I moved I now call mine on the phone but last month she said to me “do you realize you would have never dealt with that incident as positively as you did at that moment?” It made me proud. Sounds like you are recognizing your own growth as well (I can honestly read it through your words too) and there is nothing like the feeling of a pat on the back at times. So here is a virtual pat on the back from me to you!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks, AG. Today and always. Something you said here really struck me, namely that it means something when someone recognizes that we are evolving. I am left wondering if that’s a motivating source behind this blog (and others’ blogs)? I started this blog when I was just beginning to process the loss of my father and I think part of me, if unconsciously, wanted to memorialize my progress, to share it, to allow and invite others to bear witness to my growth. Really interesting to think about.

      Really admirable that you were proactive about talking to someone about your mom’s illness. That’s actually the very first time I saw someone, when Dad got diagnosed. Prior to that, I think I was a little eh about therapy, but when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I just decided that it was something I could maybe not deal with on my own. It was a good call, I think.

      Thanks, you.

  10. Amy

    Beautiful post! The first time I commented on your blog, it was about this issue. All your posts are wonderful, but I particularly relate to the feelings of anxiety, especially as life changes, maybe as a new baby comes into your life. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression my entire life and I am not open about it. Although I wholeheartedly agree that I wish more people would talk about this stuff, I feel that I must hide this part of myself in order to appear in control, in charge, in command. I wish that I had your courage to actually write about it, and, in the process, help other people.

    I decided in my mid-twenties that I didn’t need to feel this way anymore. My parents were staunchly against therapy of any kind so I went by myself and kept my secret. I, too, added medication to talk therapy, but I haven’t come as far as you have. I’ve yet to taper off my medications. Some days I think they help, and other days, not so much.

    But, back to my inability to say how I feel out loud…I ran across a website a few months ago…lawyerswithdepression.com…and it turned out that the author of the website is writing a book exactly on that topic…lawyers with depression. He was looking for volunteers to talk to about their experiences with depression and anxiety, and I volunteered. (As an aside, when his assistant interviewed me, I didn’t think he asked the right questions, but I didn’t want to volunteer anything outside the lines…) However, I chose to remain anonymous, even among people who I assume suffer from the same feelings that I do.

    I feel like it makes me “less than” to admit my anxiety and depression, which makes no sense because when I read your words, or those of others, I don’t think less of you or them; I think more of you and them. Proud of your courage. Desperate to be more like you and them in my honesty. In any event, this is the only place where I feel free to admit my struggles (hence why I don’t want you to turn off your comments, but I realize that’s your decision, too, and you’ll make the right one).

    Thank you, Aidan, for giving me a safe place to come; for being honest about your struggles; for showing us that a year can make a difference. Your words continue to stay with me long after I’ve read them, and I want you to know that I think you’re doing a wonderful thing here at this blog. Thank you!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Wow. Thank you, Amy. All of your words have me nodding. I know what you mean by feeling a need to hide your stuff because of how it makes you appear and I still feel this even though I have chosen to be open. The really odd and amazing thing is that ever since I started talking about the hard things (my miscarriage, Dad’s death, anxiety, drinking), I have felt SO much stronger and more confident. I guess I feel that ALL OF US have issues in adulthood and we can choose to own these issues and try to figure them out or we can pretend they don’t exist or we can toil to mask who we really are. The latter two options were exhausting me and now I feel this new energy that comes with being honest.

      I think it’s idealistic to think we will get to a point where everyone is totally open about these things, but I do think it would be really fantastic if more of us would just stop and say, “Hey, I’m dealing with this.”

      I so appreciate your words today. Know that.

  11. This is so encouraging.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you so much, Mandy. Maybe it sounds strange, but I was so happy to see your three words. Because they are powerful. I am writing about all of this because I want to be encouraging. I am in a place that is good and took work to get to and why not let people know that, and that they can get there too?

      :)

  12. This was so wonderful to read and I would totally love to read a book about your experience! Too many times I see people making light of the amount of alcohol they drink that it’s great to see someone stand up and say the complete opposite.

  13. Ariane

    Aidan,
    I know we’ve spoken about how I feel about you sharing these words and thoughts with the rest of us. I still cannot thank you enough for this. My struggle with depression and anxiety has been ongoing since probably 5th grade. I am hoping that as I begin this new chapter of my life to dig a little deeper and I thank my lucky stars for the medication that helps me get through every day.
    As always, thank you for your words and honesty.
    AR

  14. Aidan, this was (is!) a beautiful post, and I have been following your year without wine and have been very inspired by it. I’ve even thought about it when I’ve poured my own glass(es) of wine — which I often do around 6pm, sipping gradually until baby goes to bed and after while I’m making dinner. I *don’t* like the idea that it’s often something I “look forward to” in the evenings (is this unhealthy, to look forward to a glass of wine as something to relax me after a physically and mentally exhausting day? I don’t know). I rarely end up drinking all that much (probably a glass or glass and a half when all is said and done), and I don’t think there’s much of an inherent problem with it… except for one thing: It makes me so tired. So, after being tired already from taking care of a little one, I go and make myself MORE tired, on purpose? What? That seems… dumb. I often curl up in bed after dinner and do something unproductive when (I think) that if I’d nixed the wine, I might have another hour of writing or accomplishing something in me. So… that makes me think. Anyway, a small comment but I have been meaning to write to say great work with your journey. xo

  15. Brava to you, my dear, for making these changes and for embracing a life that feels the way you want it to feel. I can relate to so much of what you’ve written here and I tip my hat to you for giving voice to your insecurities and thereby making it easier for the rest of us to do the same. xo

  16. We all need to take responisbility for our health and happiness. There are variables beyond our control when it comes to health. Sometimes, anxiety and depression can be caused by the pain and suffering of a physical illness. Sometimes, its our hormones. The decision to follow a prescribed course of treatment is very personal but it shows a willingness to take responsiblity for our happiness.z

  17. Charlotte

    You have validated so many things for. I’m so glad to know I’m not alone or damaged!
    Could you please tell the medication your doctor prescribed that was compatible with nursing for anxiety.

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