The Mental Taboo

By Carolyn Shields, disclaiming she is by no means an SSRI expert, and reminding you to take this article as an opinion piece

I remember this half pill, a little fifty mg zoloft, was in the palm of my hand, and because of it, I was in hysterical tears. The house was quiet, I was alone, and I kept interiorly crying to our Holy, "Why aren't you enough? Why aren't you enough for me?"

But swallowing it for the first time was the most anti-climactic event of my life.

Since day one of my period, at the age of eleven and one day, I've been hit with the physical symptoms of pms: fainting episodes, cold sweats, pain that would even lead to hallucinations.* And it was only a matter of time until this can take a toll on one emotionally. How can a woman act normal when in the morning she's writhing in pain on her bathroom floor, and then literally three hours later she's perfectly normal, but feels like she's been through hell?

After a few years of this, my anxiety and irrationality became too much for me to handle, largely because of that pain. I couldn't control my own body. How weak. How pathetic. And then after an accumulation of life events, one day my physical and emotional symptoms collided and I went into semi-shock.

It was then, hyperventilating and unable to move my limbs that I decided to address my anxiety.

Pmdd is fairly new in the medical field, and like all mental illnesses, fairly taboo. Pmdd is a heightened form of premenstrual syndrome (pms), both physically and mentally.  It's different from your usual pms in that it's classified as a dysphoric disorder. Every symptom feels heightened, so you're not weepy but thoroughly depressed, your not anxious but you feel out of control. And praise God, less than 10% of women have this, and I only have a mild case, though according to Mental Health America:

  • Approximately 12 million women in the United States experience clinical depression each year

  • About one in every eight women can expect to develop clinical depression during their lifetime

  • Depression occurs most frequently in women aged 25 to 44

We don't like to talk about our struggles with anxiety or depression. It's embarrassing. We don't want people to think we're always sad. We don't want such a bland stigma associated with us. Anxiety becomes like this sad excuse. Irrationality sounds like a cop-out for not owning up to being emotionally vulnerable or emotionally immature like St. Therese was. And the worst part: sometimes people literally cannot understand it because they haven't experienced it, and we feel even more isolated.

But after several years and several months of charting every emotion, I realized that my anxious episodes were largely linked to my period. Exactly ten days out, I would have a meltdown...you know that scene in the Hobbit, Battle of the Five Armies, when Thorin is breaking out of his gold lust? And the room is tilting and he's drowning? That's a physical portrayal of what anxiety feels like.

There were times when I knew that I was illogical in my thinking. I totally knew that I was being irrational, that this situation shouldn't matter that much, that something said shouldn't hurt that much, and I knew I was imprisoned in some what-if realm where my subconscious storytelling bred fear, but it didn't matter that I knew the truth. My body literally had to ride through this clenching terror, a tightened and restricted chest, shaking arms and shortened breathing, and of course so many tears. I was that picture of a sopping mess at the foot of my bed, head in my hands. I realized that my emotions were controlling me, and I knew that was wrong when I realized, with shock, that I'm actually supposed to control my emotions, simply because there's a possessive before it.

So that meant admitting that I needed help. Because even though during those episodes we might be able tell ourselves that we are being irrational rationally, we literally can do nothing about it. We have to feel it. We have to ride it all out.

And it can begin to drastically hurt our relationships.

But it doesn't have to. Woman, you ARE strong enough, He IS sufficient, and He's given you the strength to seek help.

This is when we have to face that rough truth: that submission is an act of freedom. That's so totally contrary to what our American culture tells us, too. But by consenting to medical help, we can find a new freedom, and guess what? I promise you that you will be totally shocked about how rational you can become. It's not giving up some kind of fight by consenting to seek professional help. We take an advil when our head aches, so why not consider an anti-depressant when it's hurting?

I don't take zoloft on a regular basis, only as needed, and that's a beautiful thing about SSRIs. And you know what else I can absolutely promise you? You won't become a zombie. You won't become mellow.

I used to think that my range of emotions were a huge part of my identity. I feel a LOT. God bless my future husband, because I need to talk about my feelings, and boy do I have a lot of them. But taking zoloft hasn't taken any of my highs away, it's just helped me from plummeting to a low in the blink of an eye. Sure, I still get really, really sad sometimes. But you aren't going to become this subdued lady by taking an anti-depressant. And just because you take an anti-depressant doesn't mean you are depressed. Because look at me. I'm not.

It took me weeks after that first pill to realize that our Holy IS enough, because after praying that He would heal me, He gave me a small little pill as my cure. "My ways are not your ways," Isaiah 55:8 says.

What is so gripping about depression and anxiety is that because we hide it, so many are shocked to learn the truth of the struggle. Oftentimes, those with the biggest smile have the darkest struggles, and we become experts at hiding it. It's ok if you don't want to share your struggle. I don't. But I'm sharing it now because I want to encourage those who are on the line about seeking medical help to take that leap of faith. Take the reigns. And trust in God. Not by waiting for a miracle, but by accepting His healing.

Can I remind you of why theYCW is here too? Because we want to remind you that you are never alone in your struggles. Ever. Heartache, anxiety...they are such universal trials felt by women everywhere...even in that darkest hell of your heart, there is a God dwelling there.

Lent is almost over.

And the moment He took His final breath, He plummeted into Hell to find you, because that's sometimes where we find ourselves. He crashed into YOUR personal hell. That's where He went. To free you. Again and again.

Women, He's offering you a hand to climb out of it. Take it. Be brave.

 

*And to note, this wasn't every month, but about every three to six for a few years before receiving medical treatment.