Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Jagged Little Pill

In my psych nursing class in college, we talked a lot about the "F" word. That's f for functioning, by the way. Everyone has their own personal neuroses and even shadows of various personality and behavioral disorders. But when a certain thought process or chemical imbalance overwhelms you and affects your day-to-day functioning, you're officially beyond being "quirky" or "in a mood."

Now this post is going to be a little deep. Possibly even too much information for some of you. But it has a happy ending, and I feel it's time to share it.

I have fond memories of childhood. In fact, most days I wish I could go back to those carefree days of playing outside until the streetlights came on. I remember being generally happy. I mean, I'm sure my parents can still tell you horror stories about the alien-looking baby they came home with who wouldn't eat and wouldn't sleep, but they loved me all the same.

My earliest memories (the few memories I have of living in Independence the first 2 1/2 years of my life) are bathed in love: watching lightning storms with my parents but never being scared of the thunder because I was with my mom and dad. Playing in the driveway while my mom went out to get the paper.

I oddly remember a huge fabric ball that our elderly neighbor made for me and I remember her having a huge organ/piano in her house (Mom, am I making this up?) I remember stumbling down the stairs during what felt like the middle of the night and eating a bowl of Rice Krispies with my dad (in retrospect, it was probably just 5:30am before he went to work).

When we first moved to Omaha, I remember baking with my mom and wearing scrub pajamas to bed and pretending to go to work like my dad.

Of course, I have many more childhood memories as I progressed toward school-age, but I'll spare you. They are almost all good memories, though. The more I learn about the "real world" and its harsh realities, the more grateful I am for having escaped childhood unscathed and un-jaded. (Thanks Mom and Dad!)

We moved to Kansas City after second grade and I was a little scared (I asked my mom if they spoke another language there), but it was just another adventure and I was too busy watching my baby brother learn to walk to notice much else!

In 5th grade, though, I hit a snag. I still don't know why. Maybe I was starting to outgrow being a tomboy and I didn't fit in as well when I played with my brothers and their friends. Maybe it's because I had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad teacher that year. Maybe its because the other girls were starting to wear makeup and do their hair for school. I, on the other hand, started wearing huge wire-rimmed glasses. But even being able to read the chalkboard again couldn't help me through the misery that was adding and subtracting fractions.

Whatever the cause, I remember a terrible period of insomnia that year. I spent hours listening to Disney music and praying the Rosary in an attempt to fall asleep. I often ended up waking my parents up to cry about the fact that I couldn't sleep. Once the school year was over, I recovered a bit and had fun on summer vacation.

During 6th and 7th grade, I suffered your typical junior-high angst regarding development, popularity, and boys. I eventually learned to blend in a little better but I can still recall a wistful feeling I'd get when I was alone... I didn't want to be growing up so fast!

Just when I started to "fit in" in Kansas City, we moved back to Omaha. Eighth grade was rocky and I certainly walked home crying from loneliness the first few months. But I made the "A" team in volleyball and was no longer the benchwarmer that I was in KC. Kids didn't "date" at my new school like they did at my old one, so I didn't feel so left out with my unrequited crushes. I was the heroine in the 8th grade play and had 3 best friends by the year's end. One was going to the same high school as me and we were so excited!

I could regale you with the dramas of high school, but that's (maybe) another post for another day. I had ups and downs, but certainly none of the stereotypical drama with boys, drugs, or alcohol. Most days, I loved high school (at least when I look back now and compare it to the mess I made of college).

February of my senior year of high school found me in bed one afternoon sobbing for hours for no discernable reason. I couldn't get out of bed to go to school the next morning. I couldn't go running, which was a big stress release for me. I couldn't even focus on a book, and I've always been an avid reader for fun! My parents recognized that this was beyond their comfort zone and took me to a doctor who prescribed Zoloft. I realize doctors these days over-prescribe anti-depressants, but for once, knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have had it any other way. That tiny little pill got me out of bed. I quit Calculus. I started running again. Within weeks, I was no longer on the verge of tears every single day. I graduated high school so proud of myself for having crawled out of a terrible black hole. Little did I know, depression is cyclical.

I will always defend mental illness and mental dis-ease and I believe that a responsible doctor prescribing the right medicine to a compliant patient can be a great catalyst for getting a life back on track if depression has derailed it. But that requires work, and not just a happy pill. I slacked off after leaving for college and learned this the hard way. Zoloft was not a blue pill, a one-time choice to lead an ignorance is bliss life. It actually has the potential to be the red pill... a catalyst that allows you to function in the real world and live beyond it, if I may. Once a humans basic needs are met, you can begin to make progress again, in that realm which we call living.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs (this pyramid) has always appealed to me. I believe that psychiatric medications, when used properly in a people who truly have a neurological disorder affecting their day-to-day functioning, can help re-establish basic homeostasis and lead to achievement, respect, and (if I may) self-actualization. For some people this may mean working through a traumatic event in their past. For me, it meant I was already predisposed to anxiety (what 5 year old has a panic attack about turning 6?) and negative thinking. When I encountered increasing amounts of stress, my normal coping mechanisms no longer worked. I'm still working on my coping mechanisms, by the way.

But I didn't realize any of this when I left for college. I kept taking my Zoloft and thought my problems had been solved.

*If you're still with me, you can read Part 2 here*

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