DISCLAIMER: This is my experience. Please consult a doctor or a mental health professional if necessary. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or heard anywhere in this article.
Someday I’ll get a T-shirt that declares my life motto on the front: “Try All the Things: Kale, Yoga, Church, Running, Acupuncture, Therapy.” The back of the shirt would display my life mantra, make decisions based on how you want to feel, not how you feel in the moment. Generally, both of those things are true — they are how I have designed a life, made decisions large and small, and maintained a successful career alongside a thriving personal life. They allow me to show up as my best self for the people in my life, my patients, and myself.
I saw the signs in late summer 2018. I was preparing for a job transition and buying my first home, and I tried to convince myself that the stress was just getting to me. The days were getting shorter and the darkness settled in. I am deeply driven, extremely perfectionistic, and I am strangely well-suited for long games (think: marathons), so I did the next right thing. I started to strategize and game plan my way around my emotions and to no one’s surprise except mine, it didn’t work.
I woke up too many days in a row feeling like I was swallowing glass, and like the weight on my chest was going to crush me. I kept wondering what I wasn’t doing. I doubled down on all the things, pulling out every trick I knew: green juice, vitamins, standing in the sun, diffusing and applying essential oils, pleading with the universe to just give me a brief reprieve. I pressed my forehead to my mat in a heated yoga studio, I ran countless miles, I dragged myself out of bed at ungodly hours to meditate, to practice gratitude. I sought a spiritual practice, and Therapy Thursdays became an anchor I came to require. Despite my desperate attempts, I couldn’t find the light. Several months in, my therapist whispered gently, “I think it’s time we consider medication.” I felt that sinking sense of failure. Somewhere along the way, I absorbed the societal message that medication is weakness. That “everyone’s” on medication. I cried. I naively thought it was my own lack of resilience — that I just had to persevere.
I pressed my forehead to my mat in a heated yoga studio, I ran countless miles, I dragged myself out of bed at ungodly hours to meditate, to practice gratitude.
I drove the 28 or so miles to my acupuncturist’s holistic haven nested in the foothills outside of Denver, defeated and desperate. Lisa would know what to do. Lisa always knows what to do. Lisa saw me through my dizzying transition from the military into the civilian world. I was entirely skeptical of it all for a very long time. I couldn’t really tell at first if the needles that punctured tender spots on my body really did anything for my psyche, but I knew that showing up to her cocoon of healing — the dim lighting, the warm Biomat, the quiet music, her gentle hands pressing me back into myself — it all felt necessary. I had struggled to be still in my body for as long as I could remember and as time went on, she put me back together in this slow, methodical way. She cheered me on as I widened my net of healers and support after losing a community I’d been a part of for my entire life. When I spent two years working full time and going to graduate school full time, my monthly visits to her were one of my only opportunities to rest, to breathe deeply, to allow someone else to care for me. When my immune system crashed and adrenal fatigue set in, she firmly reminded me that this body, this sacred temple, has to last me the rest of my life.
When I showed up at Lisa’s, dark circles the size of grocery bags, I didn’t know that I needed permission. I settled in, and I repeated my therapist’s words, barely audible, catching in my throat. Lisa, who has taught me everything I know about eating for my body and the seasons, for retraining my nervous system through herbs and Reiki, looked at me with a gentleness I will not ever forget, and said: “You work harder than anyone I know. What if medication is just another thing to add to your toolkit? I support you 100 percent.” Her kindness, her steadiness as she spoke the truth gave me permission to release so many long-held beliefs and so much grief that frigid February evening.
I had struggled to be still in my body for as long as I could remember and as time went on, she put me back together in this slow, methodical way.
I made the appointment almost immediately, cried the whole time, and walked away with a prescription for Lexapro. I felt a wave of relief I’d been longing for for months, even if it wasn’t an overnight fix.
Many months later, I still do all the things. I wake up to sit in front of the sun lamp when the seasons start to change. I count gratitude and I run even when it’s cold and dark. And now, I take a little white pill every day, too. I need all the things. Had someone told me at the start of my mental health journey that I could try as many things as I wanted and there would still be a problem with my brain chemistry, I would have tried them all first anyway. My toolkit for preserving my mental and physical health is wide and vast, and yet, the most liberating thing I ever did for myself was look at my acupuncturist in the eyes and say, “I think I need some additional support,” and have the woman who has come to know my body better than even I do say, “I fully support you in this decision.”
Had someone told me at the start of my mental health journey that I could try as many things as I wanted and there would still be a problem with my brain chemistry, I would have tried them all first anyway.
Eight or so weeks after starting medication, I remarked to my running partner that I felt a bit of shame for waiting so long, for lacking the self-compassion to say yes to medication sooner, especially as a mental health professional who should have known better. His words, just like Lisa’s, set me free. “You didn’t know what you didn’t know, until you knew it.” Isn’t that so much of our lives? I didn’t know what I didn’t know, until I knew it. Now I know, and with more information I can make different choices. I hope you can, too.