I was sixteen the first time I went to a psychiatrist.
I don’t honestly remember the appointment all that well, but I do remember sitting in the waiting room, getting nervous and thinking I was out of place.
I remember a nice blonde lady calling my name, following her to a small office, and then plopping down in front of an empty chair that looked nothing like the fainting couches I had seen on TV.
I remember Dr. Fridman sitting across from me, and the way his curly grey hair stuck to his sweaty forehead.
He seemed so out of breath, uncomfortable and overheated.
I remember thinking it was strange how ordinary his questions were:
How did I feel about school? Anxious.
Did I think I was pretty? No.
Did I have a lot of friends? Define friends and a lot. Yes?
How was I sleeping? As much as possible.
A Diagnosis and Prescription
After about twenty minutes of this back and forth, I had a diagnosis and a prescription.
I remember being surprised. It felt abrupt.
Wasn’t clinical depression caused by a chemical imbalance in your brain? Weren’t they supposed to measure the chemicals in your brain or scan to see if your chemicals were balanced?
But no one measured or scanned anything in my head. Didn’t they need to count the chemicals or something?
How could they be sure?
I don’t remember what the prescription was for.
I don’t remember how my parents reacted.
I do remember that part of me was relieved and even excited.
I had never been prescribed a pill that wasn’t an antibiotic before, and if this little pill fixed everything—my life was about to change.
The other part of me was skeptical, and afraid that someone would find out that I was crazy enough to be put on medication.
My life did change.
That appointment marked the beginning of a long journey with antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and even, for a few years, an anticonvulsant.
But that’s another blog post for another time.
This blog post is about how I didn’t get better.
In the six years that I was in talk therapy with a psychologist and on a wide variety of drugs, I never really saw any improvement.
In fact, I think I got worse and worse, as the drugs got more and more potent.
We constantly adjusted the cocktail of medications I was on, and we never addressed my need to develop life skills, like coping with stress, managing anxiety, taking care of myself, or even self-love.
As an adult now, it seems insane that those things weren’t the first line of defense.
And so this time around, I’m doing things differently.
Time to Take Time
In my first appointment with my new therapist, who is not a psychologist, I told her I’m not taking medication unless absolutely necessary.
This time, I want to exhaust all other avenues before I head down that route. I want to change my thoughts, and deal with problems head on instead of slapping a Band-Aid over my symptoms.
Taking care of myself starts with doing more of the things that make me happy. It’s not brain science, but even though it’s simple, it’s not always easy to act on.
There’s always something seemingly more important that I should be focusing on, and there’s never any time to just work on my own happiness. But then again, there will never be more time than the time I have available to me right now.
You’re a Badass
In “You’re a Badass”, a book I’ve read four times in the last three weeks, Jen Sincero talks about how our perception of time is an illusion that we made up.
We do things hastily because we say we have no time—no time to write up a good proposal for a half million dollar project, no time to park in a legal parking zone because you’re late for a meeting, no time to take vacation because you’re swamped at work.
But then we are forced to make time, that time that we supposedly didn’t have to begin with.
We make time when that proposal is sent back for a rewrite. We make time when our car is towed. We make time to search for a new job because we’re burnt out and overwhelmed.
I have to take the time; no one else is going to do this for me.
Even if there are times when neither is present in my day to day, they will always come back. It’s up to me to figure out how to attack them when they do.
Self-Care in a New Kind of Way
And so I’m beginning to pay attention to the things I’ve been neglecting. Here are a few self-care things I’m doing to help get me back to the Chloé I want to be:
I quit the gym, and traded in unreasonable expectations for a yoga studio membership.
Yoga is one of the only forms of exercise that I look forward to.
Instead of feeling like a punishment, it makes me feel like I’m resetting, and rinsing the stress of the day away. It keeps me grounded, and pulls me into that elusive “present moment” that I often struggle to stay in.
I avoided quitting the gym because I felt like just doing yoga couldn’t possibly be enough, and I’d immediately gain weight as soon as I stopped half-heartedly lifting at the gym.
Maybe I will, but I’m trying not to care or worry about it. Yoga makes me feel good, fulfilled, connected, and powerful. That’s enough for me.
Cutting Back on Boozing
I rarely like the person I am when I’m drinking.
I can never escape the feelings of shame the next day, even when, from the onlooker’s perspective, I have nothing to feel bad or guilty about.
I think it’s a control thing, and while drinking makes me let go of the death grip I have on my need to control everything, the next day my need-for-control monster rears its ugly head and laments over all the stupid things I may or may not have said.
I’ve been making an effort to really minimize my alcohol intake.
Even though I only drink on occasion, the last thing I need when I’m trying to find the safe spot in my brain that makes me feel like tomorrow is worth waking up for is the impending doom of a hangover drenched in shame, self-criticism and disappointment.
I’m a very outgoing introvert.
So outgoing in fact, that I sometimes forget that in order to recharge, I need me time.
Getting that time in was a breeze when I had roommates that I rarely saw, but moving in with my boyfriend changed the dynamic of my everyday.
I come home from work, and instead of unwinding alone with my Netflix and some chocolate, I come home to another person who’s excited to see me and also ready to unload on me all the details of his day, good or bad.
Don’t get me wrong—it is AMAZING, but it’s also shockingly hard for me.
After living with him, I realized just how badly I need cool off time when I get home after sitting in inching traffic for an hour or more.
I am not my best self at that time of day.
And that’s okay.
But I’m learning how to create my own space, while also learning how to share a life with someone.
I know what you’re thinking.
Didn’t you just say you need more alone time?
But I also need more friend time, particularly female friend time.
There is something absolutely magical about girlfriends. Spending time with my favorite women fills my heart in way that nothing else can touch, but finding time to do so, gets harder and harder every year.
It’s easier to make excuses for why we don’t, with jobs, long hours, increasing bills, significant others, changing zip codes and different time zones.
“You need to go from wanting to change your life to deciding to change your life. If you want to live a life you’ve never lived, you’ve to do things you’ve never done.”
But my friendships are a huge part of what makes me feel whole, and I want and need to make the time.
One of the biggest reasons I came home from China was because I didn’t want to miss out on all the little moments with my closest friends. I’m lazy because I no longer live down the hall or street, but I’ve decided to change that.
Here’s to making strides towards being a happier person, without a prescription or diagnosis.
What are some of the things you do to find your happy place when your mental health SOS flag is flying high?