**I’ve been putting off writing this chapter as I’ve wanted to make sure that I was perfectly clear, and worried that somehow this piece of my story might deter someone from accepting help in the form of antidepressants. Antidepressants saved my life. They just weren’t the complete solution for me.
I believe in Jesus, love, therapy, communication, and medication – whatever kind of medication you and your doctor agree to try**
Therefore, my heart was glad
and my tongue rejoiced.
Moreover, my body will live in hope – Acts 2:26
After 7 or so years on the antidepressants merry-go-round, my doctor informed me that he was no longer comfortable increasing my dosage. Yes, he knew that I was tired. Yes, he knew that I was still fighting with anxiety and depression. I had essentially maxed out the safe dosage of Effexor, and we needed to try something else. My doctor had been of the opinion that my fatigue (ahem. EXHAUSTION) was caused by my depression. At this point, he began to wonder if the opposite was true. Perhaps my depression was caused by my fatigue. Maybe something was making me tired, and due to a constant state of exhaustion, I was feeling depressed and anxious.
So, we went about the business of trying to figure out why I was so tired all the time. We started by retesting all the vitamin and mineral and thyroid panels and found nothing. . .Then we tried sleep studies – first for straight up sleep disturbances (like apnea), followed by a longer study for narcolepsy. Negative for both.
As a final shot in the dark, my doctor developed this theory: “Maybe your antidepressants are making you tired, stop taking them!” I about fell out of my chair when this one came around. I was honestly terrified. As much as I was still fighting, I clung to those antidepressants like the lifeline they had been for me. My doctor and my husband promised to quite literally hold my hand as I ramped off, to listen to me if I said I needed them again, and to help with the withdrawal symptoms.
And oh-sweet-baby-cheezits, were there withdrawal symptoms. Despite the very, very slow ramp down from the Effexor, I still struggled with jitters, nausea, dizziness, headaches. . . and of course . . .depression and anxiety. It felt worse than I remembered. Lower than I anticipated. Darker than before. I don’t know if that is truly accurate, or if – like someone walking from brightness into a darkened tunnel will stumble until their eyes adjust – it was all relative? But it was insanely, ridiculously, awful.
After the long, slow, tortuous ramp down from my medication was complete, my doctor and I met to see how I was faring. And I was honest with him – I was still exhausted. I was still depressed. I was still anxious. However. I was not ready to go back on antidepressants. After coming off of them, I was worried about trying something else, going back through the cycle of it not working, of having to ramp down again. I knew the max dosage of Effexor that I had been taking earlier wasn’t going to cut it, and I just was not willing to try anything else yet. He agreed to the idea of staying off for a while, as long as we kept in touch and I promised to be forthcoming with any concerns.
I made the promise and walked out of his office, completely unsure as to what to do now. I was on my own. I’d long given up on God healing me. I’d also given up on God explaining this to me. There was no reason I could imagine that would make all of this make sense.
At the time, I was working part time at my corporate job, and part time teaching fitness classes. And of course, part time trying not to fall asleep behind the wheel of my car. One of the girls I worked with in the fitness industry mentioned a new doctor she had talked to – a doctor that specialized in bio-identical hormone replacement, and some of the symptoms sounded like mine.
I met with the doctor to set up the testing. Insurance doesn’t cover the test, but after thousands and thousands spent on doctors and medication and sleep studies and blood tests. . . . what’s one more test? Even if it does require you to fill a beaker with your own spit. Gross. But, $150 later and the results were in. I held onto little hope of actually finding answers, but I got them.
I had a progesterone deficiency.
I was shocked. I had taken the test thinking that if anything, I would have a cortisol deficiency. . . I had had two uneventful, full-term, easy-to-make-it-happen, pregnancies. A progesterone deficiency made little sense…except that it kinda did. My anxiety and depression really showed up for the first time around puberty. The exhaustion came along after my first pregnancy. And everything got worse again after the second.
And the results from my spit-filled-beaker didn’t lie. The doctor wanted my progesterone levels to be at least 200 (something somethings per something – I don’t know – medical thingies), and optimally 250. Mine was at 17. SEVENTEEN. She told me she was surprised I was able to walk into the office on my own strength. She handed me a prescription for a topical progesterone cream, and sent me on my way.
And, to be quite honest, that cream was magic. It took a month or two, but my exhaustion and fog lifted. My emotions stabilized tremendously. I’m not going to say that my depression and anxiety were completely gone, but they were reduced by so much that I felt almost whole again. Almost 8 years later, and I still use the same progesterone cream to help manage my symptoms. I have days where I feel better and days where I feel worse, but overall – this is how I treat my illness.
As far as God goes – I made my peace with Him, and my illness. I didn’t understand the why, but I did believe that I was stronger because of having fought through that horrific season of my life. And its much easier to make peace when the storm is passed, and that is what I did. I let go of my anger toward God, I found Him waiting for me just as He had always been. And in Him I found hope again. I still questioned the purpose of having the illness…did it even have a purpose? Was it random? But, for the most part, I got on with life.
We changed churches, we changed jobs, we did house projects, we parented our girls. We had another beautiful child – a boy this time, and we realized we actually had no idea what we were doing with this whole parenting gig. We moved. Life went on – beautifully even.
And then, a little more than two years ago, life gave me the “why” to answer my question. In a way that I never saw coming, and in a way that forced me to stand up and speak out.