I pinched a little white tablet out of the orange prescription bottle. 10 mg. What could it hurt? But what could it help? Could a man-made concoction of chemicals really help un-kink the rat’s nest of anxiety in my mind? I’d had the bottle for a week, but only now decided to start taking them. I knew it would be a commitment. This wasn’t my first rodeo with mind-fixing meds. But I’ve never been able to hang on for long. The side effects or non-effects just didn’t seem worth the benefits. So why would this time be any different?
When my doctor asked me last week, “How’s your stress level?,” I let out a half-laugh, half-cry. “I’m marinating in it.” She asked if I wanted to consider trying an anti-anxiety medication. I did. I had to try something. I can’t reason my way out of it and just pull myself up by the bootstraps. While vigorous exercise, nutrition and leaning on God have provided brief moments of reprieve, it’s not fixing what’s broken. I’m in physical pain. I can’t sleep. I’m irritable. And I’m not myself. I’m like Anxiety Girl on speed. Yes, I’ve been through some real doozies lately. Losing our baby and my father within several weeks of each other, and underneath it all, there’s losing Eric. While new tragedies may seem like they have nothing to do with that long-ago hurt, it’s always about Eric. He’s my damaged heart.
So here I am, body crumbling, and mind still chugging along. Can I function? Yes. Am I healthy? No. So the pill goes down. And I take a nap. Heavy with exhaustion, I collapse into bed while my husband and girls continue the dance of life throughout our home. Several hours later, I awake a little rested…and with a lot of nausea. Oh yes. Those pesky side effects. Several reviews online revealed that this particular prescription caused them to feel like they “had a bad flu” for several weeks before their body adjusted. Greaaaaaat. I now felt like I could hurl at any moment, and my girls were eager to play with a mom who’d been asleep for several hours. A mom that’s been impatient and weepy and in pain and just generally crummy for the past few months. So I compromised by snuggling in the recliner and playing games with them on their new tablets. They didn’t mind a bit. They had their momma, and I had them.
My girls. My beautiful, precious, angel-faced girls. They deserve a healthier momma. So that’s what I’m trying to be. Especially with the challenges we’ve had with our oldest. She’s just. like. me. And that means we generate friction sometimes, her and I. She saves her most epic maelstroms for yours truly. And I’m just going to put this out there. She’s not “typical” in her outbursts. I’ve heard it from friends, I’ve heard it from family members, I’ve heard it from my spouse, and I’ve heard it directly from her mouth, as she’s cried out in frustration, “I just can’t make my brain do what I want it to do!” She’s four…I KNOW this isn’t normal for a child her age to express. And before I go any further, I’d just like to say that I’ve had some concerned feedback that I shouldn’t be sharing my daughter’s struggles publicly, for various reasons. And while I appreciate the genuine concern, I’m forging ahead with my mission to tear down the wall of stigma around mental illness. It’s just so ridiculous how we dance around the topic, speak of it in hushed tones, and pretend that “they” have all the problems. Guess what? We’re ALL broken. Each and every one. of. us. And some of the most broken people I know also have the most beautiful minds. While they may struggle to fit into society’s “molds” they’re also the ones that society reveres for their ability to paint a chapel ceiling, compose a masterpiece, and lead a nation out of civil war.
Like my daughter. Her non-typical mind not only erupts in frustration and chaos, but is also the fertile ground for fantastical stories, a photographic memory and a vocabulary that continues to astound me. Like tonight. As I was wrapping up our “six minutes” of cuddle time right before I tuck her in and go downstairs, she suddenly sat up in her bed. “Mom, can we talk?” When your preschooler says this, you swipe the backside of your arm across your table of to-dos, lean over on both elbows and simply say, “Of course.”
What she said next surprised me. “Can we talk about how I get really angry sometimes? And about the train thing?” Ah yes, the train thing. I’d developed a visual exercise several nights back, and it seemed to appeal to her. I spoke of her mind as being on “one track,” and how she was committed to following this track regardless of whether or not pieces of it were missing (when plans or expectations change). And she could comprehend the fate of her train should the track be damaged. A “crash” meant she would go completely out of control, hurt herself or others, and face some dire consequences (like getting locked in her room to calm down, which is our last resort). She seemed to accept that sometimes she would need to “pull the lever” and switch herself onto a different track, in order to continue smoothly along her day. I began telling her a story to further illustrate this point, when she stopped me.
“You know mom, my mind is more like butterflies.” I thought she meant in her stomach. Like nerves. No. “This is how my mind works, mom. I have butterflies flying around, and sometimes, they see a flower they want to eat from. But sometimes, the flower is a bad decision, and it’s sour and makes them sick. So they need to quit trying to eat from that flower and just find a new one.” Wow. I was stunned. And privileged. To share this incredible moment with my very young daughter. For her to be able to verbalize to me her frustrations and exactly how she felt her own mind worked. Then again, I’ve been very open with her about my own struggles with feeling “very sad” (depression) and “very scared” (anxiety).
“Mom, how does your mind work? How do you not feel frustrated or scared?” So I told her about how I try to be healthy, I pray and read the Bible, and I even told her about a special medicine I take to help calm my mind. But that’s not what she wanted to know. She’s four, after all. “No, I mean, what animals are in your head?” Oh, well, that’s easy.
“Sea turtles. I picture them swimming peacefully and slowly through the deep blue ocean. In fact, I thought of that when I was giving birth to you.” She smiled. Then asked a logical question. “So were you surprised when my face popped out of your body instead of a sea turtle?” I laughed and kissed the beautiful face of my girl no longer a baby. She asked if she could tell me a story. I couldn’t let this moment go.
“Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Mommy. She was three years old. And she REALLY wanted to go to the movies, but there was snow and ice all over their van. So, plans changed, and Mommy was SO frustrated. She screamed and kicked and couldn’t calm down. But they finally got the roads cleared off, and they left for the movie. But when they got there, they walked in and the movie was already over, everyone had left, and they were stacking up all the chairs. And Mommy threw another fit. She was SO MAD. But then, she pictured sea turtles kicking and fighting in the current, and they had to get out of the current because it was taking them somewhere they shouldn’t go. They had to slow down and go a different way. And she calmed down. And they went to the movies the next day and everyone was happy. The end.”
Again. I was stunned. This broken mind had created something so precious and beautiful.
I told her she was an amazing storyteller. She shrugged and said, “You get it from me mommy.”