As I sit down to write this post, it feels like it could potentially be the most vulnerable thing I have ever published to date.
So why does sharing about my recent foray into psychotropic medication feel so taboo? Why does my heart beat faster as my fingers reach for each key to tell this story? Probably for one reason and one reason alone:
For years and years (and YEARS), our society has been blessed with the science to treat all sorts of ailments, both physical and mental with medicine. From blood pressure issues to bipolar, there’s really not much that modern medicine can’t help our bodies regulate. It’s amazing, when you stop to think about it. And lately, when I’ve stopped to think about it it, I’ve considered it an amazing gift.
You see, since the age of 17 I have struggled with PMDD, or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. For those of you who don’t know, PMDD is essentially PMS on steroids. And it is no fun. To say the least. Each month, for approximately 4-5 days, I become so irritable, so agitated, and so anxious that I am, simply put: the exact opposite of myself.
Perhaps some of you can relate to this struggle. Perhaps some of you know what it feels like to not feel like yourself, to feel, in fact, like the worst possible version of yourself – and yet, to have little to no control over your words, actions, and emotions, at that delightful time of the month. The worst part? Once those difficult days pass, the guilt and shame over how I treated those I love the most remains.
So many times over the years, I have looked back and thought, “How could I say that to my husband?” or “Why did I lose my cool with my boys so easily?” or “Why did I slam that door? WHO EVEN DOES THAT?!” Me. I do. Or at least, I did.
Hoping for reassurance that either a) things would get better or b) I’m not alone, I would confess these things to my closest girlfriends – my mom, my sister, and besties. Many of them have graciously shared their similar struggles over the years, for which I am thankful. When I’ve made myself particularly vulnerable and shared my struggles with a friend I’ve known for less time, I have often heard the following: “What? Cathleen, I can’t imagine you ever losing your cool!”
I wish I could be flattered by that. But unfortunately, I know the truth, and usually quip, “Ha! Just ask my husband!”
After much prayer and research, and after many natural remedies and herbal supplements had been tried, I headed to my doctor last month and told her that I need to know if there is anything more I can do to treat my PMDD. For my whole life, I had simply accepted it as part of “the curse of being a woman.” I had written it off as something my favorite people must simply learn to cope with because I just can’t help it.
With tears in my eyes, I shared with my doctor that I don’t want to be that wife or that mom anymore, even for 4 days a month. “It’s not fair to my husband; it’s not fair to my kids,” I told her. “And since we’re about to add another baby to the family this fall…” I trailed off.
My doctor is a literal angel who said, “Cathleen, this isn’t something you can control.”
God bless the woman.
We then discussed my options, of which there were three. Go on the pill (no thank you), go on a low dose of Zoloft every day, or go on a low dose of Prozac for 14 days each month.
Intrigued, I asked her why for just 14 days. She said you can start taking Prozac 14 days after the first day of your cycle, and take it until your next cycle begins, thereby getting all the benefits of Prozac (or fluoxetine, as it is known generically), without any of the possible side effects.
Sounded good to me! At least, I figured, it was worth a try.
Fast forward to today, and I can honestly say the game has been changed. Last month, despite getting ready to leave for a vacation (a known anxiety trigger for me), despite some undelightful behavior by certain children at times (putting it mildly), I kept it cool. I was pleasant. I wasn’t worried or irritated over literally nothing. I was ME.
Concerned that perhaps the change was only noticed by me, I asked my husband’s input. Cautiously, he told me…”this was the best month we’ve had in….a loooong time.” Bless him.
So why am I sharing this with you? I mean, it would be a lot easier (and a lot more comfortable) to keep this to myself, preserving the image that some of you may have of me that I never lose my cool, or I always handle my emotions skillfully (ha! no amount of Prozac can guarantee that!). Simply put, the reason I’m choosing to share my decision to take medication is the very same reason that kept me from wanting to initially:
As a psychotherapist, I spend a good deal of time assuring people that their decision to take psychotropic medication doesn’t make them bad, crazy, or weak; rather, it makes them healthy, wise, and strong. While I myself don’t prescribe medication (and am by no means a pill-pusher), I want people to understand that there is no shame whatsoever in taking medication, under a doctor’s care, for its intended purposes. And in fact, doing so can seriously change your life.
My great hope and deep desire is that this post can help someone out there feel validated in their decision to go on medication for a mental health issue. I pray it can help someone feel less afraid to go on medication if their doctor has recommended it, but they just can’t seem to say OK to it yet. I hope it can help family members and friends encourage their loved ones who might be suffering tremendously to explore their options for medicinal treatment with an open mind. I also hope it can help a whole host of women who might be chalking up their PMDD as “just part of womanhood” to consider (with their doctor) whether or not Prozac or another treatment could help them feel like themselves again.
Because, as I’m often heard saying: YOLO. And I, for one, don’t want to spend my days (even 4 per month) dealing with PMDD. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
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