Friday, January 22, 2016
My Journey with Mental Illness
We all go through seasons of heartache and struggle. And now that I have come through a season full of it, I can look back and say with certainty that "When I am weak, I am strong."
Why? Because the ONLY one I could rely on was Him. He had the answers. And as I was at my lowest, He was closer than ever before. This is a long read. One where I was nervous to hit "Publish." But those are always the posts that need to be read/ heard the most, aren't they? So here we go.
I have struggled with insomnia on and off my entire life. It started back in grade school. I still remember a time where my parents had to come pick me up from a slumber party in the middle of the night because I couldn't fall asleep.
It has manifested itself on and off throughout my life. After I had children, it started to happen when I traveled. If I was on vacation WITH Logan and our girls, I would be fine. But on work trips or even "girl" staycations.... Anxiety would overtake me and I would not be able to sleep. I had a 30th birthday party at Hotel Zaza where I left at 1am because I couldn't sleep. I was standing in the lobby in my pajamas crying as the music was bumping and girls in tiny skirts were dressed to the nines out on a Friday night.
This past September was no different. I went to Austin for our Rodan + Fields convention and knew it was going to be hard to sleep, especially since it was the first time I had been away from Chloé. The first night I was up until 4am tossing and turning and panicking knowing that I had days ahead of me full of meetings, presentations, Happy Hours, and parties. All FUN things but also ALL things I needed to rest up for.
The insomnia continued the next 2 nights and after running off 2-3 hours of sleep per night, I called Logan on Friday and begged him to drive down to Austin with the girls so I could last the rest of the weekend. The night he showed up, I slept like a baby. All was right with the world and we went back home on Sunday.
I called my OBGYN that Monday and told him what had happened. I had another work trip coming up in November (A FREE Trip to San Francisco that I had earned) and I knew Logan wasn't going to be a drive away and I wanted to be able to sleep. He suggested I may be struggling with separation anxiety and prescribed me Zoloft. He told me it took 3-4 weeks to get into my system so it would be a good trial run to get on it and see if by the time my trip rolled around in November, I would be able to sleep.
The weekend I started on Zoloft I never went to sleep. I went an entire weekend. I was bulldozed by anxiety. I panicked. I was sobbing. I was so tired, that I was no longer tired. I don't think people understand how lonely, depressing, isolating, and scary it is to literally be up the entire night while everyone else in your home is peacefully sleeping. 8 hours is a LONG TIME to burn time. It's an entire work day. There were a few times where I was close to falling asleep but Chloé at the time was not sleeping through the night, so the second she would wake up, I would be wired again.
That Monday I called my doctor back and immediately took myself off of Zoloft. He said I was officially out of his realm and I needed to see my internist. Well, I didn't have an internist so I had to find a doctor who could see me as quickly as possible. I called on a Monday and the earliest he could see me was a Wednesday. To most people this wouldn't seem like a big deal, but knowing I had to endure 2 more nights of no sleep without answers was devastating to me. I bought ALL the OTC medicines I could. Valerian. Melatonin. Benadryl. Tylenol PM. I did tea. I did warm milk. I did hot baths. I started reading instead of watching TV. I did yoga and breathing exercises. Nothing and I mean nothing was working.
On Wednesday, I met with my new doctor and he asked how much sleep I was getting per night. I told him 2 hours at BEST. I was no longer tired during the day. I was shaky. I had no appetite. I was just running off straight adrenaline. I wasn't able to do much with the girls except feed them and stick them in front of the TV. Logan had to go to work and I couldnt crash or rest because I had 2 little people I was in charge of. My EKG came back abnormal and he said I had a heart arrhythmia but likely it was due to the lack of food and sleep.
This began the process of medicine hopscotch. I swear I could open a pharmacy with how many pills I have now collected in our medicine cabinet. Over the next week, we tried Restinol. We tried Lunesta. We tried Ambien. We played with ALL of the doses and I maxed out on ALL of them. Ambien didn't even make me YAWN. We also had my thyroid tested to make sure that wasn't the cause and all my blood work came back normal. How twisted is it that I cried at this news? I wanted a diagnosis so bad so that I could understand and we could fix the problem.
At this point I started feeling like I may never sleep again. I started to become paranoid that CPS was going to take away my kids. Tiny tasks like making dinner completely overwhelmed me and I quite literally felt like I was losing my mind and my sanity. I would cry with Logan every night because as relieved as I was when he walked in the door after work, it also meant it was dark.... which meant it was getting closer to bedtime... and another long, horrible night of not being able to sleep. Every time it got dark outside, my chest would start hurting and my heart rate would shoot through the roof. My anxiety surrounding the evening time was the hardest part of my day. In the morning, I would look around at people driving or in stores and be so envious thinking... "They have no idea how lucky they are that they can sleep." I would also wonder WHY my body couldn't do something so very BASIC and natural. I was ANGRY. Worried. At one point I told Logan, "Babe, I am so sorry you are married to me. I don't know if I am ever going to be the girl you married ever again."
I felt like I had lost myself.
I felt hopeless. No one could give me answers. After we tried all of the medicines, my internist told me that I was now officially out of HIS realm and he wanted me to go see a neurologist. This was terrifying to me because I had no idea if we were talking sleeping problem or something much more serious. I don't even need to mention how much money we were spending on all of these prescriptions and doctors appointments and the logistics of childcare each and every time which really did nothing for the anxiety I was already struggling with. If I had been working at an office, I would have 100% had to take a short-term leave of absence. I was surviving my days and barely functioning. I am so grateful for my friends and family that stepped in during this time to watch the girls and bring us meals.
The following week we met with a neurologist. After a few short minutes, he was able to deduct that I did not in fact struggle with insomnia. I had an anxiety disorder. He said the medicines I was on would treat insomnia but they were too weak compared to the monstrous amounts of anxiety that was overpowering everything else. He assured me that if we could treat the anxiety, I would be able to sleep on my own. I was relieved. The short-term solution was to keep a sleep diary and start adopting some good sleep hygiene - no caffeine after lunch time, doing the same routine each night, not exercising in the evenings, etc. He also put me on Xanax (the BIG GUNS) to take before bedtime. I still remember the first night when I took it, I was not hopeful at all because I had been down this road for WEEKS and nothing worked. The next thing I remembered was waking up the next morning. Chloé had started sleeping through the night during all of this by God's grace... and for the first time in a month, I did too! I was completely SHOCKED. I was SO relieved. I swore up and down that I would NEVER take my sleep for granted again.
Now Xanax is not something you ever want to be on long-term. It is very habit forming and your body can build up a tolerance to it. Because of this, my neurologist had me meet with a counselor and a psychiatrist for a more long-term plan.
The sessions I had in counseling were priceless. I discovered where the roots of this anxiety stemmed from and I was able to address them. My home group prayed over me some of the most powerful prayers I have experienced. I still remember one prayer of desperation crying out asking God if each of them could just take 1 night from me so that I could sleep. I relied heavily on my community and close friends/ family as they walked this journey with me. Something I learned through this process is to ASK FOR HELP. Do not be ashamed. The people we are doing life with are the salt of the Earth. Their hearts. Their generosity. Wow. Just makes me weep thinking about it.
There was also a night I went to church to get prayed over for healing. That night was a real turning point for me. Not necessarily because I immediately started sleeping, but because the dread and anxiety of the evening was replaced with HOPE and PEACE. I also had a man that night (that I had never met) speak to me about how he felt like the Lord had given me a platform through writing and that I needed to keep sharing. So here I am, doing JUST that. It has taken me MONTHS to get up the courage to share this journey not out of fear for what people think, but because of reliving and re-telling the past few months that still feel VERY raw. I must admit I struggle with anxiety now about the insomnia returning and wrecking my mental health like it did last fall. I really do. But I now have scripture to fight that battle.
I have been clinging to:
For the Lord has not given us a spirit of fear.
But of POWER. LOVE. and of SOUND MIND.
2 Timothy 1:7
And Psalm 121 stayed open by my bed every single night.
In the midst of this storm, Max Lucado also came to speak at our church. On that night for some reason the usher marched us down to the second row. I have NEVER sat that close at church but it was evident that He wanted me to pay attention. Max talked about the battle of Jericho and how we all have walls in our lives that need to come down. He specifically addressed anxiety and insomnia. It was UNREAL how God spoke through him to me that night. Afterwards, I bought his book just so that I could talk to him and share with him the impact he had made. Up to that point, I really had a stigma with medicine. I thought the people who had to get on medicine (for anxiety, depression, insomnia) were those who didn't have enough FAITH. So judgmental. So WRONG. I opened up to Max Lucado about all this and he said "You need to be kind to yourself." He mentioned that he has taken medication to address some of these same issues and that someone in his ministry has been on medication for 30 years and he is one of the best men he knows. So when my friends and family told me these same things, it went in one ear and out the other. But when the Lord decided to use MAX LUCADO to feed me this truth, it sunk in. Thank you GOD for his message and for his affirmation and validation that medicine DOES NOT MAKE YOU WEAK. That is a lie from the enemy.
After a couple of weeks using the Xanax in the evenings, I decided on a psychiatrist who is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. It was important that I went to someone SMART but who also shared my faith and belief system. After an hour of explaining my month-long journey of surviving off 2-3 hours of sleep per night she came to the same conclusion as my neurologist. She said I had struggled with a lifelong battle of anxiety. She said insomnia is typically the first indication of mental illness. Insomnia is rarely the root. So out of all medications, she told me that ZOLOFT (AKA the drug that kick started this whole ordeal) was the very best on the market in treating anxiety. She said the difference was that we were going to treat the insomnia at night and we were going to stair step up to a full dose vs. starting me off at the recommended 50mg. (Side bar: MOST people can start off at a full dose with no side effects. Insomnia is a side effect in a very small % of people.)
I must admit, every single time I changed medicines it made me nervous. This time was even worse because the Xanax was FINALLY allowing me to sleep and she wanted to rock the boat. I was not interested in the hopscotch game again but I trusted her. Psychiatrists are EXPERTS in medicine. THEY are the people you should trust the most. So we made the switch and it took a few rocky nights, but worked! Praise GOD for that! As the medicine was getting into my system, I felt weird. Almost like I was floating or drunk and I was getting really bad headaches as well. This happened to be the weekend of my anniversary and Halloween so it was kind of an icky time to be feeling so bad.
This continued on for about a month and I can tell you that Thanksgiving was the first week that I started to feel like I had my bearings again. I was sleeping. I was able to take the girls to the park and grocery shopping. I started cooking dinner again. I starting emerging from the fog and actually going to social events after months of being holed up in my house every day. Although I cancelled my work trip to San Francisco since everything was still so fresh and raw, I was able to start working on my Rodan + Fields business again. (I cannot even express the blessing that this business was while I took some time off. My team kept working and the paychecks kept coming. God is the Ultimate Provider and He provided for us during these months when I otherwise would not have been able to work, through my incredible TEAM. So very grateful.)
Fast forward to today, and I am now up to the full 50 mg of Zoloft per day and I will be staying on it for the next 9 months at the recommendation of my psychiatrist. I ADORE her and after meeting with her, I felt like I finally had someone invested in my "Case" and advocating FOR ME. The run arounds with all the doctors felt more like I was a number, not a priority, and they were just herding cattle. She makes me feel important and I know she is personally invested and cares about my well being.
Over Christmas when we were traveling (even with Logan and the girls) I still struggled and I am sure that is going to take some time. I have my routine down in my house and my bed and that is LIBERATING compared to where I was a few months back. I am no longer anxious at night. And I can tell you that I am thoroughly ENJOYING my days and life more than I can ever remember before. I am LOVING motherhood. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I am laughing again. I am happy and filled with joy and peace by the grace of God.
I know this is going to be a scar that I carry for the rest of my life but I am hopeful that this will help someone out there with a similar struggle or story. The SCARIEST part of this whole journey was the fact that no one could tell me what was wrong. No one could fix it. And it felt like none of my doctors really CARED.
I am here to tell you to use what little strength you have to be an advocate for yourself and your mental health. I had someone ask me "Did you ever step back and look at the blessings you had? The husband? The house? The healthy girls?" YES. In fact THEY were the very things that were driving me every single day to find answers and to get better. Stay strong. Stick it out. I'm here to tell you, it will NOT last forever. The Holy Spirit is WITH YOU and FOR YOU. GOD knows and will sustain you until you find answers. Don't find comfort in a diagnosis. Find comfort in an ALL KNOWING GOD who is your BIGGEST advocate.
My journey with anxiety is not over but I sure do have a new perspective on it. Thanks to all of you who reached out concerned. I wasn't ready to share the story until now and I really do hope it helps someone. I can now say that mental illness can happen to ANYONE. I would be happy to encourage you in any way that I can!