Someone With Problems

I wrote a few weeks ago how, in the days following Goldie’s birth – when I feared a relapse of the postpartum depression that I’d suffered from after Indy arrived – I was prescribed a low-dose medication to combat the chronic insomnia and anxiety that I’ve been dealing with for a good decade (and hopefully make PPD more unlikely). It’s been two months, and I figure now is as good of a time as any to write about how it’s been going.

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Growing up, my parents taught me that no one would handle my problems for me; it was on me to face them, and then fix them. If I had an issue with a teacher, a fight with a friend, an essay that I just couldn’t seem to get right, they were there to listen and offer suggestions, of course, but they were not going to storm the gates and take over; finding a solution was my job. And I’m grateful for that.

A strange byproduct of this focus on self-reliance, though, is the fact that my family – myself included, as it turns out – doesn’t really believe in medication. Tylenol for a headache, Lipitor for cholesterol, sure…but drugs for the mind? Nope. Maybe it’s a generational thing; maybe it’s pride; maybe it’s a reaction to the rampant overmedication going on in today’s society, but whatever it is, my family’s attitude towards psychiatric medications (and therapy in general) burrowed itself deeply into my head. So deeply that despite the fact that I like to think that I’m a generally open-minded person – and think that if something hurts, you should look for ways to fix it – I grew up believing that (barring “serious” mental disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, a.k.a. things that happen to “other people”), you do not need pills to fix your head.

You should be stronger than that.

Or at least I should be.

The strangest part: I studied cognitive neuroscience – basically, the biology underlying psychological behavior – in college, which means that I know better than this, am more educated about the very real neural mechanisms that contribute to psychological conditions than the average bear. In particular, I spent a lot of my college career studying so-called “shadow syndromes” – the milder forms of major mental disorders that plague so many of us and go untreated because they aren’t as showy as their more dramatic cousins – and I know that these syndromes are real, and cause real problems in people’s lives. I know that highly effective medications have been developed to address them.

And still: part of me thought that for a “normal” person (such as myself, I suppose, although I also know better than to toss around the word “normal”) to take a pill for depression or anxiety – both issues that virtually everyone deals with – was…lazy. “The easy way out.”

“I’m smart,” I thought. “I’m self-aware. I studied cognitive neuroscience, for God’s sake. I can handle a little anxiety.”

I was wrong, both about the fact that my anxiety was “little” and about the fact that I could tackle it with my own bare hands, but it took me a good ten years to figure this out. And what finally did the trick was admitting to myself once and for all that what I was experiencing was way, way off the spectrum of what can be considered “normal” (because, of course, some degree of anxiety is not only unavoidable; it’s actually beneficial, helping us run away from bears we encounter in the woods and such). My anxiety, I finally came to understand, was pathological: it disrupted my sleep, my relationships, my life. It wasn’t something that I should – or could – just “deal with.”

I guess I finally just got sick of feeling this way.

I’ve been hesitant to address this subject because (deeply-ingrained biases stemming from childhood and nervousness about sharing something this personal aside), I really do think that over-medication is a real issue in our society, and the last thing I want is to contribute to that problem. I do not want to say “medication is the answer.” It isn’t always the answer. But – and this is a huge “but” – the turnaround that I’ve experienced over these past few weeks has been extreme enough that I now feel comfortable saying that my decision to finally try medication is one of the best decisions that I have ever made in my life. That’s not an exaggeration.

What was I so afraid of? I suppose I was afraid that I would feel “drugged,” that the medication would dull my feelings and my emotions and leave me something other than myself. I was terrified that my children would grow up with a shell of a mother, looking out at the world with glassy eyes that never quite saw them. Dramatic, maybe, but that’s what I pictured. But what I’ve experienced is no dulling of the emotions at all – I’d describe it, rather, as a sharpening of reality, because in these past few weeks the noise of “what-if” has been replaced by the solid steadiness of what is.

I am still stressed. I am still worried. I still get frustrated with my children, angry at my husband. But I am not overwhelmed by these feelings. They feel, for the first time in as long as I can remember, ordinary. Like rational responses to the world around me.

They feel manageable.

My worries used to scream so loudly inside my head that I couldn’t hear anything else – certainly not anything approaching logic – but now, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I’m able to hold a fear in my mind, turn it over and examine it, and then either deal with it or put it away in a shelf, to be explored at some later date. Far from feeling drugged, I feel clearer than I have felt in years. And the effect that this clarity has had on my life – and especially my marriage – has been nothing short of remarkable. I can worry about work, and then put aside the worry and play with my children before they go to bed. I can argue with Kendrick and explain my feelings rather than lashing out.

I can let it – whatever “it” is – go.

I was also afraid of something else, something even more frightening: that taking a pill would mean that I was altering my identity, somehow changing my label in this world from Someone Who’s Got It Under Control to Someone With Problems. But then, after I wrote the post in which I talked about my decision to explore medication, I got so many emails from readers saying that they struggled with anxiety but were fearful of the stigma of talking about it, and especially feared having others discover that they were seeking medical help…and I realized that the fact that I’m scared of that stigma, too, is exactly why I need to be open about it.

You know, I’m not saying that the perspective that I had growing up was “bad,” not at all. It taught me how to do the hard work that goes into confronting problems rather than skimming over the surface and seeking out miracles. And I think it’s even what ultimately allowed me to make this change now, to overturn a belief so deeply-rooted that it couldn’t even be shifted by years of education in the cold, hard facts about psychological disorders.

The thing is, I see now that I spent years determined to fight a battle with my bare hands instead of looking around me for other tools that I not only “could” use, but were in fact necessary. So maybe it’s not an overhaul of my belief system at all, but rather an evolution: a focus not on self-reliance to the point of “I got this” hubris, but rather on finding a solution to the problem, whatever that may be.

There is a difference between a crutch and a tool; one shoulders the burden for you, perhaps keeping you from building up the strength to carry it yourself…and the other just makes you stronger.

  • andreagspivey

    you are brave to write about this.

  • Dena

    A piece like this should be published as widely as possible. I’ve watched so many friends struggle when they didn’t need to and refuse medication to help make their anxiety/stress manageable because they misunderstood how these drugs function; your empathy and willingness to explore something unfamiliar, stigmatized and scary could inspire many people.

  • I really always want people who are hesitant about medication to remember that you don’t have to keep taking the same thing, or keep taking anything at all. Everything can be adjusted. Nothing is permanent with this sort of thing. You sometimes have to try a few things to dial in what works for you without numbing you out, as it can be. You should NOT be numb – just in a better place to handle things.

  • Morgan

    Thank you for sharing your story. It’s always a joy to read your stuff b/c you are so good at articulating your thoughts.
    My husband has anxiety issues as well and I may not deal with anxiety in that regard I know how it feels to be the spouse on the other end of it. It’s not always easy (to understand or deal with) but opening up the lines of communication about it definitely helps.

  • It’s like you are writing my story. I have always been a bit ocd (in the clinical sense not the obnoxious media sense) and had anxiety and people just would say “oh she’s just a worrier” but when I had my daughter 18 months ago those thoughts became overwhelming and at times very very scary. I got help I got medicated. I tried twice in the past 18 months to go off the meds, I felt fine.. The most recent attempt it felt like day one all over again. I try to speak to people about ppd because no one ever did to me. The responses of “oh you haven’t gotten over that yes?” Oh you still have THAT?” No one chooses ppd and it’s completely beyond my control. And the helpful “well get help” makes me want to stab people or when they blame an emotion “well you just have PPD” um no. I did get help, I got medication but that doesn’t mean I am not human. My PPD was obsessive compulsive thoughts of all the horrible ways my daughter could die. Not that I wanted to do it, but how it could happen. And it was on a loop in my brain and it made it hard to function. I admire you being open I wish more people would so they could learn what it is. It isn’t a woman being sad her life changed!

  • Rain Mikajlo

    so grateful for this. i was brought up the same way (in a family with all medical professionals btw). it’s funny, the stigma, that sticks around with us forever, even though we logically ‘know better.’ i’m glad you got help and hope that it encourages readers to do the same. (i will always thank you for your kindness during my difficult pregnancy!)


  • Great post. We as a society need to change the negative reaction to mental health issues. I have written several posts on my personal struggle but always question the effect of it all before pushing the “publish” button. Well done, you.

  • Kris

    Great post Jordan, so very open and honest… I loved it

  • allison

    Already told you I loved this post, but I’m just curious, did you try therapy first before going to meds?

  • lilya

    I agree on everything except for the header image which aestheticises drug use a little. However, great post. Thank you for being so open. I struggle with anxiety as well.. mine usually revolves around statistics I research and interpret as a dooming prophecy to my life. I have been prescribed medication against insomnia about 2 years ago which has helped me a lot. I’m glad you found something that worked very well for you.

  • Jim B

    Thanks for being so transparent with this.

  • Anon

    I could not identify more with what you wrote. Having a doctorate in neuropharmacology myself and fully comprehending the complications of a biological imbalance I still held myself to this impossible standard that I was superwoman and could deal with everything on my own. In fact I am still so ashamed/embarrassed about my PPD/ post partum anxiety that I am posting anonymously. What I had always chalked up to being neurotic/Type A personality erupted after delivery of my first child into full angst at all times. I finally surrendered and accepted help in the form of an SSRI a few months ago and my oh my how much more manageable my life has been. i envy your freedom in being able to express yourself about this publicly. One love, girl.

  • Jane

    Hi Jordan
    Really enjoyed your post- gave me a lot of comfort. I have been on the same AD as you for just over 3 weeks for debilitating anxiety and insomnia. I’d really love to know how long it took you to feel some difference, and then to feel good again. (Also, is it 50mg you’re on?) I’m desperate to feel myself again. Lots of love and thanks again

    • jordanreid

      hey there jane – i’m so glad you’re taking steps to make yourself feel better. i started on 50 (which is very low, almost sub-therapeutic), but went up to 100 over the past couple of years. my specific situation was complicated by the fact that i first went on medication immediately after giving birth, so my emotions and hormones were naturally all over the place, but i think i started noticing a difference around 2-3 weeks. give it time. sending you lots of love, j.

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