I was an hour late to work the other day, and I had no real excuse. I mean it is an exhausting job, and I do have a toddler at home, but ultimately, I just couldn’t find the strength in me to move faster than the pace of a turtle in a race he didn’t want to be in to begin with.
I keep having mornings like this- where all I really want to do is get out of bed in a tranquil manner, without any urgency, drink coffee out of a mug while still wearing pajamas, and eat breakfast with my family while working on a puzzle and listening to music. And only then, after a peaceful morning like this one in my daydream, after feeling like my heart has been filled with genuinely untroubled energy from a mildly gentle start to my day, I can bring my calm heart into my job that certainly requires just that.
As intentional as I try to be about being mindful and present and setting boundaries, my grief from my past and my anxiety about my future sneak up on me when my day gets too frantic.
Mental illness owns property in my family’s genetics. It just does. If you studied the structure of our family biology, you’d find little neighborhoods for personality struggles, depression, trauma, anxiety, self-harm, self-sabotage, weight gain, weight loss, abuse, neglect, the list goes on. I’m pretty sure our roots have tangled themselves up in most of the mental and emotional hardships of life at some point.
And so I actively combated these tangles for awhile. I tried to eat healthy and exercise, spend time in the sun, be with friends, go to counseling. But when I live a frantic life in a frenzied society, I discovered over and over again that I couldn’t run faster than my genes.
About two years ago, I was talking to a colleague about how I was having trouble falling asleep because I was thinking, and running through all sort of worse-case scenarios about work, and she told me that was called anxiety. I never thought about it like that before. I thought it was normal to be that stressed all the time. I also really couldn’t name anything that I actually enjoyed doing, like I did at the start of this reflection with easy mornings of coffee and puzzles. It has taken me time to realize that there are things that actually sound fun to me, even if they serve no productive purpose. I had been running so fast and so hard from a life trajectory of poor decisions and regrets that I thought I could outrun where I came from. I wanted enough distance between adult-me and child-me that I wouldn’t have to process some of the traumas that did happen to child-me. But when you run 100 miles an hour for enough time, eventually you just burn the heck out of yourself. I was irritable and unhappy, as resilient as gravity, but hopeless like a hamster in a wheel.
So, about two years ago, a nurse practitioner prescribed me 25 mg of generic Zoloft. My husband told me it was 100% my choice if I wanted to take the medication or not. And that he would support me either way. I really appreciated that he didn’t try to make that decision for me, or really even help me make it. A few weeks into it, I did start noticing that decisions were becoming easier for me to make. Every little thing didn’t weigh on me the way it used to- things like: what can I pack for lunch or when can I make time to see this or that person. I don’t know. I started feeling like my brain was making more space for decisions that actually needed more of my attention. I continued going to counseling and started seeing some larger breakthroughs in my patterns of thinking because my brain was more cleared up for the uglier webs I couldn’t seem to get to before.
I have upped my dosage since then, and sometimes I wonder if I need to again when I have mornings like the one the other day. But ultimately, in the nature versus nurture debate, I am really trying to acknowledge that I can’t change my nature, but I do have a say in how I nurture myself now as an adult.
My absolute favorite quote of all time, which guides so much of how I live my life, is by Dr. Maya Angelou. She says, “There is no greater burden than bearing an untold story inside you.” The more vulnerable I become in naming my wounds in the plot of my life, the more free and brave I truly am.
I’m learning to hear my own story and listen to the information my own body tells me about where I have been, who I am, and where I am going. And I’m not ashamed that I need a bit of medicine to help level me out. It would be great if I didn’t have to take it the rest of my life, but even if I do, I am confident that right now the medicine is making me more mentally well than mentally ill.