Well, Lehigh, it’s been a while.
During the spring of 2013, I started a column called ‘Inexplicably Happy.’ It was a mix of advice that no one asked for and my own accounts of my mental health.
The column was therapeutic, and several people told me at the time that they enjoyed reading it. But I ended the column on a cliffhanger — I had planned on seeing a psychiatrist for the first time and was considering trying medication for my panic and depression symptoms. I did not reboot ‘Inexplicably Happy’ in the fall of 2013. Instead, I started the TechSci column, which enjoyed four consecutive semesters in The Brown and White.
Now, with my sixth and final semester as a columnist at Lehigh, I’m bringing back ‘Inexplicably Happy,’ if only to give myself some closure before I graduate in December.
Quite a lot has happened since the spring of 2013, so I’ll start at the beginning. A month or so after my last ‘Inexplicably Happy’ column, I met with a psychiatrist back home in San Diego. She prescribed me some Lexapro — a fairly new antidepressant that she believed would not only stave off depression but help me with my PTSD symptoms.
Wait, what? Yeah, I was also diagnosed with PTSD after my last column. Officially, I’m diagnosed with PTSD and moderate depression. The diagnosis was expected — what else could the flashbacks and panic signify? I was relieved that I could finally put a name to my mental distress.
Now, in September 2015, I have had PTSD for four years. It started after an incident in August 2011, before my senior year of high school. Two more incidents have helped it along since then. It’s hard even to imagine myself before PTSD, but I know that I was different. I had to rebuild a lot of myself.
I’ll have time this semester to talk more about PTSD and its effect on my life. Those stories, the ones that might be hard for me to write, can wait a little while. For now, I’ll continue talking about what’s happened since the spring of 2013.
Lexapro lasted almost two years before I ended it. In May 2015, I swallowed my last dose. It took around three months for me to get off of Lexapro — it fought me. Doctors will tell you that Lexapro has no withdrawal symptoms. Those doctors are liars, and they were taught by liars. I don’t know how I made it through Lexapro withdrawals with my sanity, but I did. It might take up to nine months for the Lexapro’s affects to truly leave my system, but at least I took the biggest step.
The medication was a welcome crutch at first, and I needed it more than I think I realized. But after about a year and a half, it had served its purpose. It was becoming a nuisance, and I didn’t need it anymore. The side effects (mostly weight gain and a messed up metabolism) were no longer worth the progress. I didn’t want to get off of Lexapro in the middle of the semester, not when that could mean a breakdown. So my plan was to wait for the upcoming summer, but by winter break I was done. That May, amidst my final exams and papers, I took my last dose.
Now, I feel freer. I am thankful that Lexapro was there for me at my lowest point, but someone taught me something during that time.
The progress you make in the first few weeks of taking medication, that’s all the Lexapro. But every accomplishment since then is you. You did that.
That means that almost all of the progress — the flashbacks almost completely disappearing, triggers becoming less serious, sleep going back to normal and depressive episodes becoming practically predictable— that was all me.
It made me strong enough to leave the Lexapro behind. I didn’t need it anymore.
And now, four months post-Lexapro, the flashbacks haven’t been an issue. I can see clearer. I can remember things without pausing. Triggers are almost nonexistent. I even took an online course while working full-time for Adobe this summer. How many depressive episodes or relapses do you think I had during those two and a half months? None. Not a single one.
PTSD is not done with me, and I am not done with it. I still have a lot to get through, and a relapse could still sneak up on me, as they tend to do.
But right now, I want you all to know that mental illness, even something with a name like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, doesn’t last forever. No matter what that crappy therapist said to you that one time.
Celebrate your victories. Whether that victory is getting out of bed, eating something, getting a job, or making a friend. Celebrate, because you did it.