Four years ago, it was awful.
I wish I could say I’ve blocked it out, but it’s here, caught in my chest for good. Dark, and still, and frantic. Tender and terrible. Changing my newborn in the dim glow of the nightlight, overwhelmed with love and a longing for him to just disappear. Wrestling my toddler, filled with fury instead of sympathy for this small person whose life was turned upside down, whose mother was rapidly losing her mind. Huddling in the smallest, darkest room of our house while my husband and mother whispered their worries. Those moments were loud with our tears and tantrums, but my memories are terrifyingly silent. It was that bad.
And then it was better. Not completely, and not all at once, but better. On Day 3 of the antidepressants, I didn’t cry, not even once. I remember realizing, as we played quietly in the sunlit nursery, that though I had cried every day of my baby’s life, I didn’t always cry. There was a life without steady tears and constant anxiety, and I had once lived it. Perhaps I might again.
It took more than Vitamin Z to restore that life – the hard work of therapy and meditation and learning how to be both a mother and a person – but it took that, too. Anxiety has never been a stranger, and my family history suggests that it never will be, but for four years, I’ve mostly kept it at bay. I’ve been like a lion tamer, holding fast to my chair even when the beast paces aggressively. Sometimes I feel like this, I remind myself, but it’s anxiety – not me – and it will pass. I’ve toyed with the idea of weaning off medication – of putting down the chair and calling a truce with the lion – and even talked to my doctor about it. But neither of us could think of a good reason to tempt fate.
After more than half a year of night sweats, I’ve finally been scared into acknowledging my symptoms. Some nights I’m only clammy, others I wake drenched, pajamas and sheets soaked through. It could be as simple as early menopause, or as dire as lymphoma. Or it could be a sudden reaction to my antidepressant.
There are tests for many of the possibilities, and I’ve had them. Chest x-rays and hormone measurements and more blood work than I can keep track of. There’s an endocrinologist to see, and daily reminders that one should never, ever Google amorphous medical symptoms. There’s a lot of watchful waiting, and only one thing clear thing I can do: quit Zoloft.
My doctor – who is also my friend, and who hears about my anxiety on our morning walks as well as in her office – has been careful to say I don’t have to. I can wait till I see the endocrinologist, wait for more tests, wait, wait, wait. But I’m tired of waiting.
The great gift of these Zoloft years has been the small space between me and my moods. When the lion was sprawled on top of me, I couldn’t see it, let alone hold it off. Medication has helped me train the lion to keep its distance, but it’s also trained me to insist on that space. Or at least to keep breathing when there’s not enough of it.
The first few days of a half-dose of Vitamin Z were ugly. I watched myself crawl back into that dark place, behind a book and under the covers, and I felt my sinuses sting with the likelihood that it is still as bad as I remember. If that scary fog persists, I’ll go right back to Zoloft, night sweats be damned. My brain chemistry is a little wonky, and there’s no shame in correcting it. But I’m as curious as I am nervous about this little experiment, and I’m going to stick with the half-dose, then cut it in half again. I’m going to see what it feels like to be in my body, in my life. I’m going to give it a try.