Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Black Holes, Climbing Out Of

I had never really understood the stigma around talking about mental health. Friends and family members have needed various sorts of counseling or mental health help over the years and I've always been an enthusiastic supporter. Your brain is part of your body and no one debates taking care of their heart or bones or anything else, so get thee to whatever medical professional you need at the time and address whatever medical situation you have with a view to a healthier future. I couldn't imagine why it always had to be so secretive.

When Landon had tantrums around age 8 that none of us could control or understand, we went to a children's therapist. I never questioned that step. As soon as we saw we were in over our heads, we got ourselves to someone who knew more than we did and everyone benefited. We didn't go for a while after that and then at age 10 it became clear the approach that had worked at 8 didn't work anymore, so we went to a new therapist. Maybe what we were seeing was normal tweenage behavior, but we go to a pediatrician every year despite his obvious physical health, so why not get a mental health check-up too? And we did. And it was helpful for everyone. I don't talk about it too much to respect his privacy, but I felt- and continue to feel- strongly that we took the right steps and to genuinely not understand parents who wouldn't pause a moment before calling a pediatrician but who delay for months or years or forever in calling a counselor. We all benefited from adding that professional to our lives and I hope Landon benefits for his whole life by knowing that the mental element of healthcare is important and there for him and those he loves.

James has benefited immeasurably from the therapy he started a few years ago. I don't talk much about that either because again, not my story, but holy hell to the extent his story overlaps into mine- and it surely does- I can say that therapy changed our lives. I sobbed in my office the day he called me after his first appointment and told me how it made him feel. I was turned around in my desk chair, staring blindly out the window, and my shoulders were shaking as I tried to cry silently because my door was open. It felt like a thousand pound weight had lifted from my chest and his. I learned so many things about him I didn't know and over the next year he worked really hard and unlearned basically his whole childhood and he couldn’t have done without help.

I write all this to say I am pro-counseling and psychology and psychiatry and see them all as an essential part of overall health. I don't want there to be a stigma around mental healthcare and I have benefited enormously from the people in my life seeking out help when needed and would passionately support anyone in doing the same.

And yet.

I have been seeing a therapist since February, been on medication since March, and I have not talked about it. To anyone, really. You could say it isn't anyone's business, and it's not. But I make all sorts of things other people's business through my blog- if I had a problem with anything else medical you know I would have written a dozen posts about it by now. I had skin cancer and took you all on an overly detailed photo journalistic journey of my zombie skin cream and the scarring that resulted from it. But on this, this huge, new thing that has occupied much of my mind for six months, on this I have been silent. It is a terrifyingly vulnerable thing to admit. All my earnest yet undeniably naive past assertions that "mental health is just part of human health, of course we should talk about it! it shouldn't be a secret!" fall to the wayside when it's me admitting what feels like some sort of failure. Like everything I've ever read as an excuse for not talking about mental health suddenly became true because it's me. That it's a weakness. That I should have been able to fix it. That it makes everything I've written for the first half of the year somehow less. That the happy stories are lies and now everything I write in the future will be read through that lens.

I know that isn't true. I know that because I lived the last six months and I know that anything I wrote was true. I also know I wrote less often for that to be so.

I fell down a deep dark hole after Christmas. I didn't know I was in a hole, but there I was, at the bottom of it anyway. You read so much about people just needing to reach out, but you can't reach out when you don't know you need to. I mean it's not an actual hole. It's sadness for no clear reason. It's needing a reason to be happy instead of needing a reason to not be. It's feeling utterly, unbearably alone when people surround you. It's irritability and a lack of patience, even as part of you knows what's happening isn't irritating and can't figure out why you're upset while the other half feels absolutely righteous in your upset and accepts this small, ridiculous thing as something you will never get over. It is feeling so protective over your flickers of joy that you absolutely lose it when something goes wrong and your fragile inner candle is snuffed out. Don't you know how hard I worked to feel happy and hopeful about something? How DARE you forget some small thing I told you to remember and now the whole day is ruined and I don't know how I'll get that happiness back again. ... I promise it all made perfect sense at the time.

It was James who told me something was wrong. It was me who trusted him and his intentions enough to believe it.

My first appointment with my therapist was terrifying. My hands sweated the whole time as I fought not to brush off her every question with a laugh and self-deprecating funny story. I realize now that wouldn't have worked anyway, but at the time answering "I don't know" to multiple questions in a row to a quasi-authority figure was perhaps the bravest thing I've ever done.

"She doesn't understand me at all," I told James after my first visit. "She's totally on the wrong track. It feels like a waste of time." But I kept going, because once I realized I was in the hole I was sure as fuck going to get out of it. And also because I had no idea how to break up with a therapist and I was afraid I'd never start going again to another one. Five months of biweekly visits later and I don't say that anymore. She understands me just fine, she is not on the wrong track, and it is very much not a waste of time. As it turns out, my mental health professional knows more about my mental health than I do.

And so, I have generalized anxiety disorder. I fought that label because I'm not anxious and I don't really worry about things, but that's not always how anxiety manifests itself. Anti-depressants are helping. I was on Lexapro for 2 days and it made me so sick I couldn't leave the couch because my head wanted to explode. I switched to Paxil and have no side effects at all. It's helping. I can feel it helping. I don't have a fight or flight reaction when something hits a stress point or past hurt. Or I don't do it as often and I recognize it better when I do. I still have a ways to go to remission.

The deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain last week hit hard. Bourdain particularly because I'd just finished reading his book Kitchen Confidential and had loved it so much and recommended it to so many. Amy's blog post today hit even harder. I've read Amy since 2007 and she was one of the first to indignantly and supportively publicize what we were going through with Landon in Chicago. I don't have anything particularly wise to add to the conversation going on right now about mental health and suicide. I know that simply telling people to reach out for help isn't enough. Depression lies. Not just in big ways, like suicidal thoughts (something I never had), but in little ways too. In telling you that you're just not trying hard enough; or that you're all alone when you're not; or that nothing is wrong at all and your absolutely abnormal reactions are perfectly normal and justified. After all, you can't yell for help when you don't know you're in the hole. Depression lies.

I don't know what the answer is. I think part of it is actually treating mental health like any other regular aspect of healthcare. It's talking about it and showing what it looks like. Unfortunately I've discovered that poor mental health looks an awful lot like excellent mental health, but I don't think I knew that before. Earlier this year I kept thinking, but I'm still happy! And I was. I'm still social, I love my friends, I work out, I delight in nachos, I have a great job, I love my family... my shit is still together. And all of that was true. But I was still in a hole, feeling inexorably alone. Sometimes I'm still in it. I just know how to climb out now and Paxil gives me the ladder to do it.

I hope that it helps someone to know that. I feel at once more vulnerable and more complete for saying it. I keep coming back to the quote, "Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." This is my battle right now. I'm thankful for access to the tools to help me fight it and I hope I can meet the people in my life better able to help them fight theirs. Even if that just means making someone feel a little less alone in the battle.

51 comments:

  1. Hugs. Your description of what you've been going through so reminds ne of my postpartum depression ( which took me a year and a village ( small and tight-knit online community) to realize that what it is and get help.

    It sucked. It was a black hole. And then when it got better it turned out that a physical condition that I have would cause a new bout of depression whenever its even slightly unbalanced. Yay


    I'm trying to talk about depression and getting help whenever I can. Thank you for doing it ,too.

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  2. I'm so so sorry that you're going through this! But it also makes me happy that you opened up about it. Depression is like a shadow that falls on everything good that's happening. I worked in psych ward and could hardly disguise patients battling with depression. They were usually the ones that made me laugh the most. It is so sad. We're all here for you fighting the damn shadow off you. Sending you light from across our planet.

    Love, Ana from Croatia.

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  3. Sending lots of love! I’m another former swimmer/lawyer over achieving perfectionist and I’ve been down the hole too. My parents also had natural disaster stricken their retirement dreams. Group psychodrama and individual therapy over a few years, plus Zoloft has lifted me out of the hole.

    It’s common, and I didn’t seek support and medication anywhere near soon enough, despite supporting my Mother and encouraging her.

    It is sooo hard to admit you need help. Good on you!

    I’ve enjoyed your real ans cheery and frustrated posts, been here with you over the years since Landon was tiny, and TBH am not entirely surprised by the news.

    I will continue cheer you on from a distance but very strongly supportive of you - ‘warts and all’ - THANK YOU for this, for being you and for letting us have a window on your life. Wishing you Hugs! margaritas! Wine! Queso! Clean countertops! And all good things

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  4. I am glad that you have found a good therapist and that medication works. I have done a few years of therapy and that's the best investment I ever made. You are of course very much entitled to privacy, but I'd be happy to read, once in a while, how you are doing. I wish you all the best!
    Blandine

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  5. Another former swimmer, perfectionist type here, also with generalized anxiety disorder. Thank you for speaking out. It's so hard to see the home when you're in it - it just looks like reality. I'm glad things are looking up.

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  6. Thank you for your courage and honesty! I have been in therapy on and off for many years and it has always improved my quality of life.

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  7. Thank you for your courage in posting this. It came on a day when I needed to be reminded that other strong, amazing women are also struggling. I have always been a huge supporter of mental health care (for myself and others) but since Trump has been elected it feels less clear to me that therapy is the solution. When you are watching your society and your country's humanity crumble, the black hole is hard to avoid. Thanks for the reminder that mental health care is still appropriate, even in these dark days. I try to tell myself that we have to stay mentally strong to keep up the fight. Sorry to take a deeply personal post and turn it political, but I know from your past posts that you feel the same despair. Your blog is a reminder to me to appreciate the joy in life and to give my child happiness amidst the strife in our country. Thank you so much LL.

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  8. Thank you for posting this. I related a great deal to it. You're brave and smart to be getting the help you need. I know how hard it is. Sending love your way from Florida.

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  9. Thank you for sharing! I'm glad you're getting the help you need and hope things keep getting better

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  10. Thank you for sharing this so honestly and openly. I have always admired you, and now have even more reason to do so. Wishing you the best.

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  11. Thank you for sharing and making me thing HARD about the person in my life who I wish would come to this same conclusion and open up to trying therapy. Wishing you the best.

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  12. I have enjoyed reading your blog. Your posts are well thought out and real. Many times I laugh out loud because I thought things only happened to me. Thank you for this post. I had postpartum depression and completely agree with the feeling on being in a hole. Therapy is an amazing thing and we should not be ashamed to go or to tell people which I have not done. Your post today was honest and from the heart, thank you. Keep climbing!

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  13. Thank you for sharing. I admire your honesty and wish you the very very best.

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  14. Yes, yes and yes. Our youngest son is bipolar - the symptoms started when he was very young, about 7 or 8, but we didn't recognize it for what it was at the time. It took years of asking questions, talking to all the professionals we could find. (Aside - there aren't a lot of them out there with the expertise to treat children.) He's 20 now, and has been on medication and in therapy for the past five years. And we still don't talk about it out loud. Family and our dearest friends know, but still...there's a fear of revealing too much. Will telling lead to social isolation, will his friends abandon him? Will it affect his future prospects for education and employment? Will the public knowledge limit his possibilities?

    We call it the Depression Pit. Thank heavens he now has the knowledge to recognize it and the tools to claw his way out when he slips back in. And we have the proper skill set to help him now as well.

    Thank you for your honesty. Stay brave.

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  15. I'm proud of you, friend, both for getting the professional expertise you need and for sharing this facet of your multi-dimensional life with all of us. You are an amazing person and it takes great strength to be so vulnerable.

    Just last week I saw this TED talk and his term "emotional hygiene" really struck a chord with me, similar to what you mentioned about comparing mental and physical health checks. https://www.ted.com/talks/guy_winch_the_case_for_emotional_hygiene

    Lots of love from Austin!

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  16. Thank you for sharing this. As a fellow lawyer and generalized anxiety disorder sufferer, I appreciate it verily.

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  17. thanks for sharing. I can definitely relate, and Paxil was the thing that helped me climb out too. Of course I had all the excuses and avoided medication for months, but thankfully was able to cut through my bs and help myself get better

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  18. Amy's post rocked me, too. She was the one who connected me to your blog so many years ago. I relate to many things you've said here and it is a precious gift to be offered someone else's story and it make me feel less alone. Thank you. Thank you so much. It makes me admire you even more and it makes perfect sense to me. You have carried so much, so graciously, for so long. I hope you are being extra gentle with yourself after posting this. Vulnerability hangovers are real and I'll be thinking of you. xoxox

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  19. So.... wow. I have a lot to say. I had very (very) stupidly held you up as some sort of paragon of lawyer/wife/mommy perfection. You didn't have sweaty-palmed panic attacks in the middle of the night about sh!t you may have messed up somewhere. You didn't ever feel sad or irritable for no reason. I can't tell you how many times I said to myself why couldn't I just be like Lagliv. You exercise! You are thin! You love your work and are great at it! You go on great vacations! So, seeing this reminds me (once again) that no one is perfect. No one has a perfect life. And it's ok to be flawed and human. Thank you for your vulnerability.

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  20. If I didn't completely love your blog before, this post has sealed the deal. I'm impressed with your honest and authentic voice and truly amazed by your bravery. Keep going! What you are doing matters!

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  21. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your courage gives me strength!

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  22. I needed to see this. I was just diagnosed with post partum anxiety (my baby is 11 months old, I resisted for so long). I'm trying to make it a point to tell people. If a friend asks how I'm doing I say that I've been struggling with this and what I'm doing for treatment. But it is all kinds of hard. Especially for us type A lawyer types. Thanks for putting this out there!

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  23. Thank you for this- so glad you reached out for the help. I'm a long time reader who has always enjoyed your perspective and take on life. Really appreciate your bravery in sharing the hard as well as the good parts of life.

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  24. What Mommy Attorney said. I totally felt the exact same way. You're thin! It sounds like you wear lingerie and you get regular date nights with your husband! You exercise! You love your family of origin and see them regularly in amazing vacation homes! You take awesome vacations! Your home is gorgeous and always seasonally decorated on time! Thank you for being vulnerable. Please allow the things I listed above to be cheering you on and reminding you of the many, many things you are quite simply nailing in your life. You've got this.

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  25. I started reading your blog after hearing you on Best of Both Worlds and really enjoy it. I appreciate your honesty. After Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain I wanted to post on facebook that I have been on antidepressants for 10 years now. It seems to me that many women in their 30s-40s are. I didn't post it but feel like everyone being honest about this stuff would be helpful!

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  26. Thank you for this post. My heart also goes out to you and I hope that you find relief in your struggles. I'm in a different life place (a little younger, no children but desperately wanting them) but I love following your blog (came over from the shu box when she asked about three kids). I, like others, have had moments of envy. The funny thing is I often get told by others that they envy my accomplishments/cooking/dedication to exercise/etc and since I got crushed w anxiety and depression over the last six months I always think "what the heck are they talking about?" So it's interesting to hear/see the other side. I've been in therapy for 2.5 months but it's really hard for me to do, and hard to admit the depth of my struggles. Reading this really helped encourage me that I need to be more open and honest. Thank you and take care of yourself - you deserve it.

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  27. I’m proud of you for seeking help and for being brave enough to share your story.

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  28. Thank you for this post! I've suffered with depression and anxiety since I was a teenager but back then it was something you just didn't talk about. It wasn't until I was an adult suffering with serious postpartum depression and anxiety that I finally reached out for help. It's made such a difference in my life and the lives of my family. I fell down that deep dark rabbit hole after the birth of my last child and almost didn't climb out. I had postpartum depression and anxiety that morphed into psychosis. It was the single most terrifying time period in my life. And still- I had family members who shamed me for seeking help. When my 13 year old daughter started showing signs of depression and anxiety last year you better believe I had her an appointment with a therapist and her family doctor immediately. I won't have her suffer in silence the way I did. And I pray that she will have a better understanding of her mental health as an adult. I'll be thinking about you and hope you continue to find joy again!

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  29. Thank you for sharing this. I know it's hard. I'm glad the medication is helping.

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  30. thank you for posting this.

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  31. Thank you. I needed to read this today. I am outspoken about mental health with friends/family/coworkers, but when it came to my own, I couldn't commit to asking for help. About a year ago I reached a breaking point - stress and anxiety got the best of me and I finally asked for the help I so desperately needed. I asked a co-worker if she had ever seen a therapist, and had a healthy conversation that pushed me to explore my mental health benefits at work. I saw two different therapists, and one was so right for me and I've been going nearly every week ever since. It is BY FAR the best thing I have ever done for my health, but I still live in fear of the stigma associated with it, and have only told my closest friends. I know I'm on the cusp of a generation that is open and free about their mental health, and I only hope that I can become freer in sharing my story. My only regret is not seeking help sooner, but I know I wasn't ready before last year and that makes it feel a little better.

    I love your blog and I love that you share so much, and now there is even more to love. I find you and your family incredibly relatable (even though I'm single/no kids/not in law), and I am grateful to have found this little patch of the internet.

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  32. Hi. You may or may not remember me from the university of Chicago law school but I have bipolar disorder and take 10 mg of olanzapine every evening before bed. It works well for me. God blessed! Thanks for sharing your story and struggles. You are truly inspiring!!

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  33. Thanks for posting this, and good luck with the work you're doing. I had to smile at the comment above: "Your home is gorgeous and always seasonally decorated on time!". Once, when I was having a hard time a few years ago, I pulled into my driveway (late for dinner with the kids, natch), one weekday the last day of November, and it was dark and cold, and I looked at the neighbor's house, beautifully lit with holiday lights, and instead of noticing the beauty, I thought: "Damn those neighbors and their stupid time-having perfection." Made me sad but that's what I thought. Sigh.

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  34. Thanks for sharing this! I'm impressed that you're doing your part to normalize mental healthcare needs, even if it's not totally in your comfort zone to do so. Good work!

    Have a great week! I hope you and the kids and DH have some good pool or nacho/cheese/summer fun time together.

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  35. I'm a shrink and I have a hard time admitting that I go to a therapist. It took seeing that my kid needed one to force me to actively fight the stigma. I'm so glad you didn't break up with her and that the world is looking a little brighter <3

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  36. Thank you for posting this. I haven't been on antidepressants in over 15 years but I know that I need to be. This is a good reminder as to why.
    Butterflyfish

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  37. It's hard to get out of the hole if you don't know you're in it. Thank goodness James said something, and that you listened and got help, even when you weren't sure about the therapist.

    And thank you for sharing your story.

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  38. I've been reading your blog since the Chicago days, but I don't think I've ever posted. Thank you for posting this. My almost 11 year old daughter has both generalized anxiety disorder and depression. On top of ADHD and Type 1 diabetes. It's a lot to have on your plate in 5th grade. I struggle to understand what she's going through and your description of your situation helps tremendously. We just had a med change and I'm starting to see a spark of my old little girl. I'm really hoping we get the meds figured out over the summer, so she can start middle school off with a bang.

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  39. Thank you for posting -- you are such a strong, successful woman, and it helps so much to know that you have cracks. I hope you don't mind my saying that. My husband, who is an amazing, talented man, is struggling right now -- he is chronically depressed and happens to be really down this week -- I mean, can-hardly-get-out-of-bed down. I'm crying, because it's that important to know we aren't alone. Thank you.

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  40. Thank you so much for sharing! I also have generalized anxiety disorder. We all need to shed light on making mental health part of a "normal" conversation! Hugs to you!

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  41. LL...it's been a few years since I've written a comment to you but I've checked in regularly. I've had life interrupt the smooth sailing too. And life's tough young lady...you've been thru so much that I don't doubt the hole took you too. I can barely begin to reference the start of it b/c it hurts to think of you thinking of it. I'm so proud of JP for recognizing your struggle and for you in seeking help and yet again, fighting to make it right. --Desimom

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  42. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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  43. Would you mind if I asked a few questions, I also struggle with depression and mostly anxiety, probably one causes the other, but I struggle none-the-less. You obviously are a very happy person, motivated, successful, anything but lazy and also very busy. I listed to your pod cast and you mentioned you starting subbing Barre because you wanted to fill the small voids of free time. My husband suggested to me that I create my own anxiety by scheduling to many things, do you think maybe that's the case with you? Like you, I have many things to be grateful for; 4 amazing kids, marriage, our home, our health, low debt, etc... and still I don't feel happy all the time. Why is that? Is this what you struggle with or is it the lonesomeness? What do you think has the biggest impact for you, the meds or counseling? Reading this post made me feel so much more normal because even the happiest of people, people who I also highly respect can struggle with the same things I do. I've always felt something is wrong with me, less than and undeserving and just like talking to other moms about how kids do "this" and "that", hearing and talking about mental illness helps, reminds me I'm not alone in this battle. I wish I could look on the bright side of things, it's hard

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  44. Thank you for sharing! I have MDD and have been off of my medication throughout my pregnancy and have been struggling lately. It's helpful to remember that I'm not in this alone.

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  45. Thank you for posting this. I, after many months of hemming and hawing and asking my husband to go to therapy, just recognized how deep of a hole I was in myself and just scheduled an appointment. This was really important. Thank you

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  46. I kind of wonder if... EVERYONE is like this?

    I would use the same analogy, feeling like I had fallen into a deep pit -- although in my case, I feel like there is a ladder, it just feels impossible to climb up it for a while. And I used to think something is wrong with me, but now I wonder if this is actually normal and everyone goes through it but just not all at the same time.

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    1. I think everyone is susceptible, but to varying degrees.

      I find myself to be pretty emotionally resilient, but when I went to law school in a city away from anyone I knew, living in an apartment by myself, the loneliness really got to me. I thought it would be fine to live by myself - I'm an introvert, after all - but I found myself unequipped to form meaningful connections, and I began to increasingly isolate myself with each passing month. Friends and family noticed that I wasn't as upbeat as I used to be, but I didn't realize how bad things were until my circumstances changed and I had a chance to reflect.

      However, as soon as my circumstances DID change, that's all it took for me to snap back. I know many that require more support than that. It's why my husband has been pushing for us all to have regular mental health checkups, just like we have regular physical checkups. Especially now that we have kids, we want to have supports in place as they get older. I think it's a wonderful idea - it would remove stigma, and give us a way to voice concerns with a professional who's been keeping track of the whole family - but I have no idea how to go about finding someone for such a thing. It's not therapy, exactly...

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  47. Thank you for sharing! Sending you a big internet hug. <3

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  48. Can't tell you how much I appreciated this post. I am a new reader (found you through SHUbox) and am enjoying reading and then this came along and struck me deeply. I'm going through a very overwhelming time and while I've seen a therapist before, I kept pushing it off this time (too expensive, not enough time...any excuse, really). But, reading this helped me push past that and now I have an appointment on Tuesday. So thank you, very much.

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  49. AGH lost comment as I was typing it.

    Just wanted to say thank you for being so open, and I"m so glad things are going better now. I've been to therapy before (last year) and it was amazing. I'd go again in a heartbeat!

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  50. Your blog, your stories, and I'm delighted to read whatever you care to share. This post is a gift to the conversation about mental health, so thank you for talking about your struggles. I'm sorry you and your family are going through this, but glad that you have strong supports in place to help you back to wellness. Knowing "the organized girl" (as your are known in my house) with the amazing work ethic and life also has these kinds of difficulties is a helpful reminder that everyone is going through something. Amy's and now your posts this week have made me take a hard look at some things going on in my own life, so I really appreciate your perspective. Keep on taking care of yourself!!

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