Dear Doctor B,
There’s a lot of stigma around medication for mental health, especially in certain places of faith, mine included. I’d wrestled against personal use of medication for a long time. I was afraid of its power and embarrassed by my struggle. I didn’t want to numb my feelings or enable my own sin, but I wanted to have a life that was more than just managing my PTSD. I spent years clarifying my life calling and years praying against fear. None of that actually eased the ache in my soul, or calmed the anxiety that clawed at my throat.
When I first came to you, my Gus was 6 months old. I’d been dealing with PTSD for a long time at that point, and my life was full of various counseling sessions, therapists, mindfulness exercises, prayer, and specific diet/exercise routines. But it had become clear that my son needed more of a mom than what was left over from the effort to show up and be alive.
When I first came to you, I was embarrassed to need your services and scared to admit how desperate I was. I was embarrassed by the accomplishments that hung framed on your walls, and embarrassed that getting out bed every morning is an unframed accomplishment for me. Your daughter and my Gus are very close in age, and you can’t be that much older than I am. You’ve always been poised and polished in that gorgeous, sunlit Upper East Side office, and I often showed up on the wrong day or at the wrong time covered in spit up and wet from the rain and the baby’s spit ups–and that’s only if I remembered our appointments at all. I lost the comparison game every time I played it with you in my messy head.
The shame and vulnerability of visiting you choked me each time I walked into an appointment. But my family needed a functioning mom and wife, and the medication regime you crafted lets me be her. It lets the me my husband loves best out from under the heavy panic attacks and sobbing. With these medications, I’m able to be present in my own body and feel what is happening around me. I no longer have to plan my life around avoiding panic attacks, insomnia, and depression! Those beasts are still in my yard, and sometimes they sneak into my house, but they aren’t constantly fighting for the best bite of me to gnaw on. It didn’t take long for my shame at the process and the label to lose to my need for the life the meds allow me.
The right medication in the right dosage doesn’t numb me. It feels like a layer of body armor that gives me just enough strength to be in my own body–in the same, vulnerable body that many have done what they pleased with. My medications were (and continue to be) so helpful. My depression and anxiety are grounded in very real grief and pain–and the medication eases the burden on my body of carrying these traumas. They create a calm space in my body where I don’t have to fight memories or overwhelming feelings to be. I am reliably present with my children and my husband; crawling under heavy blankets to sob until the panic subsides still happens, but much more rarely.
Thank you, Doctor B, for affirming my sense of worth in the process. You are intimidating and intelligent, but you are also very kind and clinical. Working with you to find a prescription regimen was empowering. In my appointments with you, I always felt more like I had a broken arm than a shattered soul, that I was just a normal woman visiting a normal doctor.
Your manner helped me feel like I deserve the life that the medications enable me live; that I do deserve a life free of panic attacks and crippling death thoughts, a life free of the past invading all my everyday moments, a life with fewer nightmares and easier mornings. Thanks to you I believe that I deserve the normalcy that the right medications offer, and I have it.
We were partners, you and I, and I’m sad to have to transition to a new psychiatrist in my new city. I’m so grateful you’ve agreed to help transfer my care. Thank you for all you’ve done for me and my family.
The news reports that 1 in 4 women are on antidepressants, but can we agree with my friend Rebekah to say instead: “25% of women have taken back their lives.”