Arriving Comfortably Numb via the Waterlogged Journal

July 20, 2015

It’s my first day at home with the kids. It’s going good. I was terrified. I had a mini panic attack last night. My lower back spasmed and the nerves started firing; my right leg was shaking so hard & I couldn’t control it. Then my left leg started. Thankfully, Lee was right there and was holding me. If he hadn’t, I’m pretty sure I would have fallen on my face.

July 23, 2015 (an excerpt)

I’m afraid to say it outlaid. I’m even afraid to write it. I don’t want to jinx myself. I want to keep getting better. My next big goal is picking up Violet (15 month old), then getting up and down off the floor…So many things scare me now. Will I hurt myself getting up? Will I spasm today? Will I fall? More things for anxiety to feed and grow on. Yay. I’m about to get up and I hate that I’m nervous. I hate all the nagging doubts in my head. I hate the little voices that whisper and cause me to doubt and fear.

July 29, 2015 (an excerpt)

I’m so tired of being afraid of my own body. I have o faith in my back, my legs, my body. It scares me nearly every time I stand up; is this going to hurt? Am I going to cause damage this time? 

I went to the ER because my back was hurt. I expected a handful of muscle relaxers and pain pills. I never expected surgery. I never expected to stay in the hospital for a week. I still can’t wrap my head around this. I feel like I’ve lost weeks worth of time. When I left, Violet was still a baby. Now, she’s a full-blown toddler. I don’t know where anything is in my house….

I’m pissed that I still hurt. I hate being anxious. I hate being afraid. I hate not being able to pick up my baby. I hate that diaper changes hurt…I’m angry that it hurts to cry. That it hurts to laugh. That I’m unable to do all the things I had planned. I can’t go school shopping by myself. I can’t put Violet in her car seat. I can’t install the car seats that were taken out. I can’t go to the store without being scared someone will bump into me and make me fall. I have to have Lee babysit me. How is that fair?

August 5, 2015 (an excerpt)

I hate anxiety. I hate it. I hate the stupid scenarios that I know are stupid, but can’t stop thinking about. Why am I worried about bears? Why am I coming up with scenarios that involve saving my kids from bears?

September 25, 2015

Today, I decided I can’t see the big picture anymore. That saying “Can’t see the forest through the trees?” Pretty sure I can’t even see the trees through the fog at the moment. And no one seems to notice. No one seems to notice I’m drowning…

October 6, 2015

I should be cleaning, but decided journaling would be better. So much has happened in this past week. I started some meds, Celexa, and I’ve seen an improvement. The anxiety isn’t constant. It isn’t pressing down on my chest all day long. I feel lighter. I feel happier. I don’t know if this is a placebo effect or if it’s truly working. I don’t think I care.

That was my last entry for two years. The next entry was only a single page. The words feel haunting now.

January 25, 2017

I’ve been outspoken lately, saying things I’ve held back on. It hurts. There have been so many to react negatively. Am I hiding myself? Have I compressed myself so much that people assume I’m complacent? How can people “know” me and still be surprised? Have I lost my voice? Have I spent too many years quieting it?

That’s the last entry in my waterlogged journal. I found three other journals as I opened boxes, looked on bookshelves, and rummaged through my nightstand. Two of the journals were empty, still waiting to be written in. One has two letters from 2017. One is a letter to my oldest daughter who was turning ten, the other letter is for Violet who had turned four. I sit here, stunned. 

I have written in journals since I have been eight years old. I filled them from cover to cover. There is only one that I’m missing; I’m positive that an abusive ex held onto it. For several years, I used an online journal. I’m desperate to get it printed out and bound. It worries me that I’ve gone nearly two years without writing a journal entry. This feels as horrible as a physical blow to the gut. Two years lost. Two years I will never be able to look at for insight. The last fact is especially troubling.

On June 13, 2015, I underwent emergency back surgery. According to my surgical report, I had a bilateral L5 and S1 laminectomies and epidural abscess evacuation. A lumbosacral epidural abscess caused my spinal cord to swell (or, in my doctor’s terminology, “lumbar spinal canal stenosis”), which was resulting in paraparesis, my lower limbs becoming paralyzed. That, my friends, is a story for another post. It’s a rollercoaster of a ride. The journal entries above clearly show some of the psychological trauma and damage that occurred. My anxiety was at an all-time high. At the beginning of January 2016, I went and saw my doctor. I cried and explained how horrible I felt. How I was scared all the time; I thought I was depressed. We decided to try Celexa to see if it helped after I told him I had been on Zoloft for years and didn’t see much of a difference. I had also tried Prozac but it gave me horrible insomnia. While there, I was also diagnosed with “walking pneumonia” and told to take it easy. Ha!

I still remember the first dose’s effect. I felt amazing. I had energy. I wasn’t afraid to breathe. I felt giddy. Standing by the stove, I clapped my hands together and just grinned. I felt normal. I felt like the girl I used to be. The fearless one who walked Randy-Mac’s campus and enjoyed climbing mountains. The one who smiled in all her photos and didn’t have scars that were invisible to everyone else. I felt happy. It was intoxicating. I never wanted it to go away.

However, just like a buzz from fizzy champagne, the high faded. For the first time in my life, I felt like an addict. I wanted to chase that high. I wanted it back. I needed that joy, the unbridled thrill of being alive. We upped my dosage. The desperation that clawed at me then is now a vivid memory as I type out these words. More than anything, I wanted to be happy. I wanted to wake up and be able to move without fear. I needed to be able to pick up my youngest, hold her close, and never worry about my back seizing again. Desperately, I yearned to be able to play with my kids and enjoy them again. I wanted to experience, explore, and enjoy life in a way that had been absent for a marked amount of time. 

For awhile, I’d like to believe it worked. Or I thought it worked. As it usually does, weight began to creep up on me. Clothing stopped fitting comfortably. Shirts grew tight, pants became too small. One morning—I have no frame of reference for the date—I remember eating three Dunkin Donuts French Cruellers. I think this was the first real moment that I began to realize something wasn’t right. I didn’t want to eat three donuts. I wasn’t hungry enough to eat three. I didn’t need three. Despite knowing all this, I stood there and ate it. 

At some point, I googled the side effects of Celexa. I discovered that binge-eating can be one of them. The details are fuzzy on the how and when, but I remember changing doses again. This time, however, we lowered the dose to see if it would reduce the binge-eating effect. Looking back, I honestly can’t say if it altered the binge-eating. I know that I was easily eating more than I needed to. I couldn’t lose weight. When we moved to Florida, I was 34 weeks pregnant. Prior to becoming pregnant, I had been a size six. I had been easily in the best shape of my life. After having my third child, the weight stayed. It stayed until my week-long stay in the hospital that resulted in a massive weight loss. 

Celexa’s urge to eat caused my weight to soar into the 200s. It felt like it was beginning to go down when I became pregnant with my fourth child. It was painful to look at the scale during my doctor’s visits. I actively avoided doing so for the entire pregnancy. I even told the office staff that I did not want to know and to please not tell me. I am beyond grateful that my OB and my midwife understood the fragile state of my relationship with food and weight. They never shamed me or made me feel more insecure about myself.

To compound this issue, early on in my pregnancy, I was advised to quit Celexa cold-turkey and immediately switch to Zoloft. This was a horrible, traumatic, insane thing to do to me. For the next few weeks, I was in extreme distress. I felt like I was losing my mind and rode a roller-coaster of emotions. During this time, I quit my job because I couldn’t handle the stress of interacting with customers. As each shift began, I was terrified that I would snap at someone and be fired. I tearfully confided to my manager that I was pregnant, switching medications, and could not handle anything other than inhaling and exhaling. She was gracious and handled my freak out with a kindness I will always remember.

Nearing a panicked state, I went to my pharmacist and begged her for help. I explained what was going on and the amount of anguish I was currently in. She was aghast at the instructions I had been given and told my she would be happy to call my provider and tell them she would rather me continue a medication that was working versus taking a medication that was causing me such distress. With her guidance, I stopped taking Zoloft and switched back to Celexa. The relief was indescribable. I was now thoroughly terrified of being taken off Celexa. It seemed that this was the one medication that made my brain function normally. I swore I wouldn’t go through that pain again.

The crapshoot of genetic material also prepositioned me to more likely to face postpartum depression. This happened after my first pregnancy. It happened after my second, but not to the same degree. I had taken medication throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period in order to prevent it. Despite this, with my third child, we again played Russian roulette trying to find the magic combo that worked. I suffered a deep postpartum depression that was coupled with a crippling postpartum anxiety that caused panic/anxiety attacks. It was a very dark time. 

My daughter was 15 months old when I had emergency back surgery. I had began therapy a few months prior and was beginning to pull myself out of the dark hole that had taken over my life. I felt more in control that I had in awhile and was making progress. Then, back surgery threw me so far back in the hole that I couldn’t see even a tiny pinpoint of light.

This past June 13 marked four years since I underwent that emergency surgery that altered the course of my life. June is a particularly hard month for me. Thanks to Timehop, I revisit the insanity every year. The first year, I skipped it. I couldn’t handle the thought of looking back. I was able to look at the photos and memories the second year. Last year was in such an upheaval with being separated from my husband, having a newborn and handling three other children, that I rarely opened any app’s memory function. I found the courage to this year from going back and reading the journal entries that I transcribed above. 

The thing that stands out the most to be is the terrifying fear and panic I feel in each pen stroke. No wonder I latched onto Celexa like it was a life-saving device when I was drowning. I thought it had saved me; why would I ever consider that it was also harming me? Had anyone suggested such a thing, I would have laughed in their face. “Nonsense!” I would have cried. “This medication is life-saving. It’s completely altered my life. It’s allowed me to live and breathe!” It did for a time. I don’t know when, and I don’t know why, but at some point, Celexa quit lifting me up and began to drag me down.

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