If you’ve been around these parts for any amount of time, you know I’ve wrestled with seasons of anxiety, depression, and even a time where a shrink thought I was bi-polar II (I wasn’t). One of the crazy (ha!) things about mental health is it’s really difficult to diagnose and if you’re serious about getting healthy (Note: Not fixed, not medicated, but healthy), you agree to subject yourself to a myriad of paths to find that health. Paths like:
- A commitment to be healthy physically – heal thyself. All the stuff you hear about eating well and exercising truly plays a large role in your mental health. Will it cure you? Maybe. Maybe not.
- A commitment to be healthy spiritually – this is so when those uneducated folk say you just need to pray more, you can, with confidence and tact, tell them to shut up. But seriously, spend time with God. He wants to be with you in these seasons.
- Medication – sometimes with horrible side effects. It is a roulette. I’ve been on medication that made me hallucinate and have paranoid thoughts before. Meds that made me have MORE panic attacks. Meds that made me gain weight. Meds that made me have brain zaps. Meds that numbed me out where I couldn’t laugh or feel anything. I’ve also had meds that work wonderfully. When you find those medications, you praise Jesus like there’s manna raining down from heaven above..
I had my first panic attack at the age of 14 and a roller coaster of neuro-transmitting madness in my 20s. Things mostly balanced out in my 30s until the last few years when I thought a brief spell of sadness and apathy would resolve like it normally did.
But it didn’t.
We moved to Lubbock a little over a month ago and within the first couple of weeks, the depression only intensified. Thoughts of harming myself crept in and wouldn’t go away. I made an appointment with a doctor and after a really good conversation (tip: doctors who listen are seriously the best), I started on 10 tiny milligrams of prozac – an SSRI that helps treat depression, anxiety, and obsessive thoughts.
My previous experience with SSRIs have been terrible. Literally. Terrible. So I was nervous to start, but I knew I couldn’t not. I had to jump back into that game of medication roulette.
This time, I decided I would get nerdy about it. If I went back to the doctor in a month and he asked how I was doing, I would probably think of how I felt overall in the last few days.
I wanted to see if prozac was really working for me, and if so, how well. I needed quantitative data.
So I charted. I pulled out my spreadsheet and I got to work.
I took six positive mental health characteristics (like energy and optimism) and four unhealthy characteristics (like apathy and anxiety) and rated them on a scale from 0 to 10 (0 being “not experiencing”; 10 being “fully experiencing”) and I went to town. Each night I would simply note what number I felt best represented how that day went with 10 of those characteristics.
Three weeks in, I have some cool looking charts that are providing me (and my doctor) with some good information.
You can click on it to see it full-size.
The top chart represents those healthy characteristics and the bottom chart represents the unhealthy ones. The hope is to see the top chart slowly climbing up while the bottom chart is steadily kerplunking down.
A few interesting observations which I wouldn’t have noticed if it weren’t for a visual aid:
- About every 7th day I have a rough day. You can see the top chart spike down and the bottom chart punch up.
- While most of the healthy qualities are increasing and the unhealthy are decreasing, my anxiety is still pretty consistent, with it really going through the roof during certain times of the months when my hormones are crazy.
I’ve had people contact me before about their mental health, asking if it was a sin (no), if medication helps (usually), and how do we know if it’s working (here you go). Being aware (but not overly aware) of where we are weak and where we are strong and how we are changing by making healthful choices can truly provide huge relief where you’re struggling and where it seems hopeless.
You’re not alone, you never are, and you’re not “less than” if you feel your life is caught up in a whirlwind of seemingly uncontrollable anxiety, sadness, fear, loss, pain, or confusion. Speak about it. Speak openly about it. Ask for help. People want to help. Ask for prayer. People want to pray. Just know – even though you feel alone and those voices in your head are confirming it – you are not.
You are loved because you are His and because you are His, we all belong to each other.