When my husband walked in from work, I was sitting on the couch, surrounded by piles of folded laundry. “Wow!” he grinned.
I smiled back. I had put clean sheets on the beds and wiped down the kitchen counters, too. Both boys had been asleep since 7pm. I had caught up on This is Us and folded hundreds of tiny shirts and underpants.
I smiled because I had actually wanted to do the laundry. I smiled because my husband was home and I was happy to see him.
I smiled because I’ve been taking Prozac.
The truth is, I’ve been battling anxiety and depression for a while now, but I’ve struggled to identify whether the problem was internal or external. As a new friend said to me recently, “I thought anxiety just came with being married to the military!”
This season of life has been objectively challenging: In the last three years I’ve given birth twice, solo parented through my husband’s medical training, PCS’d, and endured our first deployment.
As military spouses, we may look at that list and say “right – this is the stuff of life,” but that doesn’t mean these things are any less stressful because we have no choice but to live through them.
Some of us married a spouse with PTSD or are trauma survivors ourselves. Living far from family, raising small children, maintaining a home, doing meaningful work — daily life can begin to take its toll. And if you struggle with perfectionism, like I do, the stress of trying to do it all coupled with the inability to feel like you’re doing anything well can lead to intense feelings.
I was overwhelmed, so I did all the things we’re supposed to do. I went to therapy, exercised more, ate clean (well, clean-er), reached out to friends, utilized babysitters, got involved with my church community. But anxiety still had me in its grip.
Anxiety is Sneaky
For the record, anxiety doesn’t always show up in the ways you’d expect. I always thought it looked like fear, but it is so much more complex. Anxiety can look like:
- trouble sleeping – Trying to fall asleep with a racing heart, wondering what time of night your kids will wake up.
- social isolation – When you can’t control or predict your children’s behavior (or the reactions others will have), it’s easier to just stay home.
- panic – Even when you let others help you, they can’t meet your (borderline OCD) expectations. Since you know you’re far from perfect yourself, you realize things will never get done the way you want them.
- anger – The panic churns and churns inside you until the fear transforms you into a rage monster.
This last one — the anger — is the one that made me realize something had to change. Almost daily I found myself yelling. I yelled at my husband, the kids, the cat, myself. It was as if the only way I knew how to rid myself of all the panic was to force it out through my lungs. It wasn’t just about the big stuff, like the 3-year-old hitting his brother, but also the small stuff, like my husband suggesting we do something spontaneous rather than sticking to the plan I gripped so tightly in my fingers.
Guilt was quick to follow, and on the heels of guilt, depression.
I felt like I was failing as a wife and mom — I couldn’t keep my act together, couldn’t keep my cool, couldn’t let other people help me — and that guilt made room for depression, which whispered that maybe my family would be better off without me. I felt so alone.
You’re Not Alone
When I finally talked to my doctor, I said I felt like I should have a better handle on things. Life today seems relatively calm compared to all that transpired in the last few years.
“My husband is home and my kids aren’t newborns,” I said. “I feel like I should be doing better than this.”
Her eyes were kind as she shook her head and asked if I realized just how many women sat in my spot, telling her a version of the same story.
“You live far from family,” she said. “Your children are small and demand a lot of your time and energy. The circumstances that are causing you stress are not going to change – not until your children start sleeping and, you know, your husband leaves the military.”
We both laughed.
“You are not alone in this,” she repeated.
She’s right. When I thought about the women I consider dear friends, I realized more than a few have chosen to use antidepressants or other medication, at least for a season.
I hadn’t wanted to go the medicated route, not because I thought there was anything wrong with taking pills, but because I had convinced myself I didn’t need to: my anxiety was all tied to circumstances, stuff to work out in therapy. But after a year of dedicated effort to improve my mental health, the answer was clear: I needed another tool in my toolbox. I was tired of being angry and sad all the time.
So, my doctor prescribed me some pills.
The Freedom to Try Something New
I took that prescription and thought about what my therapist had told me weeks earlier: “Just because you get a prescription, doesn’t mean you have to fill it. Just because you fill the prescription, doesn’t mean you have to pick up the pills. Just because you pick up the pills, doesn’t mean you have to take them. This is your body. Your decision.”
So under no obligation to anyone or anything but my own desire to take better care of myself, I picked up those pills and began taking them.
And you know what? They’re working. I don’t feel like a different person; instead, I feel like a calmer, more rested version of myself. I still feel things passionately (pretty sure I was just made that way), but I can let go of negative feelings faster. I find myself shrugging off annoyances and remembering what it’s like to be a person who isn’t constantly on edge.
Stitches on a Wound
For me, medication is not likely a long-term solution. Like stitches used to suture a wound while the body works to heal itself, the pills will help me hold myself together as I do the deeper work of healing. Will I take the pills forever? Probably not. The idea is to use them alongside my other methods of self care.
In the meantime, I’m yelling less and laughing more, content to balance my mental checklist with last-minute Netflix dates with my husband. I’m a few steps closer to being the woman I want to be — to being the kind of wife and mom I need to be. For the first time in forever, I feel like I have permission to breathe.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or suspect you may be anxious or depressed, please contact your physician to discuss treatment options. Medication isn’t for everyone, but counseling can be helpful to us all, especially during times of stress.