The 1 Thing No One Told Me About Depression

People always told me how great I would feel once I started taking medication. However, no one told me how difficult it would be once I tried to quit.

It was March 2016 when I finally got diagnosed with depression. Truth be told, I had been struggling with it for many months prior (and off and on for years prior to that), but it wasn’t until that day in March that I spoke to my doctor and got official word that my symptoms resembled anxiety and depression.

Ironically, that was the day I started feeling better. Perhaps it was because I finally had hope that things would get better. Maybe the depression had finally run its course. I’m not sure. But I specifically remember walking out of the doctor’s office with a smile on my face…and a prescription in my hand.

Little did I know what that prescription for 10 mg of Lexapro would bring with it.

Before I continue on, let me make clear I am in no way anti-medicine, anti-antidepressants (is that a thing?), or about to discuss the overwhelming drug epidemic in our country. That’s a conversation for another time.

The truth is that small white pill worked–not immediately, but over the course of the next several weeks I gradually felt better. It was doing what it was supposed to do. It did carry some side effects, like weight gain and headaches early on, but I soon adjusted and felt better than I had in a long time. My mood was better, I was sleeping better, and life was better.

As we fast forward three years, I’m happy to say I’m doing great and depression seems far behind me (though many of us know it has a way of sneaking up when we least expect it). And because I’m doing better, my doctor has given me clearance to start tapering off of Lexapro. That’s a great thing…until it isn’t.

When it came to depression, people always told me how great I would feel once I started taking medication. However, no one told me how difficult it would be once I tried to quit and the withdrawal symptoms set in. 

Here I sit on January 21, 2019, six months into the withdrawal process, and it’s not too pretty. My dosage has dropped from 10 mg to 2.5 mg (I’m basically swallowing dust), and yet I haven’t been able to completely stop. Each time I’ve reduced my dosage, I’ve experienced headaches, lightheadedness, and increased irritability. On some occasions, anger and rage have accompanied the withdrawal process.

In doing some research, I found out I’m far from alone in this process. Many others experience these same symptoms, and even to higher degrees. Some described not being able to sleep. One described having rage so bad that he ripped off a paper towel dispenser in a public bathroom. Many others said they had changed from a calm person to Captain Road Rage in a short amount of time. I even found out that some people have had to enter 30 day rehabilitation centers just to deal with the withdrawal effects of Lexapro and other SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). I’m extremely thankful my effects haven’t been that severe, but I do have sympathy for those dealing with the aftereffects. There are a lot of factors in play, but withdrawal symptoms from Lexapro and other SSRIs can usually last 90 days and sometimes even up to a year. That’s a bit scary.

So what’s my point? It’s definitely not that you should avoid all doctors and medication when it comes to depression and anxiety. I’d preach the opposite of that. Talking to my doctor about the issue was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done, and right now I’m currently taking Wellbutrin, which doesn’t seem to have any side effects, and it’s also supposed to help me “stop smoking” (Mission accomplished! 34 years and counting… ).

Here’s what I want to get at: The world is starting to open up a bit more about depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. That’s huge. We need to remove the stigma surrounding these things. But we can’t just stop there. Once people seek help and treatment, we need to stay with them through the process and be active listeners and humble encouragers. Simply getting them to the doctor does not fix the problem. A single pill does not fix the problem. In fact, a lot of people feel worse after getting on medication, and it can take time to find the proper medication and dosage.

I’d like to encourage anyone reading this to go the extra mile when dealing with these issues. If you’re struggling with anxiety and depression and have seen a doctor and obtained medication, don’t feel like something is wrong if you don’t feel perfect. Don’t feel like you’re messed up if the medication is causing weird side effects or you just don’t feel like yourself. If your dosage changes or you’re tapering off, don’t be hard on yourself if you feel likes changes are happening that you can’t control.

And if you love someone who is dealing with these things, walk with them through it. Our culture is getting much better with encouraging people to be open about their mental illness and to seek treatment. But the conversation can’t stop there. Seeking help and treatment is only Step 1 of the journey. Be a person your friends can talk to honestly and openly. Listen more than you talk, and when you talk use your words to ask questions, facilitate honest conversation, and encourage.

I’m thankful for the effect medication had on me. I’m struggling with the way it affects me now as I try to kiss it goodbye.

No one ever told me about this part of the journey. If you’re on it, know you’re not alone and I’m walking it with you.

Never hesitate to reach out:

The MNPS School Board: The House Is Burning but “This Is Fine”

I messed up at work this week.

It wasn’t a huge mistake. On a scale of 1-10, it was probably a 1.5. But nonetheless, a simple oversight on my part resulted in a mistake.

When my boss found out about it, he came to my office, not to scold me, but to offer me a suggestion on how to do things better so that mistake wouldn’t happen again. In his wisdom he offered a practical solution on how I could improve on something.

When it comes to life, learning from our mistakes is a part of growth and maturity. However, if we’re afraid to admit we make mistakes or afraid to admit we need improvement, we’ll fail to grow.

With this idea in mind, I found myself floored this week when I read the evaluations of MNPS Director Shawn Joseph that were completed and compiled by the MNPS Board Members. For anyone who works in MNPS or has been connected with the school system, it should be no surprise that Dr. Joseph has made his fair share of mistakes and has had many shortcomings. I won’t rehash it all here, but if you’re interested in reading my assessment, you can find it on my Facebook page.

MNPS is in the worst shape it’s been in in many years. Teachers aren’t getting their promised raises. Insurance premiums are rising. Projections from the MNPS Central Office have been way off. The district can’t get the funding it needs for next year. The district has to keep asking the Metro Council for additional money this year. Teacher retention and morale are sinking like the Titanic. Things are not good.

And yet if you read the evaluations of Dr. Joseph, you’ll find that everything seems just fine and dandy. The MNPS School Board had to rate Joseph on over 100 categories with their choices being Unsatisfactory, Needs Improvement, Meets Expectations, Exceeds Expectations, and Exceptional.

I was quite confident Joseph would score on the low end of things, but wow, was I wrong! If my research and eyes are correct, 3 of the 9 board members (Anna Shepherd, Tyese Hunter, and Dr. Jo Ann Brannon) did not give Dr. Joseph a single score lower than “Meets Expectations” out of the 100+ categories. A fourth board member, Christiane Buggs, only marked “Needs Improvement” on one item and everything else was “Meets Expectations” or above.

What world are we living in? Anyone connected with MNPS knows that Shawn Joseph has A LOT to improve on, yet almost half of our board members don’t believe that? Are they lying to themselves or just turning a blind eye to what’s going on? If you asked teachers in the district to evaluate Joseph, you’d see a much different result. You’d likely hear about him using a personal chauffeur despite MNPS hurting for funding. You’d hear about him refusing to answer important questions from board members. You’d hear about him exceeding spending levels for unauthorized spending. You’d hear about him hiring his personal friends and paying them $20,000 ABOVE the pay scale.  You’d hear how he’s ignoring the crisis of lead in the water in our schools. So for a solid faction of our board members to say everything “meets expectations” or is even better is a slap in the face to teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, and students.

How will things ever improve if we won’t even admit there’s a problem? The MNPS ship has hit the iceberg, and yet those in charge keep saying, “This is fine.”

Not only does it seem like they’re turning a blind eye, but at the last school board meeting, Christiane Buggs seemed to lecture those school board members who were actually doing their jobs and asking the hard questions and providing truthful evaluations. Her implications seemed to slam those who actually see the problems and want to do something about it. The hypocrisy is astounding. Buggs was the same person who got on Twitter last year and referred to Donald Trump as Satan, Hitler, Stalin, a Nazi, and a Fascist. Whether or not you support Donald Trump is beside the point. Buggs seems to have the ability to point out failed leadership at the highest level, but can’t do it when it’s one of the responsibilities of her job.

There are a million more things I could say, but frankly, I’m not sure it’s worth my time or frustration. If you want to read more and get into the specifics, I’d highly recommend you read TC Weber’s blog “Dad Gone Wild.” He does a tremendous job of breaking down all of this. By the way, TC is running for school board in District 2. We DESPERATELY need him on the school board. If you live in District 2 or know people who do, get his name out there and give him a vote.

What this all comes down to is failed leadership, and it starts at the very top with Dr. Joseph. Unfortunately, several of our board members have become enablers to the process, which means there is no accountability. No accountability leads to leadership problems, ethical problems, moral problems, and more. And who do those problems affect the most? Our teachers and students.

Our school board needs to step up and face reality. They are helping absolutely no one by ignoring the truth and overlooking the facts. Shawn Joseph works for the MNPS School Board. The MNPS School Board does not work for Shawn Joseph.

Until they realize that and have the best interests of our teachers and students in mind, the house will continue to burn, and they’ll continue to tell us, “This is fine.”

The Most Awkward Song I Ever Played

When I was in high school, our youth group took a missions trip to Georgia and stayed at a church/funeral home. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s a bit awkward when someone tells you to grab the broom “next to the embalming fluid” or to “grab the hotdog buns on top of the gurney.”

We were scheduled to do a youth rally the same night a funeral visitation was taking place. As our “rally” went on in one room, people were paying their respects in another.

After the rally was over and the room cleared out, those of us in the band decided to play some non-church music. As the drums were smashing and I was thumping a familiar bass line, someone ran into the room and shouted, “You have to stop! You can’t play that song! They can hear it in the next room!”

Why the commotion? We were playing “Another One Bites the Dust.”

My Dentist Locked Me Out

Yesterday I had a 2:00 PM dentist appointment. Being the time conscious person I am, I arrived around 1:45 to make sure I was on time. When I got there, the parking lot was completely empty and there was a sign on the door that said, “Sorry, we’re closed!”

I was confused a little bit, as I had never seen a “closed” sign on the door, but since I was early I decided to wait. Around 1:55 PM another patient pulled into the parking lot. At 1:58, a third patient arrived. After 2:00 PM came and went, I got out of my car and went to the door to see if the sign had been placed in error. It hadn’t. The door was locked and it was clear no one was inside.

Confused, Continue reading “My Dentist Locked Me Out”