Please don’t think that I’m criticizing people who choose medications to deal with their anxiety and/or depression or other issues. I’m not. I do, however, feel that those drugs are prescribed too quickly. We’re a society that loves to take a pill to solve our problems, and while modern medicine can do amazing things (it has kept my younger daughter alive more than once), it has drawbacks, too. This is my story; yours may be different, and that’s okay.
When I was trying to get pregnant with my second child, I experienced a lot of anxiety. After a miscarriage, I experienced depression, too. (Probably some form of post-partum depression. Did you know you can get PPD after a miscarriage? You can.)
I was also recovering from over a year of perpetual foot problems at that time, problems that had culminated in my having foot surgery. When I had the miscarriage and resulting anxiety and depression, I was post-surgery, but I still had to check in with my podiatrist on a regular basis.
I liked this doctor’s liberal/crunchy-yet-practical-down-to-earth personality a lot, and I felt very comfortable with him. So, I shared with him the emotional turmoil in my life. In response, he told me that he had been part of studies at UC Berkeley that were studing something with brains and SSRI-inhibiting medications (whatever the kinds that anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds are), and he told me to be extremely cautious before starting those kinds of drugs. He said that the longer a person uses those kind of drugs, the more the person’s brain changes to become dependent on them. He said, “Use those drugs for a short while and as a last resort, only if necessary, but there’s a lot of other stuff you can try first.”
Then he said that a brisk walk for 45 minutes or so will gradually – and naturally – increase a person’s serotonin levels (or whatever chemical it is that is low when you’re depressed and/or anxious). He said that most anti-depression and anti-anxiety meds take at least a month or so to make the proper chemical changes in your brain, but that over the same length of time, you can often cause those same chemical changes in your brain by adding mild exercise to your life. Plus, the benefit of exercise is that your body makes the good chemicals in exactly the correct amounts and in exactly the right form, and you end up feeling physically better from the exercise.
So, I decided to give it a try. Around our home are lots of nice quiet streets for walking, and there are varying degrees of hills. I could choose the streets with more or less hill, and I pushed 3 year-old Lyd in her stroller to help work my body a little more.
Did I love it? Oh, no! I hated it. There were many mornings I did NOT want to go outside. Too cold, too damp, too tired, too unmotivated. Or too sad. Some mornings I didn’t go. But there were still lots of mornings when I did. As I pushed Lyd up a hill, sweating and panting and hating every moment, I would repeat to myself, “It’s this or Zoloft. It’s this or Zoloft.”
And, over time, I did feel better. The doctor was right. And, blessedly, I never had to go on medication.
I’ve come to realize that anxiety problems will always be part of my life. When I’m overtired, I get anxious. When my blood sugar gets too low, I get anxious. When big stressors come my way, I get anxious. Some people over-eat in those situations, other people get an upset stomach or an ulcer or a headache or some other less-than-ideal response. My default is to be anxious. For me, it’s a physical response, not an emotional response. (And not a spiritual response. My Lutheran husband reminds me that my faith is not based on how I feel.)
Knowing those facts about my anxiety has been a huge comfort for me. It’s still scary to feel anxious and to have my heart racing, but now I know, I KNOW that I’m going to be okay. I know from experience. I also have lots of little mental tricks and, if necessary, supplements that can help me. Best of all, I have a husband who also knows that my default is to be anxious, so he doesn’t freak out about it, which helps me to not freak out about it either. It’s easier now to view my anxiety in the same light as one would a headache or a backache: it’s a nuisance, and you need to change things up a little bit when it acts up, but it’s not a huge deal.
The stress of an upcoming move – and all that goes with it – and the situation in Japan (Must. Not. Read. or Watch. the News) has racheted up my anxiety recently. I also know that my anxiety is not likely to completely go away anytime soon. In all likelihood, it probably won’t calm down completely until we’re settled into our new home.
So, despite everything I have to do right now, I’ve started walking again. Walking used to be a regular part of my life when I had a walking partner, but now that I’m on my own, it’s more of an effort for me to go. However, I have to do it. It’s this or else I’ll slip down into a big pit of anxiety. I don’t want to do that to me or my family.
So, I’m walking.
I’m grateful to have a cheap method that works. I hope I can continue it as long as necessary to see this anxiety through.
(And we’re looking for our new house to be within walking distance of our new church! A built-in walk every day would be a blessing.)