Every few days, it's part of my morning ritual: Get to work. Unlock my office, unload my bag, turn on my lights. Check under my desk for bats (long story). Hoof it to the break room and make my specialty: Half a cup of regular coffee, a little bit of water, and a packet of hot chocolate mix. Kind of like a DIY mochaccino, right? Whatever. My standards for office coffee have never really been that high.
It's yummy and hot. Fifteen minutes into the cup, I'm wide awake. My creative juices start flowing in a way they don't ever otherwise. I get pumped about work projects, checking items off of my to-do list like a pro. Meetings don't get to me; I don't stress about making small talk or having to interact with people unexpectedly (#introvertproblems). I produce and I deliver. I get it done.
Sometimes, though, I get the jitters afterward. Nausea. A headache. My anxiety peaks.
My interal dialogue has been, lately: Is it worth it? The benefits of caffeine and the creativity it brings -- along with the chance I'll not feel very good afterward?
I switched to decaf exclusively almost two years ago. After nearly a decade, I had tapered down on my anti-anxiety medication until I was no longer taking any. I knew there'd be a bit of an adjustment, but I was still worried about the whole experience, frankly. I'd never been an adult without taking this medication. What if I didn't like who I "really" was? I wanted more than anything to quit, though, because I thought I had to in order to prepare my body for pregnancy (which is still at least a year away, but I'm nothing if not a planner). Another one of my misguided assumptions about the process.
Anyway, even once the symptoms of medication withdrawal had abated, I noticed very quickly that drinking regular coffee made me feel like shit. A week of headaches later, I was a (very tired) decaf drinker, and remained that way until...now.
This past winter was tough -- and not just because I wasn't drinking caffeinated coffee anymore. I learned that the medication had still been playing a big part in my life, regulating a part of my brain that helped me handle, well...everything. I had never felt shame about taking anti-anxiety medication, but I had thought to myself on more than one occasion that it was maybe something I would someday "grow out of." It took me a few months of disabling panic attacks that came out of nowhere, general anxiety and stress that reached beyond tje norm, seasonal affective disorder, and some of the deepest, darkest sadness I've ever experienced to understand that the medication needed to be part of my life for awhile yet (and maybe forever, which is okay too).
I started taking my anti-anxiety medication again in the spring, after an illuminating appointment with my new OB-GYN. She informed me that there are anti-anxiety medications that are generally considered safe for pregnant people -- including the one I'd been taking for ten years. I immediately burst into tears -- partially from relief, and partialy from frustration. I'd gone through all that for nothing? So with the guidance from both my OB-GYN and my therapist (who is amazing), I got back on the horse, began taking a low dose of the medication again, and slowly started rebuilding my emotional and mental health.
Anti-anxiety medication or anti-depressants aren't designed to make everything automatically happy and perfect all the time, though. Nobody's "normal" is perfect. "Normal" is at times irritable, bitchy, weepy, cranky, tired, and sometimes a little down for no reason. But "normal" for me now also includes space for energetic, cuddly, happy-for-no-reason, ecstatic, satisfied, and fulfilled. Having balance again is priceless, and I'll never ever take it for granted.
(As far as my concerns about future pregnancies, I know that in my case, being the best mother possible means doing whatever I have to do to make sure I'm not constantly bathing a growing fetus in ridic amounts of stress hormones, or too depressed to be as present and loving once the baby is born as I know I'll want so desperately to be. I have plenty of reasons, and honestly, a lot of them are private. I know this is the right choice for me and for my family, and I'm so thankful I have such understanding, kind, gracious readers.)
So coffee. Oh, coffee. I know it's probably not worth it. Rationally, mathematically...why risk feeling crummy for a few hours' productivity? (Even if it's allowed me the most direct access to the creative parts of my brain I've ever experienced. Even if it reveals the most amazing of ideas. Even if it allows all of my bravery to come to the forefront.) Maybe I'll reserve a sip on rainy mornings, before big meetings that freak me out, or when I just haven't gotten enough sleep. But in the meantime, I'm going to practice self-care by keeping it from becoming an everyday thing, and maybe trying tea instead.
If you are experiencing anxiety or depression, please, please, please reach out. Get help. Find the tools you need to rebuild -- whether it's therapy, medication, or a dog. Figure out what works for you, and devote yourself to yourself. You will wake up one day and be able to breathe without it hurting. You will see the beauty around you again. You will be okay.
And special thanks to Carrie Ann, Gabby, and Victoria for opening up about this tough topic on their blogs and inspiring me to do the same. It's not easy to hit "Publish" on posts like this, but I think it's worth it.